Yearly Archives: 2023

stone lock cottage

stone lock cottage

The owners of Stone Lock Cottage, which is part of Beeston Stone Lock (a Grade II listed structure) on the Shropshire Union Canal, have applied for planning permission to demolish this historic lock keeper's cottage and replace it with a modern dwelling and separate garage.

stone lock cottage

stone lock cottage

Stone Lock Cottage is situated at the side of the Shropshire Canal at Beeston Stone Lock. The lock and the cottage are in a Conservation Area, and whilst the lock is already Grade II listed, the cottage itself is of historic interest, and has also been put forward as a building which should be listed. (see page 80 of Cheshire West and Chester Council's document published in 2018)

The cottage, formerly owned by British Waterways, was originally sold in 1992. The current owners put in a planning application to Cheshire West and Chester Council in February 2023. In October of this year, they submitted a changed proposal, requesting permission to demolish Stone Lock Cottage and replace it with a new dwelling and a detached garage.

Canal River Trust became involved because the deeds show incorrect boundary lines, attributing land to the owners on the offside of the canal which is in fact owned by CRT. It sounds as though CRT have previously notified the Cheshire Council of this, but are still waiting for the deeds to be altered.

The second reason for CRT's involvement is that the charity is there to "protect the heritage of the canals". Indeed, in their letter to Cheshire Council they state:

"Given the nearby canal heritage, including the Grade II listed No 12 Beeston Stone Lock, Linkman's Hut and Chester Canal Conservation Area, the impact of the Heritage Impact Assesment (HIA) is welcomed. The HIA outlines thorough research into the history of the site, particularly the relationship of lock cottages with the canal, and there is significant evidence provided of the historic and archaeological merits of the site. However, the HIA provides minimal assessment with regard to how the proposed design and form of the replacement dwelling would mitigate potential harm to the immediate designated heritage assets. We would ask the Council to satisfy itself that the application is sufficiently evidenced in this regard..."

In their letter, CRT go on to discuss various facets of the new design, and point out that in accordance with the initial sale in 1992, everything has to be passed through the Trust.

Given the bad publicity that CRT have occasionally been subjected to - for instance, with regard to the sale of the historic Crick Wharf to new developers - it is important to recognise that in this instance, they are doing their utmost to ensure that any new dwelling on the site of Stone Lock Cottage will not impact on the canal and its users in any way.

However, an additional point of interest is that despite Stone Lock Cottage being within three metres of Beeston Stone Lock, which as we know is a Grade II Listed Structure, Historic Buildings England were not made aware of this planning application - especially as Stone Lock Cottage, built for the Lock Keeper, could arguably be deemed to be an intrinsic part of the Grade II listed lock.

If you are interested in the preservation of the heritage of our canals and its stuctures and buildings, or have a particular affinity with the Shropshire Union canal, then it might be worth your while writing to the Cheshire West and Chester Council, Council Offices, 4 Civic Way, Ellesmere Port, CH65 0BE.

The planning application can be viewed on Cheshire West & Chester Council's planning portal, reference 22/04592/FUL.

domestic water tank maintenance

domestic water tank maintenance

With more cruising downtime, this is the perfect time of year to undertake maintenance tasks. One area requiring attention is the domestic water tank, so here, River Canal Rescue advises on the different types of tanks and how to purify them.

Typically constructed of three types of material; plastic, stainless steel or mild steel, each water tank has differing maintenance requirements and associated risks.

The highest risk material is mild steel - it reacts with oxygen to produce rust which drastically depreciates the water, creating an environment for bacteria to develop. While the bacteria is not known to be dangerous, if a bacterial infection takes hold, it can give the water a foul smell and taste. When inspecting the tank, the bacterial infection will look like slime attached to the sides.

Plastic tanks offer greater protection from bacterial infection however, dependent on material and age, they will start to release toxins into the water when they begin to break down so it’s important to replace plastic tanks in accordance with their shelf life.

They’re also more likely to absorb or hold any chemicals added to purify the water. For example, the chemical in purifying tablets used to flush the system may remain in the water for a year or so and while these toxins are not dangerous, a chemical smell and taste will persist.
The lowest risk material is stainless steel – this offers protection from rusting and bacterial infection and as it doesn’t retain toxins, it avoids persistent foul smells and tastes.

domestic water tank

domestic water tanks - steel

Domestic water tank maintenance differs by material.

Stainless steel tanks require a purification cycle of at least once a year. To do this, add a purifying tablet to a FULL water tank and leave to activate for the advised time period. Once purification has occurred, turn all the taps on and drain the system as much as possible. This will ensure purification flows through the system. Next, refill and flush the tank twice more to evacuate any residual chemical within the system (with the taps on and a running hose pipe in the tank).

Mild steel tanks require the same purification cycle as a stainless-steel tank but they also need deep cleaning every three to five years. This entails removing the inspection cover and power washing the inside. Do not sand down or rub the rust off - rust is not dangerous and the power washer will remove any loose rust and debris build up. Do not paint the inside of the tank (unless specialist paint is used) as this will leach toxins into the water.

