The Stupendous Standedge Tunnel – better late than never
I know, it’s quite ridiculous isn’t it, this post is from our time at the end of July in Marsden and the Standedge Tunnel, almost six weeks ago. Oh my, how time flies.
Our trading hasn’t been as prolific as we’d have hoped this year, deciding as we did (foolishly?) to visit a some of the few canals we’ve not previously done. So the time in the north was spent trading sporadically at Hebden Bridge, and then Standedge Tunnel’s inaugural Country Fair.
There weren’t any trading boat spots at Standedge, so I booked in to do face painting and glitter tattoos. We weren’t sure what sort of possibilities Barry would have for The Home Brew Boat, but it turned out to be on the towpath walk from the town car park to the Visitor Centre – fabulous! It did, however, entail a ten minute walk for me lugging my equipment.
On the plus side, the site was so secure I didn’t have to bring it back on Saturday evening.
Visiting Marsden, I was surprised to hear Barry say it was a place he felt he could possibly live on land in – we’ve since learnt the weather is more often wet, windy and dismal much of the year, so we’d seen it in it’s most favourable light.
Surrounded by three moors – Marsden, Meltham and Saddleworth, unfortunately we didn’t have sufficient time available to walk on any of them. Definitely worth a return visit to do at some point, the scenery in these parts is spectacular.
The real ale trail
We couldn’t believe the volume of people over the weekend getting off and on the train, which ran nearby our mooring. It turned out to be ‘The Transpennine Real Ale Trail‘, a phenomenon whereby you can stop off at pubs from Stalybridge to Batley, have a pint (or two if you’re completely crazy!), then hop back on a train! You book your chosen stops and drinking spots so they’re all ready for you when you arrive.
What a hoot, though it’s had it’s problems as a BBC news report from 21 August 2012 quotes:
A weekly influx of drinkers is causing concern for residents of a West Yorkshire village.
Thousands of real ale fans stop off to visit pubs in Marsden each Saturday as part of a railway based ale-trail.
The Transpennine Real Ale Trail, which starts at Stalybridge near Manchester and stops at Marsden, Slaithwaite and Huddersfield before terminating in Dewsbury, is said to have increased in popularity since being featured on a BBC documentary by Oz Clarke and James May.
Marsden residents met on Tuesday to discuss their concerns, saying drunken passengers jump into the river, urinate in the street and leave rubbish and glass all over the village.
Doesn’t sound too appealing for the locals does it?
Having talked myself out of the irrational fear of being on board as we travelled through the longest, deepest and highest tunnel of the canal system, I’m pleased and proud to report I enjoyed every minute of it from my bird’s eye viewpoint. We’d lost count of the number of boaters who regaled us with tales of terror, of how dreadful it is or must be for a variety of reasons.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced this thrilling journey, my advice would be to see it as a magnificent feat of manpower, as safe as it’s ever been to travel through. It’s actually not even ‘a’ tunnel, but four parallel tunnels. After a series of challenges (you can read more about it if you’re interested here), the official opening was on 4th April 1811. It was unsurprisingly the most expensive canal tunnel built in Britain.
After many years of disuse, it took a £5 million restoration project to re-open in 2001, and since 2009, boats have been allowed to travel through with the aid of a trained chaperone (prior to that they were towed through). One boat can go every 45 minutes east to west Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, then the same from west to east in the afternoon. Book in advance though, or you could be disappointed as many boaters reported around the time we travelled – thank goodness I didn’t procrastinate with our booking.
There are of course height, width and depth of boat-draft restrictions to be aware of. We had to remove the top boxes, and before the weekend a boat had become wedged inside the tunnel due to a lack of water and a too deep draft – yikes! That I admit WOULD be pretty scary. But the monitoring by the amazing tunnel team sorted the hiccup out, and said boat returned through the tunnel the following week without incident.
Built by hand and explosives, the tunnel provides a route under the Pennines three and a quarter miles long, and takes just under two hours by narrowboat. It twists and turns, has brick and stone intermittently, and the colours and lights that sparkle from the sides and the roof are a wonder in themselves.
Barry did the driving (phew!), along with his side-kick Terry, our champion chaperone, who gave a running commentary throughout the journey. What a mine of information he was. And all this is FREE! Such an incredible service.
I had the easy bit – sat in the cratch, or just inside when we passed under the ‘drippy bits’.
Barry’s steering skills were faultless, only a couple of tiny bumps tot he hull but nothing above the water line. He went slowly enough to see what was coming and anticipate changes of direction, but fast enough to maintain control of the steering. That cool kiwi confidence is what does it I reckon!
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the journey from east to west – enjoy …
A celebratory lunch in Diggle
After such a momentous occasion, achieving the penultimate goal of experiencing each of the seven wonders of the Inland Waterways during our journeys from 2009 to date, we thought we’d moor up for the night, have a walk and treat ourselves to lunch.
There are some extraordinarily incredible places to experience on this watery life we’ve chosen. I hope you agree it was worth the long wait for these images …
Thank you Standedge Tunnel staff – you are greatly appreciated, fantastic customer service.