Church Lawton to Westport Lake via Harecastle Tunnel

Today’s video (as much as you can see of it in the tunnel) is here:

A very foggy start to the day as we left Church Lawton. A different feel today as we have a time booked passage through Harecastle Tunnel. I’m not used to being somewhere for a specific time whilst boating and its not a great feeling. A fellow boater called out to us just as we left, advising that CRT were on site up ahead as one of the pounds had been drained by someone leaving a lock paddle up overnight. As we had seen a couple of boats coming past us we hoped that the worst of it had been cleared as we didn’t have a huge time buffer zone against making this tunnel slot.

We had 5 locks to get through before the tunnel. At the second one we met the CRT and they explained what had happened and that we should be ok and gave us the heads up of a silt bank we should watch out for. We mentioned we needed to get to the tunnel for 11:30, annoyingly the same man gave me the mechanics garage suck in breath and shake of the head and then proceeded to talk to Richard at the next lock and tell him that he’d make it fine. grrrr.

The hire boat in front of us were on the same tunnel booking but seemed to be very slow going through the locks. As we came out of the 3rd lock, they were pulled over taking onboard water. I passed them and walked up to the lock to see what was going on and called Richard to advise him that a boat was coming down. The man from the hire boat came up next and stated loudly and frankly that ‘of course, they were next on the queue’. I smiled (and there may have been an eye roll), ‘it doesn’t really matter as there are boats going in both directions to keep the locks moving but if you’re that bothered, then yes, you can go next but i’m sure our skippers can sort that out amongst them.’ I wasn’t in the mood for his tone so I walked away and chatted with the ladies on the boat coming down. They were really funny and also were not in the mood for his tone or approach.

The next couple of locks were uneventful but we did find a rope fender that had been pulled out of the water and left to one side – win! I did get confused when, at one of the double locks, i opened the other gate for an approaching boat but then they pulled over and went into ours after we had left it. Guessing they had only just picked their boat up and didn’t know you could use both locks maybe.

We got to the tunnel at 11:15 and I was expecting to be stopped and have the safety checks etc. Apparently they just do that from shouting at you from the bank, not the easiest when you’re trying to stop the boat from moving around too much. But Yes, we did have a tunnel light, yes it’s switched on, yes my horn works and ‘beep’, see it works. I have no issue with them doing that, it’s super important but then he was telling me what I needed to do if we get into trouble etc and I couldnt help but think that I could barely hear him over the engine noise and I’m not able to take it all in totally as i’m mid hovering the boat which takes thinking about. Of well, nevermind, off we go!

So the tunnel is 2926 yards (2676 metres) long and takes about 40 mins to get through. Its much like Wast Hills Tunnel that we did on the Avon Ring back in July with one big difference. It’s one way. In Wast Hills, technically two boats can pass (although i’m bloody glad we didn’t!). This tunnel is only big enough for one boat so you have to book a timed passage and they then alternate which direction the boats go. The ceiling, at points, dipped low enough to be brushing my hair (and i’m only 5ft3″). With the other boat in front wearing high vis jackets I could kinda always see them ahead in the distance, i was tempted to put some metal on so it would echo really loud after our run in earlier but decided against it!

We had been warned (and this wasn’t Richard’s first time here) that just after Harecastle isnt the best place to stop and lots of bored kids. We made it down to Westport Lake and managed to grab a space to stop there for the night.

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