Plastic tanks also require a yearly purification cycle, but instead of using chemicals, they should be cleaned out manually using hot water. If the tank is inaccessible a hot water flush will suffice. If a chemical is the only method available, regularly flush the system with fresh water. Furthermore, do not allow water to stand in the tank for long periods of time as this increases the build-up of toxins in the water.

Finally, filtration is advisable for any domestic water tank. A filter will remove any debris or sediment, drastically improving the water quality and consistency, and there are also filters that can remove toxins. Filtration however, does not replace the need for tank maintenance and if this is neglected, water will be foul smelling/tasting water even if filters are installed.
RCR has more boat maintenance tips on its website.

storms sink boats

storms sink boats

​As storms continue to batter the UK, River Canal Rescue (RCR) is reporting an increase in the number of call-outs to recover submerged vessels. In October, Storm Babet alone, was responsible for 13 boats succumbing to rapidly rising water levels on the Caldon, Chesterfield, Leeds & Liverpool and Leicester Canals, the Rivers Great Ouse, Soar, Trent and Weaver, and in Leicester Marina.

RCR expects persistent heavy rainfall and storms to increase the number of vessels experiencing issues and says continually rising water levels will result in more divers needed to recover them.

“Boats either couldn’t cope with the deluge of rain, were unable to rise in line with increasing water levels due to too tight ropes, or in the case of one call-out, sunk after trying to turn in strong currents, ended up listing and catching a tree stump where water overwhelmed the vents,” comments managing director, Stephanie Horton.

“A number were swept down river when flood waters and flow increased, depositing them, semi-submerged and miles from their home location.”

RCR says in a seven-week period, starting the beginning of October, 35 vessels fell victim to storms Babet, Ciaran and Debi. “With our winters predicted to become even wetter, it’s important to prepare for stormy weather and check your insurance is adequate,” Stephanie continues.

Over 40% of the rescues RCR has attended have had claims denied for differing reasons, including some where salvage is not included in the cover.

half submerged boat

"Be prepared," Stephanie adds: “While not all situations can be avoided, owners should check their mooring ropes are loose enough to cope with sudden changes in water levels, and if a mooring is at risk of flooding, run a rope to locations that can still be accessed even in a flood situation.

“To stop a vessel drifting onto land when water levels rise, position a scaffold pole or poles, or a
boarding plank, between the boat and the river/canal side edge and fix it into position. This acts as a mooring post, preventing flood waters from floating the boat onto land.”

Alongside weather-related emergencies, RCR reports badly-worn deck boards and leaking stern
glands are key contributors to water ingress.

Stephanie explains: “Engine bays covered by marine-ply deck boards are supported by a C-shaped steel channel with drain holes to collect any seeping rainwater. If the drain holes block with debris, leaves and dirt etc, water flows over the channel sides into the engine bay. Over time, the wooden deck boards decay, creating a wider gap between them, and so the downward spiral continues; more debris falls into the channel holes and more water flows into the engine bay. Prevent this by replacing worn deck boards and clearing drainage holes.

“If a stern gland leaks when the vessel is stationary, it can potentially flood the engine area. As this collar of rubber or brass forms a barrier where the propeller shaft exits the hull, it must be well-greased with tight packing. The grease should act as a seal while not in use and you can tighten it by adjusting the nut on the stern tube.

“If greasing and tightening the adjust bolts fails to slow the leak, the packing may need replacing. Address this fast; a quick build-up of water will cause the vessel to sink - even if you have a bilge pump, it will soon be overwhelmed.

“When the propeller shaft is turning, a stern gland should only leak a few drops a minute - it’s
difficult to be precise, as the amount is dependent on the gland’s age and type. However, water must circulate through the stern gland to keep it cool as the shaft turns. If you’re unsure what adjustment to make, check the stern gland temperature; if it’s too hot, the packing’s too tight.

Water spilling into the engine bay will cause the vessel to sit lower in the water, which in turn puts shower, sink or air outlets nearer to the water level, often with devastating results.”

Stephanie concludes: “Water ingress should not be a problem if you have a bilge pump. If possible, invest in an automatic one as it’s more reliable than a manual. Once left on the ‘automatic’ setting, its float switch dictates when it should pump, ensuring an immediate response to water ingress. And should a leak develop from elsewhere, such as the cooling system or hull, it will keep your vessel safe. However, if you’re leaving your boat for long periods you do need to regularly check on the battery.

“And if you have a bilge pump, install a bilge filter, such as Bilgeaway - this stops your boat pumping pollutants into the waterways.”

RCR’s filter, Bilgeaway, is the world’s first truly environmentally-friendly bilge discharge filter. It
extracts contaminants from bilge water, renders them non-reactive and leaves the contents in a
cartridge which can be disposed of and the housing re-used.

nbta protest birmingham

nbta protest birmingham

angry boaters march on crt office

Picking Sides

A bright, blue-sky day in November, I happened upon a clutch of banner wielding, trumpet tooting crowds. On a whim I had decided to see for myself the protest march on the CRT’s head office in Birmingham. Initially my feelings were mixed; true the rise in licence fee was annoying; for the first time ever I’d had to pay my boat licence in two parts, paying the full annual in one go had become impossible for me; yet at the same time, I wondered if marching on the CRT was the right course of action as, the price hike was, in my view, down to central government cutting all funding to what, was an important, if not vital part of national infrastructure.

