Narrowboat Adventure #7: Standedge Tunnel


Sunday 6th to Tuesday 8th March 2022 

Day 19 was the last day in our dash to make it to Standedge Tunnel in time for our booking on Monday. Sunday was not all plain sailing and we suffered a series of lock disasters.

At lock 23W only one paddle worked and the lock was taking ages to fill as more water was leaking out than was flowing in. However, Matilda has discovered that sometimes, when the water level changes, a paddle which was impossible to raise will become more readily mobile. This turned out to be the case and after finally opening the second paddle, we were able to progress.

Having experienced very high water levels previously, on this stretch of canal the level was very low. At lock 24W we grounded in the tunnel coming through under the bridge and Matilda had to let water through the lock with the aim of refloating The Duke.

Despite passing some beautiful buildings our troubles were not over.

At lock 25W when he inspected the water level Robert declared it would be impossible to cross the pound without grounding and once again we needed to let extra water through.

This took some time and meant that we were again short of water at lock 31W where the very popular Granpa Greene’s luxury ice cream parlour and bakery was doing a roaring trade in the sunshine. This meant we had a huge group of spectators many of whom were interested in the process and had never seen the locks in use. 

Water level in the pound by Grandpa Greene’s

Many families on a day out came to talk to us while we were progressing slowly through the locks and in fact the proprietor, Grandpa Greene himself chatted to Robert telling him how he often let water down through the flight of locks on his way in. Unfortunately, today was not one of those days.

Eventually we arrived at the entrance to Standedge Tunnel and took poll position ready for the adventure the next day. The CRT volunteer who was due to escort us through the following morning told us he would prefer to meet at nine rather than wait for midday which was the time we had been able to book on-line. This also suited us. He also said he would come and find us and when we had moored we realised that this would not be difficult as we were the only boat to be seen on this stretch of canal.

When Ralf appeared at the Diggle Hotel he provoked a very chatty canine exchange amongst the other visiting dogs. However after a while he settled down near the roaring stove in this welcoming and popular pub. 

The Diggle Hotel, Diggle – hostelry for day 19

06/03/2022 – Miles: 2.44 – Locks: 11 – 5h30m

The route for day 19 – Uppermill to Diggle

There was a frost overnight so it was just as well that Robert had managed to get the recalcitrant stove going again before bedtime. 

There are in fact four tunnels at Standedge, the canal tunnel was completed in 1811 and was followed by the single track Huddersfield and Manchester Railway tunnel in 1845. When the company was taken over by the London and North Western Railway, a second single track tunnel was built to handle the increased traffic. In 1894 a double bore railway tunnel was built. The canal tunnel was by then owned by the railway company and the two tunnels are connected by cross-adits. The canal proved useful in removing the spoil from tunneling.

Our CRT team comprised Trevor, our tunnel guide, Alistair who provided the safety checks at regular intervals by driving through the old single bore railway tunnel and appearing at the cross-adits and Terry, who we met eventually on the other side who was tunnel controller.

The first job was to measure both the beam and the air draft of The Duke to ensure the boat would fit though the tunnel. We were advised to fill up with water to make the front lie lower and there is a handy water point at the entrance for this purpose. We had thought about doing this the night before, but weren’t sure whether it was better to be light or heavy laden.

Alistair opened the decorative gates to the tunnel. Matilda meanwhile wondered once again why she had agreed to take part in such a foolhardy exploit. Humans are surface dwellers, after all.

Alistair then set off to drive to the first observation point. Once in position he radioed to Trevor that it was safe for us to start our journey. The Duke was only the second boat to make the journey this year, the first having gone through Standedge Tunnel on 3rd January.

Trevor gave Robert the option of whether he wanted to steer himself or would prefer Trevor to. I think you know the answer he gave.

The date over the entrance reads 1893. The tunnel is 5190m or 17,027ft long but the first section is more recent and is an extension to the original tunnel built at the same time as the railway tunnel so initially the sides are brick-lined.

Moving further into the tunnel, the sides are rough hewn stone.

Sometimes, the stone juts out quite a distance and Matilda felt she was going to collide with some of the more prominent outcrops, hence the evasive action seen in the video below.

We waved to Alistair as we passed the first check point.

Trevor was incredibly calm and knowledgable about the tunnel and his confident commentary did much to allay Matilda’s nerves. From time to time you can feel a breeze as a train passes through the railway tunnel. Apparently rarely, if the timing is right, you can actually see a train passing by.

Alistair at the first check point

Standedge Tunnel claims many superlatives as it is the longest, deepest and highest tunnel in the UK. Trevor told us the the second wide was called White Horse Wide and that at this point at 636ft down, we were as far below ground as we were above sea level. Of course, wide is a relative term on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

Although the tunnel was intended to be built out from the shafts drilled down from above creating the wide points. The tunnel ran out of money several times so instead they pushed on and built the tunnel from the two ends. Over 50 people died building the tunnel. When the two ends “met” they discovered they were 26ft out, probably because one of the shafts they used for alignment was misplaced. Consequently they had to build a very tight S-bend in the middle of the tunnel, which Robert can attest does catch you unawares and is difficult to navigate through. The shafts also now leak. [See video of the day.]

After one or two knocks against the sides, Ralf seemed to feel the safest place was under the table. 

The tightest part of the tunnel

And then there was light at the end of the tunnel.

After an hour and twenty minutes, we emerged into the sunshine at Marsden . . .

. . . where we were met by tunnel controller, Terry.

Robert can tick one more thing off his bucket list. We would both like to thank Trevor, Alistair and Terry, the kind and professional CRT volunteers who made this possible.

We were so impressed with our guide Trevor that we bought a signed copy of his book: The Standedge Tunnels by Trevor Ellis

There is a visitor centre at this side of the canal but we felt we would more up and take stock of the town first.

There is an interesting piece of artwork outside the Riverhead Brewery Tap where . . .

. . . Robert, unsurprisingly felt he had earned a pint.

Riverhead Brewery Tap, Marsden – hostelry for day 20

07/03/2022 – Miles: 3.69 – Locks: 0 – 1h45m

The route for day 20 – Diggle to Marsden

Route Map:

Days: 21 – Miles: 186.81 – Locks: 171

Following the dash for Diggle, we now have a well-deserved day of rest while we wait for our friends to join us. We celebrated on Day 21 with a leisurely breakfast at Crumbals on the Corner – [see dish of the day].

Video of the day:

Selfie of the day:

Dish of the day:

Breakfast at Crumbals on the Corner

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