Caving by Boat

In June this year a small but elite group of members set sail around the Pennine Canal ring in a 70ft canal boat generously loaned by Andy Todd's parents. Under the leadership of captain Andy and crewed by Chris, Allan, Janet and Jess the dog, an excellent two week trip was had through, perhaps the best weather that the dismal summer managed to produce.

Featuring a number of brain teasers such as; how to sail a canal boat up a canal that only has 6 inches of water in it, and how to get a 70 foot boat through a 68 foot long lock, the trip was not for the faint hearted. These problems solved we managed to complete a two week trip of around 80 miles and 200+ locks on 7 different canals.

The highlight of the trip was the Standedge tunnel that takes the Huddersfield narrow canal deep beneath the Pennine moors between Marsden in Yorkshire to Diggle in Lancashire. Having taken 3 days to travel the 10 miles or so from Huddersfield to Marsden due to a severe lack of water, we finally took up pole position in a small fleet of canal boats at the tunnel portal for a Monday morning transit. Unlike other tunnels on the network, access is closely controlled and a British Waterways chaperone is required. Also unlike any other tunnel on the network (many of which are also very long), full safety kit is required: hard hats and high viz jackets being the approved attire. The tunnel is paralleled by two railway tunnels, one disused; navigation involves checking in with a BW worker who miraculously appears at various cross passages along the way. The roar of trains in the live tunnel next door is also a little disconcerting.

The tunnel is 3.25 miles long and transit takes around 1.5 hrs. Originally dug in 1794 the cost of the enterprise rendered the canal a miserable commercial failure and the canal slowly degenerated into disuse. It was reopened in 2001 after a restoration programme that lasted 20 years.

At the end of the trip the boat was slightly more scratched than when we started, having collided with the occasional bridge hole and scraping the inside of the tunnel but its owner didn't seem too put out.

Allan Ockenden