By Paul Jamison



Chapter – 31


Paul’s viewpoint


The following morning I woke a little earlier than previously and after glancing at my small travel clock decided it was time to get going. I looked through the curtain across the canal and it was just getting light. I slipped out of our bed and took a shower, after which, dressing quickly, I went through to the galley to put the kettle on. As I went through the partition door I saw two pairs of eyes watching me from the sleeping bags on the cabin floor.

“Morning, guys. Did you sleep okay down there?” I asked them both.

Two heads nodded back at me from the sleeping bags. I turned and filled the kettle and lighting the gas got tea making under way. There was no movement from Jus and Will’s bed. So I went over and gently shook Will’s shoulder. After a few seconds he came too and sleepily groaned before sitting up to see what was happening.

“Kettle’s on. Would you guys get tea made and yourselves up as soon as you can, please,” I said quietly.

“”Yeaaah, sure,” Will yawned and rubbed his eyes before spotting the twins grinning at him from their sleeping bags.

“Hi, you okay?” he asked them both.

“Yeah,” they replied. “Do we get dressed now?”

“Yeah, I guess so. We’ll be off soon and I’m bloody well not doing locks in my undies,” Will giggled back at them.

I went back to our cabin to rouse Rick to find he was almost dressed. So we knocked on Craig and Liam’s partition and called out

“Time to get going guys, okay?”

“Yeah, we’re dressed and won’t be long,” Liam replied.

A few moments later I heard the noise of the engine cover being lifted and the pump working and after that the engine was started up. Craig and Liam came through to our cabin and we all headed for the galley to find that the boys were all up and dressed and helping Will and Jus get their bed back as the table and their own sleeping bags and mattress stowed away for the day.

I turned my attention to toast making while Rick made a pot of tea. Some ducks turned up bang on eight o’clock and Craig, who’d finished his tea and toast said

“I’m gonna bag one of those bloody noisy birds for our tea. I could just fancy roast duck!” he laughed.

“I’ll have one too,” Jus added, to general amusement.

“Right, guys it’s time to get this boat going. Who’s for steering for a while?”

“Can we have a go?” one of the twins asked quietly.

“Yes, excellent thought,” I replied. “It’s almost dead straight for a mile or so, ideal for you to get the hang of it.”

Craig went forward and out of the bow cabin door and onto the towpath to get the mooring ropes sorted out and I took the twins down to the stern deck and started to explain the controls and tiller. We passed a huge commercial salt works as we set off. The Cheshire plain being well known for that commodity and continued our progress towards the first of the thirty locks we hoped to tackle that day.

I looked at the route and noticed that there was a single lock followed by three in a row and thought that it might be a good thought to get refreshments ready for when we’d finished those before the main onslaught later in the day. We were approaching the first bridge and I showed one of the twins how to line up to go smoothly through. He managed just fine with only a minor correction as Will and Jus looked on from the steerage seats.

“When’s the first lock?” Jus asked.

“Not long after that bridge,” I replied. “We’ve a couple of minutes, I expect, before we need get ready.”

Will opened up the locker and got four windlasses out ready for the lock, the beams of which had just come into view as we headed up that very straight piece of the canal. I took the tiller for a moment and nosed towards the towpath to let Liam, Craig, Will and Jus off the boat to operate the lock. I turned to the twins and said

“Stay on board for this first one; you’ll get plenty of fun doing others later, okay?”

They both nodded and grinned back as we headed out towards the lock entrance a couple of hundred metres away. We could hear the paddles being wound up by Liam and Craig and then just as we got to the lock entrance the gates were being pushed open for us to enter the chamber. The lock was only a nine foot rise, so took just about five minutes to fill. Will and Jus got the top gate open and the paddles back down in record time and jumped back on at the stern as I held the boat for them. After we got moving again Jus asked

“How far’s the next one?”

“It’s about a mile and there are three together,” I replied.

Will and Jus grinned and settled down to watch the scenery go by as we continued onwards towards Wheelock and a short break for taking on water and some refreshments. I left Rick at the tiller supervising the twins and went down to the galley to organise some bacon and sausages to serve in rolls for when we reached Wheelock, the halfway point in miles, but less then a quarter of the locks we needed to navigate that day.

A couple of hours saw us at Wheelock and after a short break for tea, Cokes and crisps we set off again. Craig and Liam took a walkie talkie with them and as soon as they were at the next lock called us up to test its range. Our radio was on Justin’s belt. So when it crackled into life he grinned, grabbed  it off and replied

“Hey, lock party. Got that lock open for us yet then?” he laughed.