However, bitter experience, and being a liveaboard, skewed my impartiality, it was impossible not to be biased. The last time I was in Birmingham, was February, I was moored there aboard my own boat, Ella, and, was to be one of the last people there to take advantage of the full fortnight in the city centre. Even while moored there, notices were going up about ‘limiting the inner city moorings to 48 hours. I’d also seen gentrification; Lichfield Basin in Stourport, excellent moorings but closed off to all boats since the early 21st century; penthouse developers feeling that while ‘life was better by water’ such water should not be encumbered by boats - heaven forbid! And along the towpath, new signs announcing, ‘Attention Dog Owners, Please pick up after your dog’ followed by the irritatingly twee, ‘Attention Dogs; Grr, Bark, Woof.’ Surely responsible owners know to pick up after their furry chums and irresponsible owners would hardly be swayed by this whimsy.

Any boater who uses the system will have their own horror stories; interminable stoppages, locked Bin yards and Elsan points and now we were faced with a 25% rise in all licences with an extra surcharge for continuous cruisers.

As we waited for more arrivals to swell our dwindling band, I met an old friend of mine whom I’d not seen in nearly a year. Over a pint of Pale Ale, he told me he was moored on my old stomping ground on the Worcester and Birmingham, telling horror stories of landslides at Shortwood Tunnel and yet another stoppage at Tardebigge.

It did not take much convincing for me to seize a banner, helpfully distributed by the Bargee and Travellers Association. So much of impartiality.

angry boaters march

boaters' march crosses canal bridge in Birmingham

Compelling Arguments

I’ve a confession to make; I’m a continuous moorer. In my four and a half years on the boat I’ve spent 15 months in boatyards and marinas, and only 15 months outside of Worcestershire. No matter, I was still a liveaboard and while, by virtue of having a home mooring, I would not be subject to the surcharge of 25% increase over five years, I was still acutely aware of the increase to my own licence.

The Narrowboaters, Bargees and Travellers association argued that the surcharge would only generate 0.6% of CRT profits, whilst disproportionately affecting a minority of boat owners. CRT’s own figures bear this out. In their March 2022 survey of 9530 boaters, 79% had a home mooring, while under a third of licence holders, 21%, did not.

From my own experience too, I’ve observed that much of the strain on the system comes from people with less vested interest. Not that I wish to make generalizations, because I’ve seen many a responsible skipper of a hire or ‘shiny’ boat but I have seen irresponsible weekend skippers too, dropping paddles, leaving litter, speeding to complete a circuit. I’ve also experienced exploitation personally from one, very well-known hire company, which took me on as casual labour, boat-blacking. I worked 13 hours over 3 days and was not paid, despite repeated attempts at asking for payment. Businesses, like hire firms, I would venture are far more responsible for wear and tear on the system and one wonders whether a surcharge would be better deployed there.

Another solution; posited by none other than David Suchet at the IWA’s annual general meeting, (which I gate-crashed) was passing on the costs to towpath users; such as licencing cyclists, or installing secure donation boxes at various points on the system. The view of the IWA however was that with 4,700 miles it would be almost impossible to police such a task of licencing cyclists, without being prohibitively expensive, and that to rely on goodwill of towpath users alone would be inadequate, especially during a ‘cost-of-living crisis.’

My own view is that the waterways should never have been made into a Charitable case, though this may be covered by hearing tales from the old timers about how much better things were in the days of British Waterways. It’s no surprise that the CRT came into being during David Cameron’s first term as P.M. seeing as Tory party policy is based on Wildean principles of cynicism; ‘Knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.’ Besides, had they not have abdicated responsibility for the waterways, they wouldn’t be able to reap the fortunes of all those wonderful profits made by private water companies for pouring effluence into our waters. Ultimately it’s a political problem requiring a political solution but the CRT picking on the poorest, often most vulnerable group on the waters is a far cry from what anyone expects of a ‘charity.’

boaters on boat as part of demonstration

angry boaters in Birmingham

On the March

It had been twenty years since I’d protested; that had been in Birmingham too. In 2003 I marched against the Iraq war along some of the same streets I was marching now. We numbered over a thousand but I recall that protest as being a column of quiet, dignified silence, placards declaring ‘Not in our name’ doing the talking. This time we were a tenth of that number; just over a hundred, but by God, we made up for it with noise.

We did not have the strength of numbers for quiet dignity but with the loss of self-consciousness that comes with living for long period in isolation we made a loud, and colourful mob. One lady, whose Father and Grandfather had been coal-carriers on the cut, told me she’d attended protests throughout her life and throughout Europe; “I’ve been arrested for protesting in three countries,” she told me with pride.

This was an extraordinary demonstration, boaters had come from all over the country; I spoke with people who had come from the K&A, Lincolnshire, and London. Many the very image of the Continuous Cruiser, tough, weather beaten, dreadlocked, dressed for comfort, not style, every inch of them exuding the rugged pioneer spirit that comes with frontier living; enough to put the fear of God or the disdain of squires looking to empty their wallets in the boutiques and bistros of a Black Friday weekend.

