Harecastle Tunnel & Absent Apparition

Apart from domestic familiarity with the boat and increasing confidence in actually getting it to move where we want it to we still feel very fresh to the whole boating scene – hundreds of miles of unchartered territory still to be experienced; plenty of countryside still to cruise. And of course not all routes are to be found above ground as the 1.6 miles of the Harecastle tunnel prove.

harecastle Tunnel north EntranceWe arrived on a Thursday afternoon and formed a queue behind a hire boat and its crew of a young family, Dad looking like Jeremy Clarkson. Mark didn’t see the resemblance at all but I can be rather imaginative where resemblances are concerned. Jeremy kindly told us that the tunnel keeper had advised of an hour and a half wait until we could travel through so we made tea and exclaimed over the curiously burnt orange colour of the vicinity’s water. We learned through the ever knowledgeable Pearson’s Canal Companion  that the distinctive colour is due to minute particles of ironstone rock: canal water at its most psychedelic.

Shortly Mr Tunnel Keeper appeared at our door and imparted the rules of tunnel travel. The usual sensible protocol such as keeping within the profile of your boat, no naked flames and switching on your headlight applied with the added safety feature of sounding your horn in three long blasts in an emergency (which he would respond to with three short blasts). Forty minutes is the expected traveling time through the tunnel but if you haven’t emerged in an hour and fifteen a search party will be sent. Oh..difficult not to focus on the last part of the advice and condemn yourself to a situation of horn-blasting emergency.

The last boat having emerged from the tunnel northbound saw Jeremy and family leading our convoy southbound. A few minutes were allowed between each boat entering and the tunnel doors were sealed at either end and the fume extractor fans started their continuous roar. The tunnel was opened in 1777 and boatmen would have previously ‘legged’ boats through. What hard-boiled men they must have been, mettlesome and steely-thighed.

harecastle_insideIt’s always difficult to take successful photographs in a tunnel to reflect the dankness and cavernous qualities of it. We passed stumpy stalactites in red dripping from the brickwork above and lumpy contortions like wet scabs seeping down the walls. At one point the brickwork’s salts had formed themselves into a likeness of The Scream which seemed to force itself out of its flat dimension into the light of our main beam as we forged our way by. Thoughts of the Kidsgrove Boggart clicked in my head but  I had purposefully left investigating this tale until we had been through the tunnel. It would seem the apparition is of a young headless woman who had her head hacked off in a grizzly manner (is there any other way?) by a chap using a piece of slate if you happen to see her. A shame that the chilly mists of time have caused the memory of her real name to perish along with her mortal being, it being suffice to say her character was simply evil or mischievous and coming from Kidsgrove.

Our thanks to Donna, Mark and Inky for permission to publish their blog here. 

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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