Of course we have, we don’t mess about, y’know,” Craig replied over the radio.

“Are any other boats coming?” Justin asked him.

Nah, not that we can see from here anyway,” Craig replied and continued

This works brilliantly. We can hear everything just fine. Out.”

“Out,” Justin replied and clipped the radio back onto his belt and turning to us all said “That’s working, brill, there’re no other boats about today, so we’ll get on easily.”

“I hope so,” I added. “We really do need to be at Harding’s Wood by tonight, so let’s keep at it, okay?”

The boys all got stuck in and after a three hour stint, during which the twins had thoroughly grasped the principles of locking and were now very competently opening and closing gates, winding paddle gear and intuitively giving the signal that the boat was in and gates shut, paddles down, to Will and Jus, who’d taken on the task of top gate operators and had the top gate gear open in record time.

At lock 59, the last in the Wheelock flight, I turned to Justin and said

“Radio ahead and tell them to wait at lock 57 for us and we’ll have some lunch ready for them, okay?”

Justin grabbed the radio and said

“Hey, B L P calling L A P, come in please.”

There was a few seconds pause and then the radio came to life with

Hi, L A P here, wassup?”

“Lunch, wait for us at lock 57, okay?” Justin said into the radio.

Yeah, okay, what’s for lunch?” came back from the L A P.

Justin looked at me and I said

“Good burgers from that butcher in Middlewich yesterday. Do they both want cheese and relish with theirs?”

“Hey, it’s burgers from that butcher guy and do you want cheese and relish on yours?” he relayed.

There was a pause, while Craig consulted with Liam, and then the radio crackled into life again with

Yes, to both of those, thanks, over and out.”

“Okay, over and out,” Justin responded. Then he turned back to me and said “Did you get that? They both want everything, okay?”

“Sure did,” I replied, smiling as I went below to start organising lunch, while Rick took over the tiller.


* * *  * * *

Liam’s viewpoint

The canal’d been very quiet and we’d not passed any other boats at all that morning. Me and Craig’d just got on with opening the gates of the locks ready for our boat to go straight from one lock to the next. As we walked from each lock along the tow path I often felt Craig’s hand brush against mine as we walked and talked. As we left lock 59 and headed off along the towpath I switched my windlass from my left to my right hand and let my fingers brush against the back of Craig’s hand as he walked alongside of me. I was certain he was returning the gesture. So the next time it happened I let my fingers touch his and his hand lingered a little longer. I thought to myself that it was so quiet and deserted apart from us, that I’d just go for it and the next time his hand brushed against mine, I let my fingers intertwine with his and a second later we were walking hand in hand along the towpath. He turned his head towards me and smiled then after a quick glance up and down the towpath pulled me towards him and gave me a brief kiss. We carried on hand in hand to the next lock and as we passed under the bridge saw the canalside pub by the lock we were taking a break at. So we let our hands drop to our sides as we climbed the steps up to the lock, as we didn’t want to attract undue attention.

Craig and I sat on the gate beams at lock 57 after we’d got them open at Hassall’s Green and waited for our boat to arrive. We were definitely ready for a lunch break having done fourteen of the thirty locks we needed to do. Craig turned and said

“This holiday’s been totally wicked.”

 “Yeah, it’s been cool,” I smiled back and then Craig continued.

“I mean, if you’d told me during the summer that I’d be sharing a canal boat with my boyfriend and his gay guardians and two other gay teens I’d’ve just laughed my socks off at you.”

“I’ve had the same feeling too. I already told you that I couldn’t believe I was here and there were no rows anymore with my mum and well since meeting you… it’s been pretty amazing!” I replied.

“Um… I’ve never actually done anything with anyone before, you know,” I admitted shyly.

“I definitely haven’t. Anything I’ve done’s been since meeting you… apart from… you know… wanking,” Craig added with a grin.

“Well, yeah! Me too,” I laughed. “Do you think you could stay over on Saturday when we get back,” I asked.

Craig looked at me, flashed a really wicked smile towards me before answering “Yeah, don’t see why not. I mean I couldn’t on a Sunday before school, but I don’t even think Mum knows when I’m due home actually, but I’d really like to.”

“She’ll know we’re home by the car and you can see our place from yours anyway, so perhaps best to call and ask,” I replied.

“Yeah, you’re right, I guess,” Craig said.

