The original tunnel was completed in 1777 after 11 years' work. Since there was no towpath, laden boats had to be legged through. This was done by men lying on the boat's cabin roof and propelling the boat by walking along the tunnel roof. As one can imagine, this was a slow and laborious process.
|Light at the end of the tunnel|
Fortunately we didn't have to leg our boat through, but the low, narrow profile of the tunnel makes for slow progress and once we started, it was 50 minutes before we emerged into the sunshine once again.
But Harecastle is by no means the longest tunnel. That accolade belongs to the Standedge tunnel (5686 yards long) on the Huddersfield canal - more than twice the length!
After the excitement of the Harecastle tunnel, it was almost an anti-climax as we turned onto the Macclesfield canal and moored for the night near the Red Bull Aqueduct. A short time later we were joined by narrowboat Figment and its owners Julia and Malcolm Kirk.
Ian helped Malcolm to moor up his boat and soon we got talking (as like-minded boaters do). The deckchairs came out and we settled down with a glass in hand to 'chew the fat'. Julia found that the Red Bull CRT (Canal & River Trust) Centre had a laundry, so taking advantage of that, she stripped her bed and piled all her laundry into bags and set off. Malcolm was torn between helping his wife or enjoying a glass of something with us. The laundry was less appealing! However it wasn't long before Julia returned having had all sorts of trouble with the laundry machine, the dryer and the control card - but that is another story.The long summer evening was pleasant, the wine and cider made easy drinking and before any of us we knew it, it was getting dark - after 10:00pm - and although we had nibbled on snacks, none of us had eaten. I managed to throw together a toasted something to soak up the alcohol and we all retired only shortly before midnight - and that is how it happens.
The following morning, feeling a little worse-for-wear, we set off along the Macclesfield canal. This canal, which runs just west of the Pennines, bears the distinctive hallmark of Thomas Telford's engineering. Following as straight a course as possible and featuring many cuttings and embankments, it is not unlike the Shropshire Union Canal. All the locks are grouped into one flight of 12 at Bosley. We moored at the bottom of the Bosley flight so that we could tackle the flight in the morning when we were fresh.
The views were spectacular.The rural, unspoiled setting makes me realise just how lucky we are to have such panoramic vistas while living in this densely populated part of the world. Its quite humbling.
Leaving the hilly countryside behind, the navigation entered the outskirts of Macclesfield. besides it flour mills and the iconic Hovis mill, Macclesfield built its notoriety around silk. Now this was an enigma to me. 'Why did Silk - a product of China - put Macclesfield on the map? The question was soon answered as we explored the silk museum. It all started with a prolific range of holly trees. The wood from the holly tree was desirable for buttons and soon a flourishing trade in buttons was supplying the London fashion houses. As time went on and fashions changed, a supply of silk covered buttons was required so barges brought the imported silk fibre from London to Macclesfield and returned with the covered buttons. From these small beginnings, weaving looms and large silk factories were built.
Along the length of the Macclesfield canal these graceful 'roving' bridges can be found. When the towpath has to change from one side of the canal to the other, these 'change-over' bridges were built in order to assist the horse-drawn barges. The horse can navigate the bridge and change from one side to the other without having to unhitch the tow ropes.
The canal continued on its lonely course towards Marple where it joins the Peak Forest Canal. The spectacular panoramic views over the Goyte valley continued to astonish us and we stopped frequently just to admire a view or simply to walk a little. If stress was a factor in our lives currently, this would be the great 'Stress buster'
It had taken us a little over a week to complete the 28 mile stretch of the Macclesfield canal but it was a week of outstanding beauty. We were lucky enough to be enchanted afresh as we turn onto the Peak Forest Canal and headed to the terminus at Bugsworth Basin - once the largest and busiest inland port on the narrow canal system.
Bugsworth Basin, once a teeming, thriving industrial centre, was built to transport limestone from nearby quarries to industry in the North West of the country. Flames, dust and smoke would have belched from the lime kilns as they were charged until the valuable burnt lime was drawn from the hearth at the bottom of the kiln. At it's peak, more than 80 boats a day were loaded to the gunwales with this vital raw material for building, farming and the booming textile and tanning industries, before setting off once more down the canal. Today it is a place of tranquillity and remarkable natural, as well as man-made beauty.
It is hard to imagine the deafening activity that once took place here, as we walked along the tranquil wharfs of the canal basin. Although many of the buildings and lime kilns have gone, the canals, paths and bridges map out a system of transport and industry that would be hard to find anywhere else in the world. Now, among the permanent inhabitants of the basin are the kingfisher, heron, Canada geese and other waterfowl.
It was at Bugsworth basin that we met up with narrowboat Figment again and had a lovely BBQ with Julia, and Malcolm as well as the narrowboating Aussies, Bron and Bob and to complete the multicultural gathering, Spaniard Pablo and his English wife Carly.
The following day, Malcolm & Julia on NB Figment and Bron & Bob on NB Celtic Maid left Bugsworth while we stayed on for a week. it would be lovely to see them again, but we will be sure to keep in touch via social media.
Shortly before they left the heavens opened and the rain pelted down. even the poor goslings were drenched, but as is the way with the English summer, the weather is so unpredictable. A short time later the sun shone and the clouds dispersed but the temperature didn't improve much. Undaunted, we walked into Whaley Bridge where there was a water festival going on. Ian's cousin Susan had joined us so we wandered around the stalls with a mug of hot chocolate in our cold hands.
The following weekend, our daughter and son-in-law with grandson Daniel joined us and since it was Father's day that weekend we celebrated in style at the Navigation Inn, a local pub. BBQ was out of the question as it was pouring with rain - again - but that didn't dampen our celebrations. Oh yes... it must be 'Pimms O'Clock'
It was time for us to move on again. On the Tuesday we said a fond farewell to Pablo and Carly and set off along the Peak Forest canal to Marple Junction where we encountered the flight of 16 locks that carries the Peak Forest canal down 214ft towards Manchester.
The flight is spaced over a mile and is set in a combination of parkland, and built-up area. At the bottom of the locks, an aqueduct carries the canal over the River Goyt while next to it, this superb viaduct carries the railway.
The Peak Forest canal meandered its way through urbanisation as it skirted Greater Manchester, towards the junction at Ashton-Under-Lyne and Portland basin. At the junction, the Ashton canal heads South West into Manchester while the Huddersfield Narrow canal starts its journey East over the Pennines. We joined the Huddersfield Narrow canal and headed East.