Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Harecastle Tunnel… The alternate way

A blustery day but dry, and so I thought I might use the alternate Harecastle route.  My assumption is few boaters have used the top route?  No doubt Paul Balmer has when collecting data for his canal maps!  Looking at his map (link to website here) it’s obvious the towpath doesn’t follow the same alignment as the tunnel.

MM Towpath

Map courtesy of Waterway Routes

The towpath is the red dotted line in the above map extract.  However I’m not convinced this is the original route.  The reason for this will become clear shortly.

My own route was more direct.

OSM Towpath

The canal is green and my route is red.  The arrow points to Harecastle Hill.  You can see from the contour lines in the above map that my route took me over the top of the hill whilst the official towpath goes around the left (western) side.


A photo taken from above the entrance to Brindley’s original tunnel looking north.  My route took me up the CRT access road and then east across the B5371 road.  The tunnel was now directly underneath my feet.  Looking back in the direction of the tunnel entrance I noticed the war memorial park. 


Fortunately it’s not a cemetery otherwise the occupants might have wet feet! Smile

At this point I’m on the “official” towpath.  A hint as to the right route can be seen in the next photo.


The route continues up Boathorse Road.  There are actually two railway lines here that both enter tunnels above Harecastle Tunnel.  The first is the Stafford to Manchester line and is still in use.  The railway enters a tunnel under the road to the left of the position of the lady in the following photo.


The second railway roughly follows the alignment of Harecastle Tunnel.  I came upon the northern tunnel portal at the park.  This is where I continued going whilst the designated towpath turns west.


Northern entrance to the old rail tunnel.  This tunnel has been abandoned and I assume this is why there is a second rail route.  I continued on up Boathorse road which became steeper and narrower.  Eventually I arrived at Harecastle Hill which is approximately 200 metres above sea level.  If visibility had been good there would have been views to Chester, the Welsh hills and Cumbria.


Chester is out there somewhere!


Off to the northeast was Mow Cop.  It’s just over 100 metres higher than Harecastle Hill.  Did you notice the brick air vent in the above photo?


A closer view.  I can’t remember if Harecastle Tunnel has air vents and this may actually be one of the air vents to the abandoned rail tunnel which runs adjacent to the canal tunnel.  You can see a second air vent in the next photo.


OK, I just took a peek at Wikipedia which states Telford’s tunnel was built by digging 15 shafts which were then connected by tunnelling horizontally.  If the 15 air shafts still exist I would have expected to see more of them.

At Harecastle Hill Boathorse Road makes a 90 deg turn west for 170 metres.  This part of the road has been abandoned and all that remains is a rough walking track with evidence of the former bitumen surface in places.  The track ends at a static caravan park.  A not particularly attractive caravan park.  Actually I wondered why anyone would want to live in it!


Looking back!  The track starts behind the trailer.

I’m still on Boathorse road which is still narrow but only serves the caravan park and isn’t very busy.  My route is now parallel with the tunnel and I head towards the southern portal past Ben & Kelly who were obviously on holiday!


Yes….. I’m never going to forget or forgive!

And at the other end of the road is……


Behind me can be seen the former alignment of the abandoned railway which is actually running above and parallel to the canal tunnel.


It looks like the former alignment has been recently cleared of undergrowth. 

It’s a very short walk to rejoin the canal towpath.  A brief diversion took me to above the sourthern portal.


Then it was a case of retracing my footsteps.


Halfie said...

I enjoyed your description of the route and the photos. I have been "over the top", but on my bike and using roads!

Tom and Jan said...

I suspect you are a member of a very small group alive today!