Call: “From the Med to the Lea!”
Response: “One licence, one fee!”
Call “Boats are homes!”
Response: “Scrap the Surcharge.”
Call “1,2,3,4-
Response “Where are we supposed to moor?”
Call “5,6,7,8”
Response “We just want to navigate!”

Not everyone was indifferent or disdainful. Along the way many bank dwellers smiled on us, a couple of times onlookers stopped and offered us fist bumps in solidarity and on the flanks of our column, leaflets were distributed.

Reaching the foot of Richard Parry’s office, one red-headed lady really vented; “Come down here, Parry you b*****d, I’ll stick this placard where the sun shines!”

Even I, with previous form for penning satirical snatches and ditties couldn’t resist making up my own; “Parry is a Dick, Parry is Dick, Richard Parry, Richard Parry, Parry is a Dick, oi!”

We were a column of merry-pranksters, come to freak-out the norms, come to show that we were still here and would be heard. What little police presence there was, seemed more bemused than threatened by this confederation of angry hippies, new agers, travellers and bohemians. Compared to most protests (and there’ve been a lot lately) the tone here was more mischief than violence, angry but still at heart, good-natured, as most boaters are.

angry boaters with placards

boaters' march in Birmingham

The Flotilla and Continuing the Fight

At the water’s edge, beneath Parry’s office, boats made doughnut wakes at Ozell’s street loop, displaying their banners. I especially recall a beautiful old tug; at its bow a man with a Methuselah beard and a roll up. ‘One licence one price.’

The March concluded at Cambrian Wharf where we were addressed by the bigwigs of the Narrowboaters, Bargee and Travellers association. As I was straining to listen, some-one in the crowd approached me; “You a boater? Where did you come from?”
I told him. “Great, you’re the first person I’ve met from that port - here” - he handed me a wad of flyers; “Distribute ‘em around your town will you?” Gleefully, I agreed.
Then, gradually, we dispersed, handed in our placards and went to the pub.

News Blackout?

The community of Continuous Cruisers is probably the smallest single community in the country. True there had been plenty of photographers there, yet, when I started scanning the News there was little to no-reportage on the march. A brief article on the BBC Midlands website, but very little else, though what could one-expect in an age of conflict Israel versus Palestine grabbing the headlines. “Never mind,” I reassured my companion “Still early days yet, I’ll bet the Birmingham Mail ‘ll cover it.”

A day later an article did appear in the Birmingham Mail; “We sold our three bedroomed home to live on a narrowboat.” I rolled my eyes; how many times have I read articles about middle-class people selling up and taking to the water. Scanning it I found very little different from this type of story. “…sold their three bedroomed house in Sussex…” The couple in question were notable only by their absence on the march, but then having just sold a three bedroomed house, down south, I doubted they would be much affected by the price rises. Perhaps this is the shape of things to come, these of the new boaters being the kind that the CRT appeal to; genteel, with kids, moneyed, don’t-make-a-fuss, gentrified types. Not that swarm of passionate, raggle-taggled water gypies. Who knows, when the next issue of Waterways World, or some-such publication may run a paragraph on it.

For what it’s worth then, here is my account. From one who was there. From one who cares.


funeral for a friend

dawncraft chronicles

funeral for a friend

When I was young I wanted a Thames barge. We lived near Maldon and some of my early memories were walking along the sea front with loads of old boats in various states of either rebuild or decay. West Mersea at that time was a true grave yard with many old hulls pulled up to the highest of spring tide marks and converted into house boats, getting wet probably only two or three times a year. It always seemed to me to be such as sad end to a boat. As for my Thames barge, well, I could probably afford one, but I certainly couldn’t ever afford to maintain or renovate one.

This got me thinking the other day about Dawn Treader and what would become of her if ever I was incapacitated. Sutton Hoo aside – the idea of being buried in it with all my worldly goods and my desire to go to Valhalla where probably for the first time in years I could stay up late and have a drink with a few friends - wouldn’t go down well from an ecology point of view as although the resin burns well the glass fibre remains. Sadly, the only option would be to break her up and put it all in a 6 cubic yard skip for land fill (may as well be buried in it then).

decaying boat on canal

I did some research on this and came up blank – there are one or two companies that specialise in the destruction and salvage of old sail boats, but no one seems to be dealing with end of life boats on canals and waterways. This is going to be a major problem in say five or ten years. Ok Dawntreader is glass fibre, 1 pot of resin, some matt and gel coat and you can just about fix anything at a reasonable cost – even her brand new transom wasn’t overly expensive in comparison to say a wooden or steel boat. But as I make my way down the canal, you cannot help noticing that many of the barges are coming to the end of their life with what would be astronomical repair costs.

From an engineering point of view, steel and water are a nightmare for corrosion and require really good coatings (paint to you and I ) to prevent the rust. However, there are other problems. The moment we mix in electricity and especially direct current which most of us use from batteries, we set up a form of electrolysis that starts to eat the hull. Ok we all know that we should use sacrificial anodes but what we don’t realise is after a while these become inaffective. I have seen boats with almost a spider’s web look to the hull as the electrolysis eats away at the metal.

