Thursday, 27 August 2009

Longest, highest, deepest - and we did it

We disappeared through the deceptively ordinary entrance into the black depths of the Standedge Tunnel and 1.00 pm and emerged two hours and seven minutes later from the much more impressive Marsden portal where the full mass of the Pennines you've just been through are revealed.
The Standedge is like no other tunnel. It's largely hewn and blasted from the rock as its jagged sides and numerous pick-axe marks reveal. Occasionally it opens out into cavernous spaces, at other times it's tight and low with the rocks closing in and threatening to rip the paint off your boat.
Even more remarkably it's part of a whole maze of tunnels - one active rail tunnel, two disused rail tunnels (one now a roadway used by BW to monitor boaters on the trip) and a myriad cross connections between them all.
Boats used to be towed through but now it's self drive though you travel with a BW chaperone who warns you of tricky spots and reports in to base at four brief stopping points en route. Geoff was the poor sod who got the short straw of travelling on Star's tiny back deck and breathing the exhaust smoke from our roof-exit chimney for two hours. He wasn't as talkative about the tunnel's history as some -- maybe he preferred keeping his mouth tightly closed against carbon monoxide!
It's full lifejacket and hard hat rules - a bit over the top you might think but a BW guide did get knocked off the counter of a boat a few weeks back by a rock maybe a good idea after all.
It is a fascinating tunnel but, to be honest, 5686 yards (3 1/4 miles), is a bit of a long time to be breathing exhuast fumes and worrying about avoiding stuff so I was kind of glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It was, as they say, "a once in a lifetime experience".

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