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.

All set up for a spot of face painting

All set up for a spot of face painting

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An authentic Punch and Judy show was free for visitors

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That’s the way to do it! Memories of childhood beach holidays 😉

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Taking a sneaky peek at the tunnel in anticipation of our booked trip on the Monday – they’re going in here to tow out a stuck narrowboat, yikes!

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Filling up with water next to the Visitor Centre after we’d turned around ready for trading – then we had to reverse all the way back three days later!

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How about that for a backdrop? Tunnel end, the eastern entrance to Standedge Tunnel

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All closed up for the day by 4pm

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Barry trades from the towpath on the walk to the Visitor Centre

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.

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A wonderful piece of architecture in Marsden – the clock tower had to be built using wood as they didn’t think the structure would support a brick built one

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The Holme Valley Mountain Rescue team leader on stand-by! Seriously, this group do a splendid job as a charitable search and rescue service in the southern half of West Yorkshire

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His mate just popped off for a break …

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Graves in the park in town

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Stunning colours

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One of many pubs in Marsden

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?

All abord the Transpennine real ale trail

A few of the Transpennine real ale trailers – seems to be a disproportionate amount of males

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Back on the train for the next stop …

Our seventh wonderThe Standedge Tunnel

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 …

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Approaching our spot for the night

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Moored up ready the evening before – all top boxes safely ensconced inside

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The entrance is closed out of hours – just in case anyone is foolish enough to attempt to go in unannounced

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We chose to go second, giving Barry a chance to take more photos

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The trip boat at the visitor centre takes the public in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and over the weekend

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Self explanatory I feel

Looking like a spirit is guiding us to the entrance ...

Our turn – here we go! Looks like a spirit’s guiding us to the entrance

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Amazing

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No light at the end of this tunnel for a long time …

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Terry made two stops during the trip to check in with control that all was going smoothly

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The captain focusses straight ahead at all times

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Still no light, lots of differences in structure of bricks and stonework which was magical

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There IS a light at the end of every tunnel after all

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‘Coming out of the dark’ as Gloria Estefan sang

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Ready to feel the surge of warmth outside

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The west to easters waiting patiently for their turn

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Awesome journey

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Smiles all round, fantastic driving Barry and amazing navigating and commentary from Terry

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Thank you Terry! Off to have his lunch before returning with another crew to guide them safely through

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The railway tunnel above us – the end of the tunnel had to be extended by about a quarter of a mile because of this addition. Originally the rail and canal tunnels ran parallel to each other, this additional tunnel had to cross the canal one hence the ‘add-on’

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Train and boat work in harmony nowadays

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West to east begins

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There they go …

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.

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The local canal-side park has a game you can play which describes the history of the tunnel

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A lonely boat – everyone else seemed to want to move away as quickly as possible

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Idyllic, peaceful surroundings

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Gorgeous 🙂

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I’d rather be travelling in the slow boat lane thank you

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Our delightful lunch spot – The Diggle Hotel – a perfect pub in every way

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.

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