Time for another blog about a day out underground, featured in my book that contains 50 great things to do beneath Britain. If you would like a signed copy for yourself, or a gift for somebody you don’t like, then please get in touch via my website and I’ll get one sent out.
The Pennines are amazing – such a super place to go walking, admire the views and enjoy visiting local villages. But if you’re travelling from east to west – or the other way round – across England, they can be a major headache. Even today, the journey via rail or road leaves a lot to be desired, largely because it’s expensive putting decent infrastructure in when the terrain is tricky. And the same was true back in the 1700s when canals were the big, new thing. Fortunately, there were some mighty ambitious engineers who set about creating a tunnel that was the longest, deepest and highest in the country. Yes, that’s right – the longest (in length), the deepest (underground) and the highest (above sea level).
Many engineers in the late 18th Century were obsessed with canals. They were the new form of transport. Faster than the packhorses they replaced, there was money to be made in these pioneering water channels. Textiles mills in this part of the world needed coal and wool transporting regularly and efficiently. Canals were the modern way of moving raw materials. A little thing like the Pennine hills wasn’t going to stop determined engineers and industrialists, so they hammered and blasted their way through to create a 3.1-mile tunnel.
When you first see Standedge Tunnel, it looks tiny. A small hole burrowing into a large hill. From a distance it doesn’t seem like a boat can fit through it. As you get closer, your sense of perspective increases and you come to fully appreciate the sheer scale of achievement that swallows boats in its darkness and lets them emerge on the other side of the Pennines. It’s a monumental journey that the boats make, heading into the side of the hill for a slow, two-hour trip before seeing daylight again. The distance covered makes this the longest canal tunnel in the country. It’s the highest because of its lofty position in the Peak District and it’s the deepest because of the mass of rock sitting above the water.
A visit to the tunnel makes for a great day out. Make sure you book on to one of the boat tours so you can actually venture inside and see all the different types of brickwork and get a sense of how incredible an achievement this was. The best tours involve going right through to the other side and either walking back with a guide over the hills or getting a taxi back to the starting point.
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Days Out Underground is published by Bloomsbury and available in the usual outlets. If you would like a book signing for yourself or for a gift, please visit my website and drop me an email. www.peter-naldrett.co.uk.