I was awake at 5am this morning as I was fretting about navigating the Harecastle Tunnel. It is one and three quarter miles long, pitch black and in places very, very low. I am mildly claustrophobic and have issues about queuing so my nightmare is to be stuck behind a convoy of boats going very slowly through the tunnel.
Since I was still awake at 6am I got up, had breakfast and walked Bonny round the pretty but noisy Westport Lake. A boat passed me going towards the tunnel as we got back from the walk and my heart sunk. The only way for me to go through the tunnel without too much fear is if I'm in front so I can set my own speed and not have any obstacle between me and the entrance.
The tunnel is open from 8am so I set off aiming to arrive around 8.10. As I arrived, I saw the boat that had passed me and a hire boat that had obviously spent the night moored at the tunnel, waiting to enter. I just had time to pop Bonny safely inside the boat and turn all my lights on and we were off inside the belly of the beast.
Almost immediately I realised it was going to be bad. The three of us were told by the tunnel keeper to travel at normal cruising speed as the bow wash helps keep the boat away from the tunnel walls. Also, and more importantly for me, it means you can get through in around 35 minutes. The first boat in soon got up to cruising speed and quickly vanished into the blackness. However the skipper of the hire boat obviously thought cruising speed was tick over and that bouncing from side to side off the tunnel walls was normal. He cocked his Australian bushman's hat at a jaunty angle and kept whistling a merry tune in a slightly forced way as we crawled painfully slowly through the dark cold damp tunnel.
As the roof got lower and lower, he got slower and slower and despite bringing my boat up close behind him and his seeing the one in front disappear he stuck to very slow and kept looking back at me, waving and giving the thumbs up. He was having a high old time. I, on the other hand, was suffering the torments of hell. If I could reached the poor unfortunate hirer I would have ripped his head off!
Fifty (yes, fifty!!) minutes after entering the tunnel we emerged back into the daylight. My 'friend' in front waved gaily to the 5 boaters waiting to enter. I noticed that none waved back! The tunnel keeper smiled at my drawn expression and asked what had kept me? I didnt dare open my mouth to reply as I knew a torrent of terror induced frustration would have poured out!
The hirer didn't realise how close to death he had come as he stopped at the next lock and waved at me as I mercifully turned off the Trent and Mersey and onto the Macclesfield Canal. If I had had to follow him up Heartbreak Hill, I swear I would have drowned him! A couple of hours slow cruising up the Maccy slowly calmed me down and I eventually regained my good humour. It's amazing what a monster I can turn into when I'm terrified. Tied up now in a quiet and beautiful spot to recover. Photos to follow.