Monday 20 July 2009

Getting there and Tuel Tunnel

Day 1 of the adventure, and Mum and Dad have us up, fed and walked at an early hour because it's a 4-5 hour run in the car. Also Mum's been running yet another OU essay right up to the deadline and has been typing away till 2 am, so there's a bit of a last minute packing crisis. Mum doses up on some rocket fuel vitamin mixture and manages to be awake for enough time to pack her stuff and get as far as the car. She can then sleep for the journey (and she pretty much does!).

We hit Sowerby Bridge at about 1pm, to find the Silverwoods are already on site, gathered round a caff and thinking about lunches and coffees. That's Mr and Mrs S, of course, then Em-J (11), J-M (9), M (3) and baby R (18 months). This boat is going to contain 4 adults (well "grown ups" anyway - more on how "adult" some of them are soon), 4 children and we 3 dogs. As is the law around these boat hires, Dad is nominated "Skipper" (someone has to be), and for fun all the rest are allocated tasks and ranks - Mr S is "Chief Lock Wrangler", for example and Mum is "Galley Slave and Baby-wrangler". Baby R is "Ballast".

At 2pm they release the boat to us, and give the humans their briefing and training/refresher (electrics, engine, gas, central heating, cooker etc) plus show them through the first couple of locks - probably more to assess them than to train them. Would you let this lot loose with £100,000 and 7 ton of boat? Nor would I.

This also neatly gets us through one of Sowerby Bridge's more famous loacks , the Tuel Tunnel double-height one, nominated numbers 3/4. When the canal pretty much went out of use and was abandonned in the 50's, some councils took the opportunity to widen main roads by filling in the canal and building over the top.

When the campaign to re-open them started with the explosion of tourism around waterways, this meant that some sections of canal had to be re-invented along slightly different lines. In Manchester (we think it is) there is even a new right angle bit around a fairly new Supermarket. In Sowerby Bridge, locks 3 and 4 had been demolished, and the solution was to tunnel under the road (the Tuel Tunnel) and then create a hugely tall lock chamber with massive tall gates that lifts the boats up the equivalent height (19 feet 4" total) of the two original locks.

This lock is manned by the British Waterways officials, and you "rope on" by feeding a loop of rope through vertical slidey cables set in rebates in the lock wall, so that your loop of rope comes up with the boat.

Then we had lots of paperwork to sign and we were free to go!


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