I noticed this on Dawntreader's outboard. What appeared to be a half-worn anode simply wasn’t working as it furred up, for want of a better term. Suddenly the edge of her prop or cavitation plate is acting as the anode and the outboard is being eaten alive!!

Add increased licence fees, price rises in both gas and fuel, the lack of places that a boat can be pulled out at a reasonable cost before you even start blacking, hull survey or paying a welder to fit new anodes. I once welded the floors into a Morris 1000, the welding took half a day, removing the interior and years of bitumen under-seal took two weekends and I am sure it's the same for a narrow boat.

This problem seems to be affecting many harbours and inlets around the Cornish coast where boats have been abandoned, leaving it to the harbour authority or local council to dispose of. It would seem dis-owning a boat is just as easy as buying one! From what I have read you inform CRT that you sold it to a bloke down the pub and cancel your licence and seeing as for many this is their home address it would be difficult for any agency to find the real owner should someone walk away.

abandoned and rotting boat

So, what is the answer? I am lucky being at Foxhangers. I have a decent slip right next door and there is one in the marina at Devizes and a dry dock at Semington. However, head towards Bristol and there is nothing much at all. Considering the number of boats on the canal, that is rather worrying. What we need is yards like I grew up with on the East Coast where boats were pulled out at a nominal fee and there were enough skilled people around to either do the work for you or instruct you for a morning on how to caulk a hull, apply antifouling, change a prop, anode etc., all of which their marina shop had in stock!!! Of course, the tide went out twice a day so as long as you could park off the mud you had 8 hours of dry work time.

Maybe that is where it has gone wrong; may be CRT need to own and rent more dry docks and alleviate a potential problem. However, anyone can own a boat but not all have the practical skills or money to keep them maintained.

I would still love a Thames barge though, but I think we would slowly decay together.

detour onto the llangollen canal

detour onto the llangollen canal

This year has been a catalogue of changed plans on the cut due to all the stoppages and maintenance restrictions where we were cruising.

Issues with Bosley and Marple Locks on the Macclesfield Canal, plus Lock 57 on the Trent and Mersey Canal meant we spent a couple of weeks going around in circles, eventually retreating to the beauty of the Peak Forest Canal for a couple of months over the summer.

We wanted to head for the Skipton area on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal this winter, but with the Wigan flight out of action until the end of October, we decided to head for the delights of Nantwich for a few days.

It was only after we'd gone through Wardle Lock on the Middlewich Branch that we spotted it was due to close on November 6th which would mean a bit of a rush to get to Nantwich and onward to Blackburn because of yet more closures!

Navigating the canal system takes a lot of concentration at times.

stream and autumn leaves

Eglwyseg cliffs near Llangollen

To maintain a more relaxed approach to life, we decided to head for the Llangollen Canal; we'd been here last year in May which was very busy, so we thought the autumn/winter would show us the area from a different perspective.

As we headed towards Chirk, the trees really began to show their glorious autumn colours and there were very few boats around.

autumn colour on the LLangollen Canal

viewing platform near Whixall

We spent a few days in Whitchurch, Ellesmere and Llangollen Basin and did an early morning yoga session at the top of the Mammoth Tower viewing platform near Whixall!

We're so pleased we decided to take a detour into Wales and are looking forward to seeing where our next adventure will take us.

journeying through the standedge tunnel

journeying through the standedge tunnel

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal

In 1794 acts of Parliament were passed to build two new canals, The Rochdale and The Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Direct routes between Manchester, the north-west and Yorkshire were needed to transport goods between the centres of industry. The goods were principally textiles: wool and cotton and their raw components. The HNC connected Aston under Lyme in Greater Manchester (then Lancashire) with Huddersfield in West Yorkshire.

This very beautiful canal is 19.3 miles long and has narrow 74 locks. It is a journey through woodland, moors, industrial towns and historic mill villages. The summit pound is the highest in Britain but perhaps the canals most remarkable feature is The Standedge Tunnel which connects Diggle to Marsden. Robert Aickman proposed it as one of the Seven Wonders of The Waterways.

Standedge Tunnel, Huddersfield Narrow CanalThe Standedge Tunnel

• 3.2 miles through gritstone,
• 640ft under the surrounding hills of The Pennines.
• 643ft above sea level.
• The Highest, Longest, Deepest tunnel in the Country.

Construction Difficulties

Construction of the Standedge Tunnel began from both ends in 1798; a tunnel rather than more locks was thought to be a better option due to concerns about water shortages. The main bulk of the excavating and mining being done by Irish navvies, Cornish tin miners and local farm labours, around 2500 men were employed during the 17 year project. The bold scheme met with difficulties from the start. Numerous factors slowed down the tunnelling: cut backs were enforced such as halting the construction of smaller tunnels to supply waterwheels used to raise soil and waste. Higher than expected water levels within the tunnel were found and poor drainage provision hampered the work. The main contractor suffered large losses and needed extra funding to continue and when he pulled out nobody else wanted to tender for the job.

Poor working practises made the conditions underground for the navvies extremely dangerous: The work was carried out by candle light, the air quality was very bad, and the rock was blasted away by gun powered. Several men lost their lives in explosions. Officially 50 men died of various causes but there were probably many more as those that died at home did not figure in the official count. The Diggle Hotel, which still stand today, was used a morgue.

