Navigating the Harecastle Tunnel.

Written April 20, 2023, at Stoke on Trent, England.

The experience of traveling England’s canals that date to the 1700’s is unique. But there are aspects that go beyond unique, and in yesterday’s case are otherworldly, or better yet “underworldly”.

Our 2019 travels on the canals included traveling hundreds of yards across valleys, our vessel elevated over 100 feet above the valley floor in a trough of water with no guard rails. Beyond unique.

There were also tunnels that we navigated, also hundreds of yards long. Again, beyond unique.

Before us today was the Harecastle Tunnel. Not just unique, not just beyond unique, but like traveling the legendary River Styx to Hades. Again, otherworldly and “underworldly”.

The Harecastle Tunnel is 1.6 miles long and for nearly 200 years the longest tunnel in the United Kingdom. It is actually two tunnels. The first, built in 1770 and its parallel twin built in 1824 served commerce on the canals with one dedicated to southbound traffic and the other dedicated to northbound traffic.

The canals are extremely tight with very low overhead. There is no walking path inside the tunnel. If one were to fall into the water it would be a very bad day for that person. The older of the two tunnels could not be economically maintained and has been closed since 1914.

The remaining tunnel now alternates traffic direction approximately every hour. It takes about 40 minutes to transit the length of the tunnel.

Time and limited Internet cell service do not allow me to go into detail about the history of these fascinating tunnels. I invite you to read about The Harecastle Tunnel on Wikipedia.

Below are images, some with captions.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Before we are allowed entry into the tunnel there is a required safety inspection and safety instructions.
The striped bar is to advise us about the lowest points within the tunnel and how far down to duck.
The boat has a headlamp at the bow. I was wearing an LED headlamp. The lighting on the side of the tunnels comes from the windows of our boat.
Water dripped upon us from the roof of the tunnel throughput the length, there were even stalactites.
Christine snapped a picture of me at the tiller as I navigated the length of the tunnel.
This was the first sight of light at the end of the tunnel. For 30 of the 40 minutes there was no light to be seen in either direction except for a dim headlight of a boat behind us.
After the tunnel: This region has been the heart of English pottery making. This is the Burleigh factory which is still in operation.
Some pottery factories have not survived the times.
Some pottery factories have not survived the times.
After passing through the tunnel there was time to relax and do some pottery shopping. This is not every day “pottery“, but really expensive stuff. A pitcher goes for over $125. A tea cup and saucer are $30.

14 thoughts on “The Canal Goes Underground

  1. You should get a “Tunnel Rat” patch or some sort of prize as you have become members of a very exclusive club. It looked like a “magical mysterious” ride. Thanks for taking me along.

  2. Nope, nope, nope … reminds me too much of my first MRI experience! ha ha I would have to be down in the galley kitchen whipping up a sweet snack (and running through Hail Mary’s on repeat). Glad you enjoy that part – you look very much to be the serious Captain (which given the size of the tunnel is probably wise). Float on my friends … and I hope you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel! Hugs to your Bride.

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