Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Off the Branches, and Onwards to the North through Harecastle Tunnel.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Once many basic cottages, now just one luxury house.
After an overnight stay just outside Leek, we set off again to work our way back to the main line of the Trent and Mersey.  It started as a bit of an indifferent day weather-wise, and the fact that the Leek Branch has no locks left me outside alone for much of it, while Cath got on with things inside.  On the return I found it easier to judge where the very shallow parts werte, and how to find the deepest bit of the channel in those parts.  Somehow it seemed less of a slog than when going the other way.

We regained the Caldon Branch at Hazlehurst Junction, and after a while were tackling our first locks.  I really like this canal, and am very pleased we decided to squeeze it into this trip.

Entertaining Charlie at the unusually named Planet Lock.
Even as we approached the mix of decaying or demolished factories at Etruria, and the new build housing, I had a more positive feel than I did when we had first passed through.

The boat ahead enters the tunnel - 2 minute gaps are used.
As usual with us, we had an outline plan, and then that got amended.  We found ourselves back at Etruria far earlier than even the most optimistic timings from the canal planners.  Although we couldn't now be guaranteed a passage of Harecastle Tunnel that day, there seemed to be a reasonable chance we might get through that night if we pushed on.

I have to say this is where my frustration kicks in!  British Waterways publish the following.....

The Tunnel will open for passage daily 8.00am - 6.00pm. To be guaranteed a passage, craft must arrive by 4.00pm.

Last craft in the Tunnel at 5.15pm IF the Tunnel is free both ways.
Any enquiries of Tunnel 5.15pm availability please call 01782 785703 in office hours.

After Froghall Tunnel, Harecastle seems enormous!
We would miss 16:00, (though not by a lot), but be there way before 17:15, so I rang that enquiry number.  In true BW style the lady in the office repeated verbatim the stuff about needing to be there at 16:00 for a guaranteed passage, and had no access to any information find out the days possibilities beyond that.  So why, oh why, give that enquiry number?  It's a waste of my time, and, equally, it is a waste of hers too.

The boat ahead nears the Northern end.
Anyway it transpired that there were some slow movers in the tunnel, which once out, would allow a final batch of boats North, which we would join.  In fact it was 17:25  before we were called in, so even the 17:15 thing was not tightly adhered to.  We wondered why the boat behind us never came in, and another one replaced it - we learnt later he had not tested his tunnel light, which proved to not be working, and had been stopped from entering.

We emerge - Brindley's original abandoned bore on the right.
The last time we did this tunnel we were the very first boat of the day in to it, and travelled it very fast, quickly leaving behind those following.  Today, no such luck, as we joined the slow convoy.  In fact times on the photos indicate only just over 40 minutes, but it really did seem ridiculously slow.   I did get to notice things like painted skeletons that one misses with a faster passage though!

Many of the locks on this stretch are still twinned.
It is generally recommended not to moor too near to the Northern portal of the tunnel, and to be frank, the whole environment is uninviting enough that you wouldn't really choose it as an overnight stop unless desperate.  Fortunately you only have to go down a small number of the delightful twinned locks before it is a whole different prospect.

One of David's sunset images.

I think we moored after three locks, at a quite delightful spot.  We were later treated to a phenomenal sunset, and we sat there thinking just how much we enjoy boating when a day ends so spectacularly.

Leek (Leek Branch) to Red Bull (Trent and Mersey)
Miles: 19.0, Locks: 14

Total Miles: 188.1, Total Locks: 117

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