Just then we were interrupted by the arrival of the twins on the lockside.

“Hey guys,” I grinned, “all okay on the boat?”

“Yeah,” the simultaneous reply came from the pair of them.

“Having fun?” I asked them.

“Those paddle things are bloody hard to shift,” one of the twins remarked.

“Takes practice,” I agreed.

The radio burst out with “Hey, you guys ready for lunch?

Craig unclipped the walkie-talkie from his belt

“Yeah, we’re starving here,” he said, looking down the canal for the boat.

Just then the boat appeared from under the bridge arch with Will and Jus in the bow laughing away with the walkie-talkie. Rick steered it forward into the lock and we got going on getting through, after which we moored up by a water point and boatyard. Craig and I got the tanks filling up then went into the galley to see what was to eat.

Paul turned round from the worktop as we appeared and said

“Hi guys, everything go okay this morning?”

“Yeah, we’ve no problems so far,” I replied.

“Good. Ready for something to eat?” he asked us.

“Yes, please,” we all replied.

“Okay, guys, there’re burgers, soup, crisps, apples and / or bananas. Help yourselves, please,” Paul replied.

We all took stuff and went and found places to sit and eat. When we’d mostly finished our food, I asked.

“How’re we doing?”

“Pretty good. We’ve done two thirds of the miles, but we’ve still sixteen locks to do before supper tonight,” Paul replied.

“Sixteen more locks!” we all exclaimed together.

“Yes, it’s not called Heartbreak Hill for no reason, you know,” Paul replied.

Everyone was a bit quiet all of a sudden absorbing that information. Then I said

“Yeah, but we’re actually rattling through them the way we’ve got it organised though.”

“We are indeed,” Paul said brightly, “and we’ll be at Harding’s Wood before you all know it. Just carry on the way we’ve been doing so far, okay? Oh, and we’ve a much easier day tomorrow and a couple of surprises too,” he added grinning at us all.

I grinned at Craig and we went out to the bow to take out the hose as the tanks were now full and overflowing out to the canal. I turned to Craig as we stowed the hose and said

“I’ve an idea what we might be doing tomorrow. I’ve been looking at the guide and I think there’s a long tunnel so that might be interesting.”

Craig looked back and giggled. “So what do we do in the tunnel then?”

I laughed and said

“Not a lot with all this gang around.”

Paul started the engine and Craig and I hopped off the boat and headed off to the next lock with our windlasses.


*  *  *

Paul’s viewpoint

After the lunch break we made good progress through lock 57 and the following two Pierpont locks. I checked the route and saw that there was over a mile before we reached the next lock and the advance party came back on board for a while. There was another almost a mile gap between the following lock and the Lawton treble locks taking us down another nineteen feet all told between them. There were just nine more locks for that day to go and I was just considering the following day’s cruising, which I’d planned to be altogether different, when Liam asked me

“Do we go through a tunnel tomorrow?”

“Yes we do,” I replied. “Quite a long one too. I was planning to tell you all about it at supper tonight, okay?”

“Yeah, sure,” Liam smiled back.  “Quite a few of these locks are pairs. I guess that was in the old days for when they were very busy?”

“Yes, very much so it allows boats to pass at locks and also if there’s no traffic and a boat and butty are working, that’s a boat with a motor and one without working as a pair,” I explained. “Then they could go up or down locks together rather than up for one, tie up and then up for the other of the pair, link up again and set off to the next one. That’s very time consuming as you can imagine. Nowadays it’s useful as it allows for a more energetic crew to pass a sedate crew if you get my meaning?” I laughed.

“Yeah, I do,” Liam replied laughing as he sat down on the stern seats.

Another hour’s work saw us through Hall’s lock and then the two Church locks. There was another half mile stretch as we headed towards the outskirts of Kidsgrove and the last six locks of the day. It was almost two hours later with the light fading fast that we came through the last of the flight, right by the Red Bull junction with the Macclesfield canal going off to our right then crossing back over the Trent and Mersey canal on an aqueduct behind us and then heading away off into Cheshire. We moored up by bridge 132 for the night and as soon as Liam and Craig assisted by the twins found a couple of mooring rings set into the towpath and had made the boat fast I shut off the engine and went below to see to supper.

As I entered the galley I was taken by the lack of sound. The entire crew were sat quietly looking at me.

“Well done. That’s definitely the hardest day over and I guess you’re all hungry again?” I asked them.

