Tomato Soup, anyone?

We were in for a treat, our son Tim had the opportunity to join us for a few days. Ironically the last time we saw him was 8 months ago when he met us at Kidsgrove to travel south. Today he was arriving by bike so we booked our passage through the Harecastle tunnel for an afternoon transit. We said our goodbyes to Westport Lake, (built by the Victorians after a mine collapse)

Westport Lake

And set off to wait for him at the south portal. The original Harecastle tunnel was built by James Brindley and completed in 1777 but it was constantly beset by problems. I’m sure the original bargees didn’t like it as it would take them over three hours to leg through the 2630m. They would lie on their backs on the roof of their boats and walk sideways along the walls, not easy and hard work. The children walked the horses over the hill on the aptly named Boathorse Road. 50 years later Thomas Telford built a second, bigger tunnel that included a towpath, which greatly reduced transit time. But it was still a difficult tunnel to pass through. In the 1970’s the Towpath was removed, and now apart from it being long cold and drippy, it’s fairly straightforward. There is an interesting page on Wikipedia about the two tunnels. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harecastle_Tunnel

The old 1770’s and the new, 1820’s.


Although there’s a booking system in place, the tunnel keepers seem to exercise a degree of common sense and as Tim arrived earlier than expected we joined the last morning convoy. We dutifully paid our respects to the boater who didn’t obey the rules.

Mr Bones looking a bit shaky today

And emerged after about 45 minutes, in time for a bowl of tomato soup for lunch.

Happy to see daylight again on the north side of the tunnel

Ok I’m only joking, the canal isn’t really full of tomato soup, it’s the iron ore deposits leaking out of the older tunnel that discolour the water here. It always feels a bit chaotic around Kidsgrove, there are excited boaters waiting to use the tunnel, a lot of long term moorings, and bends and bridges and junctions to negotiate. But we were following the signs and headed south onto the Hall Green Branch on the Macclesfield Canal

We’ll be heading towards Whaley Bridge

Within half a mile we felt like we had emerged into a different world as the Hall Green Branch crosses over the Trent and Mersey on an aqueduct,

Looking down from the aqueduct

and we arrived at the Stop lock. This was a good one for Tim to practice on as the difference is only 6 inches. In the days when companies owned individual canals stop locks were put in place to force the boaters to stop and pay their dues.

We had to look hard to decide whether we were going up or down this lock.

3 happy boaters heading north on the Macclesfield Canal

Tim Eric and Cheryl

Haring through the Harecastle tunnel

Isn’t it just typical when we have an obligation to travel, the weather is poor. We set off in murky drizzle to do the last half a mile. No wonder the water had turned rusty red with the iron deposits. We always chuckle as we pass under the motorway bridges, this time we were passing underneath the Macclesfield Canal just before the junction. It would have been fun to see a narrowboat above us, but at 7am only the foolhardy were on the move.

Passing under the Macclesfield Canal aqueduct

It was June 2017 that we emerged from the Macclesfield Canal onto the T&M, and I have a feeling it was raining that day as well

The start, or end of the Macclesfield Canal

We carry a spare life jacket so Tim was able to comply with the safety guidelines and as it was raining heavily by now, we didn’t waste much time outside chatting to the CRT crew. We were the third of five to go through on the 8am passage.

Looks like we’ll fit

It’s the second longest tunnel on the network, 2657m long (1.6miles) traffic is one way, and although it is always manned, it doesn’t usually need to be booked in advance, but they want to avoid the potential log jam of boaters awaiting their turn. They let several boats through in a convoy, and count them in and out. It’s not unheard of for boats to break down in the tunnel, and not very easy for them to be rescued. Not everyone makes it out……

The resident skeleton who lives inside the tunnel

But thankfully we did, it took us exactly 40 minutes, 10 minutes longer than the first time.

Almost through

Tim was to catch the train home from Stoke so because the rain was now torrential we moored up and enjoyed a cooked breakfast, but by the time we had washed up, the weather had improved, so the next 5 locks were ok. This section of canal is going downhill so the locks are a bit easier to work.

It turned out to be a good day after all