We moved out from Westport Lake on Friday, through Harecastle Tunnel and onto the Macclesfield Canal, mooring between the two aqueducts that carry the canal first over the Trent and Mersey main line, then over the A50 Liverpool Road.
The Westport Lake moorings had thinned out a little by the time we got going on Friday.
Just twenty minutes or so saw us arrive at the southern portal of Harecastle Tunnel, and pulling in behind two boats already waiting.
I soon learned that it would be around an hour and a half before we we able to go through, those in front of us had just missed the end of a north-bound convoy, and there were boats at the other end waiting to come through. The tunnel is one-way, and takes about 40 minutes to transit, so if you time it wrong you have a bit of a wait, like us. Not to worry, we had a brew and a slice of toast then I took my camera for a walk.
The two tunnels, Brindley’s early one, now impassable, and Telford's later one with the later addition of the fan house built across the original entrance.
The first tunnel, completed in 1777, 5 years after Brindley’s death, was built without a towpath so boats had to be legged through. It was also one-way and caused major hold-ups as the canal got busier. By the 1820’s the situation had become intolerable and Thomas Telford was commissioned to construct another tunnel alongside.
This opened in 1827 and had a towpath so that boats could be horse drawn through it, though I doubt they would have liked it. For a time all was rosy, each tunnel was in operation so traffic could go under the hill in both directions at the same time. But subsidence in the early tunnel, followed by a partial collapse, caused it to be closed in 1914.
Now back to just one bore, the canal company started using an electric tug to haul strings of barges through, which continued until 1954.
Black and white photograph taken by Cyril Arapoff showing a tunnel tug and battery boat waiting to enter the Telford section of the Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove. Taken from a boat behind, there are 2 men stood on the boats posing for the photograph and the entrance to the Brindley Tunnel can be seen on the right.
The guide framework is no longer there, removed to allow more space for waiting boats.
The fan house was constructed across the southern portal in 1954, drawing fresh air through the tunnel which allowed diesel powered boats to go through under their own power. With no airshafts, the tunnel would soon fill with fumes, not good for the boatmen. In the 1970s the tunnel was closed for 4 years to enable reconstruction of sections that were succumbing to subsidence, and it was during this remedial work that the towpath was finally removed.
What we were waiting for, the first of six boats coming south.
By this time there were at least six, maybe seven boats queued up to go north.
Following the halo
The spot of light on the ceiling is from the spare lamp I mount on the hatch slide, the better to see what the rear end is doing…
Out of the tunnel, past another handful of boats waiting to dive into the gloom, and we motored around the corner to Hardings Wood Junction, just above Plants Lock, the top lock of the climb up from Cheshire.
Hardings Wood Junction and the Macclesfield Canal to the left.
After running parallel to the T&M for a few hundred yards the Macc takes a sharp right to head north, back over the now lower canal on Pooles Aqueduct. and this is where we pulled over.
Strangely. it’s not been that busy. Yes, there’s been boats about but not as many as you’d expect for a bank Holiday weekend. The moorings along here have never been full, so I don’t feel too guilty about stopping an extra day. We’ll toddle on a bit tomorrow, I reckon.
Locks 0, miles 3¾