Thursday, 18 November 2010

Caldon 2010 - The farce of Froghall Tunnel

Caldon 2010
Froghall farce

Yesterday I left you with a question. Would, or wouldn't, Wand'ring Bark fit through the Froghall Tunnel given that we hit the profile gauge exiting Flint Mill Lock with a resounding clonk. The plastic drapes hung right down and didn't even clear the roof let alone the roof bars, cratch or the chimney collar which stuck up proud by about two inches.

Flint Mill Lock

This was the situation when we last visited Froghall three years ago and I resigned myself to the fact that WB is just too high and boxy to fit through what is generally accepted at the lowest tunnel on the open system (Dudley Tunnel excluded). All that changed when I read the Caldon and Uttoxeter Canal Society's website which suggested that the gauge is pessimistic, maybe by as much as two inches.

Armed with the seed of hope I determined to give it a go. WB was loaded with coal and other heavy stuff at the front together with an overflowing water tank to settle her down a low as possible. We made our approach in the gathering gloom in the hope that our flagrant disregard of the warning signs would go unobserved, but alas that was not to me. A group of walkers and canal enthusiasts were on the towpath and watched us brush past the entrance gauge with casual disregard. "Hey" they shouted, "can you get through there?" to which I responded "well, to be absolutely honest I don't know. It's 50:50 at best and we may well come a cropper - but we are going to give it a try". This was clearly excellent amusement because they all squatted on the towpath to watch our progress, probably hoping to see us come to the sticky end our cavalier attitude justified.

Froghall Tunnel - North Portal

WB was indisputably higher and wider than the gauges indicated was possible, both at the lock and to a lesser degree at the tunnel entrance. However, the chimney was dismounted an cast over the  side to dangle on its chain as we ghosted in, barely moving forward. The start seems fine but the roof soon crowded down leaving just a letterbox slot between the cabin roof and the top of the tunnel arch to peer down.

Not a lot of room - breathe in and think heavy.

The roof and the sides closed in closer and closer threatening to imprison Wand'ring Bark in a pincer like grasp. First the left corner would touch masonry and then the chimney on the right would scrape against the other. At the same time the stern drifted to the right with the top of the open rear doors adding to the steel on brick cacophony. The end of tunnel audience watched in amazement.

Phew - made it!

By this time we were on our knees but not in supplication to a higher power seeking redemption from the dark places of the underworld. No, we were forced down by a lack of headroom and even on our knees our hair brushed the brickwork above, picking up the dust and soot of ages past. All the time we were waiting for the moment when both front corners hit brickwork simultaneously, marking the end of our expedition and initiating an ignominious attempt to reverse out - or worse.  But the dreaded moment never arrived. Suddenly, against all the odds, WB's bows emerged out of the southern portal into the rarely travelled waters of Froghall Wharf - quickly followed by her stern with the hatch catching a last glancing blow on the brickwork before we were out. A ripple of applause reached us from the far end of the tunnel mingling with cheers as our audience hurried around to witness the damage inflicted on our paintwork.

Entering the southern portal

I wouldn't say that the Froghall Tunnel is a piece of cake or indeed a tunnel to be tackled by the faint hearted, but it is certainly passable by many more boats that the gauges would suggest. We made it through with clearance of about one centimeter but wow it felt tight.

We emerged with hearts pounding and a goodly amount of paint redeployed and it's therefore not a passage for the boatproud!

I do feel that there is something of a conspiracy going on here. The guideline dimensions should be the actual dimensions, not some form of sanitised dimension with a couple of inches of clearance added in for good measure. As a result uncertainty creeps in and people like me start to wonder just how much tolerance exists, and attempt passages which at first seem impossible.

As you can imagine, I was too absorbed with the task in hand to take many photos on the southbound leg, but was much more relaxed as we exited two days later and most of these photos covered the latter passage. Armed with confidence we tackled the return at full tickover speed,  sliding through from end to end without a single touch or scratch.

So was it worth it? You bet it was. As well as being exciting at the rides we tackled at Alton Towers the next day, the passage gave access to the exquisite seclusion of Froghall Wharf and the visitor moorings on the Uttoxeter Canal, but more of that tomorrow.

Go on - give it a go. You know you want to. Just remember to bring a pot of touch up paint!


narrowboat chance said...

well done Andy, The pictures were closer than I remebered!!! Its a pity more boaters don't try it as the moorings are hardly used the other side. Well done for a great blog.


Anonymous said...

I know we want to - Richard always wants to - and he doesn't believe things like gauges if it doesn't suit him either!

So, is there room to turn a 60 footer at the far end?

Sue, Indigo Dream

Captain Ahab said...

50ft - yes. 60ft - even on my most gung ho moments - no.
The width is there but no depth! Mind you - you could always try but make sure someone is on the bank and able to haul you back out again.
Thanks for your encouragement.

Northern Pride said...

Wow! Well done Andy and crew! When we visited last year we so wanted to give it a go - well Barry did anyway! I'm a little claustrophobic so looking at those photos made me rather nauseous.
Awesome post!

Captain Ahab said...

I was thinking about the leek arm where length is a problem. No problem in Frohall basin.

Captain Ahab said...

Sandra and Barry
You missed a treat and Northern Pride would have got in no problem.

Halfie said...

I think we'll have to form a (rather exclusive) club of those who have boated through Froghall Tunnel!