There were squabbles and disagreements with the overseers of the tunnelling too. The mill owners, who had partially financed the venture, disagreed on many details. The original engineer, Benjamin Outram withdrew from the scheme due to ongoing complications, complaints and ill health. Finally, after a period of inactivity, the canal committee applied successfully to Parliament for more money to complete the project. Canal royalty, Thomas Telford, was asked for his advice which resulted in a new plan being drawn up for its competition. The two ends of the tunnel met in 1809 but they weren’t quite square so the tunnel now has its famous S bend.

Daily Workings through the Tunnel

Despite all the difficulties, the first boat passed through the tunnel in 1810 and in March 1811 it was complete with a grand opening ceremony being held a few weeks later. Several boats carrying invited guests transited the tunnel in a time of 1 hour 40 minutes. The tunnel had cost £160.000 making it the most expensive in Britain.

Professional ‘Leggers’ were employed to power the barges through the tunnel. Working in pairs they were paid one shilling and sixpence per boat. To stop arguments about who was going to go through first a young boy was employed to organise the crews. He was also responsible to walking the horses up and over the fell to the other side. When all the horses had been claimed, he knew that no boats were inside and he could let the next group of boats pass through. He did this job for 37 years with only a day off each year for Christmas. His family lived in the building that is now the café.

Between its opening day and 1840 the tunnel was used by around 40 boats daily. The passage was only open to single boat working (although there are a few passing places) and with an empty boat taking around 1 hour 20 mins and 3 hours for a laden one, the competitiveness of the canal suffered, especially when it was compared to its rival The Rochdale Canal just the other side of the fell. Another difficulty was that the HNC was built for 70ft narrow boats while the Hudderfield Broad Canal could take wider but shorter 57ft boats as used on the Calder and Hebble navigation. This meant that goods had to be transferred between the two canals at Huddersfield which increased costs to levels that weren’t sustainable. This was exacerbated by the coming of the Huddersfield and Manchester railway.

Demise of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Three railway tunnels run parallel to the canal tunnel. The first opened in 1848 with a second one opening in 1871. The trains carried goods between Manchester and Huddersfield, two major centres in the textile industries. The third, double track line is the only one used today; the other two are disused but still intact. All four tunnels are linked by adits and cross tunnels. Ironically the canal was used to remove the spoil from the construction of the railway which allowed it to be built in just 3 years without the need for construction shafts.

With the railways taking trade away from the canals the HNC fell into a slow decline, with the last commercial boat transiting in 1921. In 1944 the canal was officially closed although in 1948 ‘The Alisa Craig’ helmed by L.T.C.Rolt, and Robert Aickman, two of the founders of the Inland Waterways Association, did managed to struggle through. She was the last barge to pass along the canal before the lock gates were removed in the 1950s.

A maintenance boat was housed at the summit level tasked with carrying out inspections and basic work within the tunnel. In 1960/61 this boat took canal enthusiasts on trips through the tunnel but parts of the roof had become unstable and eventually collapsed making the excursions impossible. At the time of the closure a local newspaper reporting that satanic rituals were taking place and that workers had found strange wall art and severed sheeps’ heads deep in the heart of The Pennines!

The Restoration of the Canal and Tunnel

In the 1990s the money finally became available to restore the tunnel thanks to the efforts of The Huddersfield Canal Society and the local community. It was in a bad state of repair with over 1.5 miles of tunnel impassable due to rock falls. Many sections had to be stabilised with rock bolts and lined with concrete. Over 3,000 tons of rocks had to be removed along with 10,000 tons of silt. The total cost of repairing the tunnel was over 5 million pounds: rather a lot more than the original cost. The tunnel was officially opened by the then Prince Charles on May 1st 2001.

Initially it was considered unsafe for modern diesel powered boats to pass through the tunnel using their engines due to lack of ventilation and they were assisted through by an electric tug boat. However since 2009 boats have been able to pass through under their own power.

The Tunnel is said to be haunted as visitors and staff have reported seeing strange lights, hearing unexplained sounds and there are rumours of a mysterious robed figure….During the autumn of 2023 a group of enthusiasts are undertaking a paranormal investigation within the tunnel.

Standedge Tunnels - cross-section

The Standedge Tunnel today.

Today it is possible to helm your own boat through the tunnel. The average time to transit is 2 hours. A trained volunteer chaperone accompanies you on your boat. A second team member drives along the disused train tunnel parallel to the canal tunnel and meets you at adits along the way.

How to book

It is necessary to book your passage through the tunnel at least 3 days in advance. Passage from Marsden to Diggle is between 0830 and 1030 am and between Diggle to Marsden between 1300 hrs and 1430 hrs. Booking can be done online or by ringing 03030 404040 and speaking to the Yorkshire and NE customer service team. Places and dates are limited. In 2023, around 200 boats used the tunnel. Passage down The Marsden Flight also needs to be booked so that the top lock can be unlocked.

