What a Wonderful World

Is it me, or is that a nervous smile?

We’ve navigated all of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways now:

  • The Caen Hill Flight (on a hire boat in 2012)
  • The Barton Swing Aqueduct
  • The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
  • The Anderton Boat Lift
  • The Burnley Embankment
  • The Bingley Five Rise
  • And as of this week, The Standedge Tunnel
The rowan tree is reputed to be protective. We must have been subliminally aware when we moored next to one

We had a few days in Slaithwaite. I got a bit excited. Stylecraft Yarns’ mill is there, but sadly (and Google thinks otherwise) they aren’t open to the public. From Slaithwaite we ascended 21 locks to Marsden, grateful for the help of Sean from nb Eeyore, who gave up his day in favour of a bit of hard labour with us. I bribed him with homemade cake and dinner.

According to Sean, the most photographed cottage on the Huddersfield Narrow. It’s really such a pretty canal

The main event of the week was of course the Standedge Tunnel, all 3.5 miles of it. It has a fearsome reputation for damaging narrowboats. Its reputation is so malevolent I was having the vapours at the very thought of going through it at all, and was ready and prepared to jump on the train instead and completely forego the scraping, banging, and associated wincing. Beau Romer isn’t just a boat. She’s our home and our pride and joy; were we really going to put her – and ourselves – through this ordeal? And let’s not even think about the tunnel being over 200 years old, and going right through the heart of the Pennines, up to 636 feet underground.

We ventured into the tunnel on the trip boat on Sunday afternoon to get an idea of what we were facing. They gave me this hunk of rock they knocked off the side of the tunnel as a souvenir …

By Monday morning I’d calmed down and was feeling a bit fatalistic about the whole thing. Anyway, there was no turning back now, unless we wanted a long delay; the Huddersfield Broad was now impassable because of a broken lock. We’d taken off the pram hood (including the frame) and removed the cratch cover. Martyn had made protective shields for the cabin corners out of cut-up milk bottles, newspaper and masking tape. The navigation lights were off and the wires taped up. We’d done everything we could to protect the boat. So we turned up at the tunnel entrance at 8 o’clock as instructed, and met our chaperone, Alistair, reputed to be the fastest of the CRT volunteer drivers. We had a choice to make; one of us could helm the boat under Alistair’s guidance, or we could let him do it. We chose the latter deciding to let the expert drive. We were going to enjoy the experience from the bow.

Waiting nervously for our passage

And in the end, we loved it. The tunnel is an absolute marvel and completely fascinating. You forget to be worried or scared and just absorb it. I hope the pictures will give a taste of what it’s like.

Beyond the point of no return

There’s a railway tunnel that runs parallel to the canal tunnel. You hear the trains, and feel the pressure of the trains in your ears. They’re going at 80mph, so even you you were in the right place to see them, you’d be very lucky to do so. Blink and you miss it.

There’s a lot of bare rock, and absolutely none of it is straight and even

One aspect of the tunnel neither of us photographed was some of the ventilation shafts are curtains of cascading water. We could hear them coming and every one precipitated an unseemly scramble to get off the bow, back into the boat and close the doors before we got drenched!

The helmsman has to contend with parts where there’s not much headroom, and the walls are coated in nasty, abrasive sprayed concrete

Sometimes you see an eerie mist in front of you, but it never felt spooky or scary to me.

You have absolutely no idea what’s coming next outside of the range of the powerful light the CRT put on the front of your boat
The brick reinforcement arches are called legging, and they create stunning reflections on the water

In the end, after an hour and a quarter (it would have been less, but they asked Alistair to slow down as we were catching up the boat in front!) we emerged out of our subterranean world and back into the daylight.

See that tiny pinprick in the distance? It literally is the light at end of tunnel. You can also see the cushion is upside down, so we must just have come through one of the boat washes

It was a fabulous experience, and apart from some scratches on the blacking and the rubbing strake, Beau Romer was unscathed. We owe many thanks to Alistair and his exemplary helming skills. Honourable mention goes to Will from the CRT. Not only did he spend a lot of time moving water down a few days previously to get us from Huddersfield to Slaithwaite, but he was on duty at the four tunnel checkpoints to make sure we had a safe passage. There are 38 places where the tunnel interconnects with one of the three (yes three)! other tunnels on site so we could be extracted in an emergency. As Alistair proudly told us, Standedge is not only the deepest, highest and longest canal tunnel in the country, its also the safest, because they knew where we were all the time.

Beau Romer safe and sound at Diggle, some of Martyn’s shielding (not needed) still visible!

