Mile long tunnel now open to canoeists

June 2017 - For most boaters it would be a nightmare, sharing a long canal tunnel with canoeists in small, fragile shells, easily crushed by 20 tonnes of steel you are steering – but C&RT seems to think it is an acceptable risk as Peter Underwod reports.

If you are passing through Foulridge Tunnel, at Barrowford on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, keep peering into the darkness for canoeists.

It is about to become the longest canal tunnel in the UK to open to canoes. At a mile-long, the 200 year old tunnel, will allow canoeists to paddle under the Pennines for the first time.

It will take 10-25 minutes, depending on ability of the canoeist, to paddle through the tunnel. In theory, entry will be via a traffic-light system, which, according to C&RT, 'ensures that canal boats and canoeists are admitted separately'.

Experience elsewhere on the system, where groups of canoeists have already decided to use long tunnels without any permission – including the two-mile Netherton Tunnel on the Birmingham Canal Navigations – might suggest that there is considerable potential for narrowboats and canoes in the tunnel at the same time – especially if either wrongly estimates transit times, or impatience leads someone to take a chance.

Chantelle Seaborn, C&RT NW waterway manager, who has overseen other controversial changes in her area, said: "Narrowboats have been a common sight at the Tunnel for over 200 years, but with more and more people getting into paddle sports each year we wanted to make it possible for them to go deep under the Pennines and experience one of Lancashire’s waterway wonders."

She added: "At one mile-long, Foulridge Tunnel is an exceptionally long canal tunnel to canoe through. Safety is of paramount importance and canoeists will be required to adhere to the simple, yet effective safety precautions that have been put in place.

“These include, checking the tunnel is clear of other craft before entering, wearing a forward facing bright white light and a personal floatation device with attached whistle. We advise only experienced canoeists enter the tunnel alone.”

One of the motivations behind opening the tunnel to canoeists is that it is part of a coast-to-coast canoe trail that will stretch for 162 miles, connecting Liverpool to Goole along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and Aire & Calder Navigation.

It is backed money from the Desmond Foundation, a charity set up by Richard Desmond, newspaper and soft porn publisher and also has the support of British Canoeing and Canoe England.

Greg Brookes, Desmond Family Canoe Trail programme manager said: "Making it possible for canoeists to access to Foulridge Tunnel has been a major step forward in developing the trail. Foulridge Tunnel is such a unique paddle, unlike anywhere else in the country, which I think will prove popular among the paddling community."

Photo: Foulridge Tunnel from the northern portal.

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