What to expect

Helming your own boat through the Standedge Tunnel is an amazing experience. After a while you become accustomed to the dark and the restricted head room and relax and start to enjoy the journey. The CRT volunteers provide hard hats and extra lights for your boat and the chaperone is calm and reassuring as well as being very knowledgeable about the history of the tunnel. It is rather wet in places and a tight fit but we passed through without damaging our boat (we had taken off the covers to our navigation lights beforehand). If you don’t fancy the idea of helming yourself the volunteers will do it for you and meet you at the other side. At the Marsden entrance there is are a café, shop and visitors centre which are well worth stopping for.

This canal is one of my all-time favourites; it is diverse, exciting, hard work but enormously rewarding. I highly recommend it.

all is safely gathered in

all is safely gathered in

and frozen solid!

cover of Crimson Lake 'Vee' book

A very long time ago, I was looking out of the cabin window and saw that the canal basin had a sheet of ice on it again but, after the crisis in early autumn that could have wiped everyone out, I was determined, come hell or high water, that Christmas was going to happen!

My new home, a beautiful seventy foot long narrowboat conversion named Crimson Lake was frozen into her mooring again despite my efforts at ice breaking so, lagged with several sweaters and a thick coat, I set about poking at the refreezing water round the hull as the skaters and people walking about on the frozen basin enjoyed the seasonal weather. I’d taken as many precautions as I could, using sump heaters to keep the diesel and water tanks just above freezing, and had run the motor regularly to keep the battery charged. Thankfully the water beneath was still liquid but I had to keep an eye on the cooling water as it formed icicles quite quickly as it plopped on top of the frozen canal.

Inside, Crimson Lake was toasty and warm with the wood burners in the main and boater’s cabins doing a sterling job.

Crimson Lake - snow canal watercolour painting by Michael Nye

Crimson Lake Narrowboat interior

Crimson Lake - frozen canal

This was pretty much the archetypal “White Christmas” of the song. I have to admit that, having heard it so many times I had to resist the urge to throw a brick at the radio every time I noticed the damn ditty being played, but the radio is one of my most prized possessions. It was the first Christmas present I received after liberating myself from the orphanage that had been my home since I was found, as a baby, neatly tucked into a basket and placed on the steps of the main door.

I’d spent a good deal of time putting decorations up and the main cabin looked just a little over the top on the festive stakes but I was more than happy with the result. The little valve radio was glowing and playing a lot of trite Christmassy nonsense, adding to the atmosphere beautifully, whilst distracting me from the problems associated with living by myself on a boat through a record breakingly bad winter.

radio - watercolour

As the temperature outside was dropping again that feeling set me to thinking about the people that were not as lucky as I had been, the runaways and the folk without a home to go to. Basically the ones who, but for the grace of any random passing deity, I could well have been. Although I started out my life as a foundling, graduating at the ripe old age of thirteen to a runaway, I felt I had been more than lucky, thanks in a large part to a character I find hard not to see as my father. Also to find my way into employment and what I felt to be a good life. I could have taken a dive at any time, my mentor could have been a dishonourable bum. After my years of institutional existence though, I’d decided that I wasn’t ever going to do things the right or conventional way, so after a enjoying a decade and a half in more conventional accommodation it seemed natural to become a boat dweller.

Then I spotted my new home majestically mouldering on a canal arm that she could no longer sail out of due to rubbish being dumped in the water and lock mechanisms failing. Crimson Lake had not cost a fortune to convert back then, but I had been questioned several times as to why on earth I would want to live on a canal system that seemed in terminal decline. Some would no doubt say that I’d been stupid to run away from a secure home when I did but I landed on a person that was honourable and who did not take advantage. It’s true that Gerald, a local used car dealer didn’t think that a girl would be any good cleaning his vehicles and doing odd jobs. I worked hard though and, when the offer came, from one of his customers, of being a model for a school uniform catalogue, he was more than happy to support my change of direction.

Following a tap on the cabin roof, through the frost on the window, I could just about make out the shape of Gerald.

“I think I’m going into sellin’ flippin’ reindeer and sleighs after this,” he laughed as I offered him a glass of whisky to warm up. “I couldn’t start the Jag this morning so I hoofed it over here, I’ll stick her on a low gas later until she thaws out. I couldn’t have you spending the day on your own.”

As a confirmed bachelor, Gerald had been happy to spend the big day for many years on his own, but more recently, we tended to pool resources. This was a bit different, being my first winter afloat. In so many ways it was just an alternate location but it did and still does seem to be a totally different way of life and one which I would miss if I couldn’t live it. I’d thought that the weather would have put him off, along with the others I’d invited, but further taps on the cabin top ended up with a fairly full cabin which added to the general good feeling.

With dusk falling, it started snowing. Not the pretty little flakes that Bing Crosby sang about, but the sort that foiled John Falcon Scott. It was snowing and if the party went on we’d be digging our way out of it the next day. Do you know… That’s exactly what we did and followed our efforts with a big snowball fight with all comers. Christmas may come just once a year but I think I’ll remember that one as long as I live. I won’t sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” though, or I’ll be forced to throw a brick at myself.

lifeboat for the broads

lifeboat for the broads

Hemsby Lifeboat LogoThe story of the “Lifeboat for the Broads” really began in 1999 when following a call from Great Yarmouth Coastguard requesting the inshore inflatable lifeboat stationed on the coast at Hemsby to attend an incident several miles inland on Hickling Broad.
The Hemsby crew responded of course, even though to get to the scene of the incident meant having to tow the lifeboat several miles by road (courtesy of a local farmer) to a launching slip on the shore at Hickling Broad.

