Posted 19th Mar 2018
In the next of our History of the Waterways features, courtesy of Insure4Boats and the Canal and River Trust, we find out about Blisworth Canal Tunnel
With so many locks and tunnels on this list built in the 1800s, it's no surprise that by modern narrowboat standards, they are often cramped and incredibly narrow.
Thank goodness for Blisworth Canal Tunnel! Not only is it wide enough for two narrowboats to pass each other in opposite directions, it actually holds the record for being the longest 'broad' freely navigable tunnel in Europe. Combine the fact that at 2,812 miles long, it's the third longest canal tunnel in the UK and ninth longest in the world - and you realise just how big it actually is.
With such an enormous tunnel, you would think it required some very special engineering tools to build. You'd be wrong - work started on the Blisworth Canal Tunnel in 1793, with all 3km subsequently dug - by hand! Pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows - that's all there was.
The tunnel collapsed due to quicksand just three years later, meaning that in 1802, it had to be dug again. It finally opened properly in 1805. Unsurprisingly, history records Blisworth Tunnel as being by far the most troublesome part of constructing the full Grand Junction Canal (this is now called the Grand Union Canal). Yet when you travel through its spacious interior, it's clear all the effort will be worth it.
Did you know...
- The tunnel received the Transport Trust's 'Red Wheel' award, in recognition of its industrial heritage and importance in 2014.
- The tunnel is around 143 feet below ground level.
- When the rest of the Grand Junction Canal opened, the tunnel was not finished, meaning that for a while, there was a temporary horse-drawn tramway over the top of the hill.
- The tunnel is meant to be haunted, meaning visitors can go ghost hunting in the dark if they so wish.
Image credit: marion morgan (jester5) / TrekEartth