And what came next after the excitement and adrenaline of the Standedge Tunnel? I can’t put it better than one of my Twitter followers, Grumpy Jack: “All for the joy of another umpteen reluctant locks”. The Huddersfield Narrow is a picturesque canal, but it’s hard work, with stubborn paddles, obstinately heavy gates, leaky locks that empty themselves as if by magic, narrow cuttings, low bridges and plenty of other surprises for the unwary boater. I wonder if that’s why so few seem to attempt it? Whatever its challenges, I’m glad we did.

Oh joy. They built the pillar of the viaduct right at the exit of the lock!

Wet Wet Wet

The beautiful Rochdale Canal

While we were in Hebden Bridge we had a visit from Penny and Andrew. It’s lovely when we get friends on the boat, and we got to celebrate Andrew’s birthday a couple of days early with a tasty pub lunch at the Stubbing Wharf.

Sometimes you get wet on the inside when friends come to the boat

On the return from Hebden Bridge we moored for a couple of nights in Mytholmroyd (birthplace of Ted Hughes, and as dour as I imagine he was). It was cold and drizzly and we were chilled to the bone. We were having issues with our Eberspacher that fires the diesel central heating so there was only one thing for it; never mind it’s August, we were going to have to light the fire. Cue a trip to the bow locker to fish out logs, coal and kindling. But why was our coal bucket full of water, and on closer inspection the contents of the locker were all swimming? We decided it must have been all those leaky locks and water cascading over the bow. Martyn mopped out two buckets of water and we think we need a portable bilge pump, mopping out is becoming too common.

Remember the 5kg of duck food? There isn’t a lot left

The next day Martyn was reloading the locker with everything we dried out. He missed his footing and fell in. I made him take a shower straight away, never mind there was no hot water. Then we heated some up, so he had a second hot one! He didn’t do any damage, apart from a bit of minor bruising, and he remembered the advice to stand up.

Watch, phone, boots and husband – everything baptised

For a couple of reasons we’ve been going up and down the same stretch of the Calder and Hebble, getting to know it and its leaky locks quite well. It’s grown on me, and I’ve discovered I like navigating waterways for the second and third time, it’s good knowing what’s coming.

Sunset over Sowerby Bridge

Eventually we pointed the boat up the Huddersfield Broad Canal. It’s less than 4 miles long and only has 9 locks. They’re short and squat like a giant bathtub. It’s another tough canal. We got to the second lock, and I couldn’t raise the tail paddles at all to empty it. It took all of Martyn’s weight and strength to get one paddle to shift. After lock 4 we stopped for a bite of lunch and a breather. The boat behind us couldn’t get the lock we’d just passed through to empty at all. We left them on the phone to the Canal and River Trust, and I think the canal ended up being closed for a day. We were lucky.

Turnbridge Loco Lift Bridge from the business end

Cruising into Huddersfield there’s a very unusual locomotive lift bridge. The whole deck of the road rises up with massive pulleys on a giant swing. It’s electrically operated now but as you stand there with your finger on the button you can see that once upon a time you would have had to wind the whole thing up by hand. I wish I’d taken more photos, but the canal was so shallow Martyn was struggling to get Beau Romer away from the bank and floating. As I was holding up two cars, a cyclist and a Sainsbury’s delivery van, I was more concerned about what was happening than taking photos. We delighted one family watching our exploits. The Dad said he’d lived in Huddersfield for 34 years, but had never seen the bridge raised.

Kissing cousins?

When we got to Huddersfield we met up with Paul and Anthony travelling in the opposite direction. That had been our plan for a long time, even though I kept getting cold feet about the route we’d be taking from here on. As we had to wait four days for a booked lock we enjoyed another day crewing with them.

A truly beautiful day on the Huddersfield Broad Canal
The locomotive lift bridge from the water
And a rather impressive incinerator chimney

Anthony repaid the favour yesterday. We’re on the Huddersfield Narrow now, After all the broad locks we’ve navigated, it’s a bit of a shock to the system. Martyn’s convinced the locks are even narrower than the ones on the Llangollen. What’s more of a surprise is the way the start of the canal winds its way through very narrow tunnels and cuttings under Huddersfield. I’m very glad we had a crewmate who could tell us what to expect. You have to hand it to the canal builders. Some of their solutions were ingenious.

Very narrow subterranean Huddersfield
It’s fascinating how much greenery there is only on one side of this lock
Is that a dark Satanic mill in the distance? Not any more. It’s a spa