Although that was the first recorded incident of Hemsby Lifeboat having been tasked by the Coastguard to attend an incident on the Broads, the history of Hemsby Lifeboat station itself actually began many years previously in the early 1970s, following more than a dozen fatalities as a result of drowning along the coastal waters between Winterton and Scratby. The nearest lifeboats were an RNLI “D” class 5m inflatable at Happisburgh to the north and an old Liverpool Class all weather lifeboat capable of no more than about 8kts based at Caister to the south.

The result of these drownings was a commitment in 1975 by the local Hemsby community to form a local Rescue Service and to source an appropriate “rescue boat” in the shape of a 4.5m Avon inflatable on loan from Sub Aqua club. Later that year, thanks to the generosity of the Norfolk Broads Lions Club, The Hemsby Inshore Rescue Service (HIRS) was able to purchase their first boat, a 5m Avon Searider RIB with a 40hp Mercury outboard, appropriately named “Sealion 1” in recognition of the Lions Club’s support.

Following the purchase of their own rescue boat there was of course a need to source a boat-house to keep it in, but even more importantly to site this in a position that enabled the boat to be launched as quickly as possible in the event of a “shout”.  There was of course then a pressing need to equip the boat with essential kit such as life-jackets, VHF radio etc and to recruit volunteers to act as crew for the new boat and most importantly to provide training in seamanship, radio communications and first-aid for the boat and shore crews who initially numbered around thirty volunteers. In their very first year the Hemsby inshore rescue service responded to six incidents (nowadays usually referred to as “shouts”)

The next years, 1977 and 1978 were busy with all the administrative measures required for recognition by the Charity Commission, HM Coastguard and operational matters as well including the purchase of a Landrover for launching the rescue boat into the water, pagers for the crew, whilst during that same two-year period the HIRS responded to no less than 19 “shouts”

The1980s saw many developments amongst the most significant being the official recognition by HM Coastguard of Hemsby IRS as a “Declared Facility” and an integral part of the UK Search & Rescue organisation (UKSAR) Declared Facility Status, or DFS as its usually referred to is not an accolade that’s hard to achieve it also requires the station to conform to the Coastguard Code of Practice covering its range of operations and procedures, all of which are monitored annually by the Maritme & Coastguard Agency (MCA)

Other notable events during the 1980s and ‘90s included the building of a new purpose-built station building, the purchase of new boats Sealions ll, III and lV all against a worrying background of coastal erosion. During the two decades of the ‘80s and ‘90s Hemsby Inshore Rescue Services responded to more than eighty “shouts” culminating in 1999 with that incident described previously, several miles inland on Hickling Broad. This incident lead to a decision to purchase a dedicated “freshwater lifeboat” for use on inland waters, mainly of course for incidents on The Broads, where a shallow draft boat is needed and the usual RIB with its relatively deep hull designed for use at sea, often in rough weather, is really not best suited to the often quite shallow waters of the Broads.

Hemsby Lifeboat Station

So the turn of the century saw the introduction of the very first Hemsby Broads Rescue Boat, subsequently superceeded by similar types of boat culminating some few years ago with a 14 foot Seastrike/Goodchild Marine very shallow draft aluminium “dory” powered by a 30hp outboard and normally towed to one of some 32 launching sites around the 125 miles of the Broads inland waterways by a Mitsubishi L20 tow truck

Hemsby Lifeboat Station

This Broads Rescue Boat, known more commonly as the Lifeboat for the Broads, responds to an average of some 50 incidents on the Broads every year, while Hemsby’s sea-going RIB lifeboat also gets numerous shouts each year for incidents offshore, all made more difficult in terms of launching by the serious and on-going coastal erosion here which deserves far more from the government in terms of improved sea defences which if not forthcoming will result in the need for the whole Hemsby Lifeboat Station and its operations to be relocated.

Hemsby Lifeboat for Broads on Trailer

An example of the type of “shouts” that the Hemsby Lifeboat for the Broads responds to took place earlier this month as described in the local press:

Hemsby Broads Rescue was paged by Humber Coastguard last night at 23:40. Our assistance was requested by local Coastguard teams to help with the evacuation of a female in her seventies who had fallen on her vessel earlier in the evening.

It was agreed by the Coastguard and the medical team on scene that the best option would be to navigate the vessel to a suitable mooring close to the Ambulance, as the alternative would have been a significant walk and not in the best interests of the casualty or emergency crews.

We launched Broads Marley and, after locating the casualty vessel, put two crew on board to navigate to the selected mooring close to the ambulance. Helmed by a lifeboat crew, the vessel proceeded under escort from the Broads Rescue Boat and was safely repositioned.

We thank the Coastguard teams from Bacton and Winterton and the Ambulance Crew. Once the casualty was safe on board the ambulance Hemsby Stood down and returned to base for post-emergency administration and clean down at 01:45."