There were assorted nods and mumbles from the somewhat subdued guys. So I suggested

“Okay, how about you all freshen up with showers while I get supper organised and then we can relax.”

“Good thought,” Liam said as he heaved himself out of his chair and padded off to their cabin closely followed by Craig who’d nodded agreement also.

I turned to the freezer and pulled two big bags of oven chips out and set the oven to high before spreading them out over three oven trays ready to heat.

“Ahhhh, chips, great!” the twins said together. “What’re we having tonight?” they asked.

“As we’ve all worked hard today I’m doing griddled steaks, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, salad and oven chips. How’s that sound?” I asked them.

“Just brilliant,” they grinned back and then nudging each other giggled as they looked towards the sofa area where Will and Jus were collapsed against each other and fast asleep. One of the twins took a ducks feather from his jeans pocket and began to creep towards the sleeping pair until I noticed and said

“You ratbag! Where’d you find that? Not chasing ducks, I hope?

“Nah! There were a load of them on the towpath just before a lock some way back. I grabbed a couple,” the twin replied grinning widely at me and his brother.

“No, leave ’em be for now. Wake them when you’ve had your showers, okay? Liam and Craig’ve finished, so you can go and get cleaned up now,” I suggested.

“Okay,” they both replied and getting their towels and washing kit out of their packs padded off to the bathroom to get themselves sorted out.

I pressed on with the meal preparation and a few minutes later Rick appeared from the bow entrance and noticing the two sleeping beauties smiled and said

“Looks as if fresh air and exercise was a good plan, especially for those two?”

“Yeah, it rather looks like it, doesn’t it,” I grinned. “Oh, can you start preparing a salad, please?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure. What would you like to drink? I think a bottle of wine would be rather good tonight as I guess you’re doing the steaks?”

“Oh, yes certainly. I’ll have a G&T now as well, please. Did you bring any beer?”

“Yeah, I did, half a dozen Frog Island bitter and four Czech lagers. Why d’you ask?” Rick replied.

“I seem to remember that Liam enjoyed a beer sometime back. Perhaps they’d like one after their shower?” I suggested.

“Yeah, he tried a bottle of Natterjack beer. That’s good ’cos that’s what I brought,” Rick replied.

“Okay, we’ll offer one to the older boys when they come through from their shower then,” I said.

We got on with preparing the meal and a few minutes later Liam and Craig came in through the bow doors and noticing Will and Jus fast asleep nudged each other as Liam said

“Too much for them was it?” he giggled.

“No, just more fresh air and exercise than they’re used to, I expect,” I replied. “The twins’re hoping to wake them up, if they’re still out when they’ve finished showering,” I added.

“Would you guys like a beer while we’re waiting for everyone?” Rick asked them.

“Yes please,” Liam replied and turning to Craig asked “Do you fancy a beer?”

“Um… I’ve never had one before so don’t really know,” Craig replied sheepishly.

“Try a sip from this. I’ve just poured it if it’s not to your liking try this one I’m doing for Liam now, okay? Rick suggested as he handed a glass of Czech Pils to Craig.

Craig took the offered glass and tried a sip. After swallowing he turned to Rick and said

“May I try the other one too?”

“Sure,” Rick replied handing him a glass of Natterjack bitter which Craig took from him and sipped also.

“I prefer the first one,” he replied.

“No problem, they’re both good. That one’s from a Czech brewery and there’re just four ingredients, hops, barley, malt and spring water, nothing else and definitely no bloody chemicals!” Rick exclaimed.

Craig smiled and sat down with Liam who’d picked up the glass of bitter Rick had poured and was enjoying a drink. Just then the twins arrived from the shower wrapped in towels and sheepishly looking about at us all, looked for a space to get dressed. I said

“Take your stuff into our cabin and sort yourselves out there. It’s got a bit crowded down this end just now. Food’ll be ready in about fifteen minutes, okay?”

They both grinned back and disappeared with their packs to return a few minutes later with bigger grins and holding a feather apiece they advanced to where Will and Jus were still dozing away oblivious to all.

“Whaaaaaaaat!” came from a startled Will followed by a…

“Whasssssup!” from Justin as both suddenly sat up rubbing noses that’d been vigorously tickled with a duck’s feather.

The twins collapsed back into chairs giggling away and I said

“You two’ve been right out since we tied up. Go and shower then dinner’ll be ready as soon as you’re done, okay?” I laughingly explained to them both.

Jus and Will sheepishly grabbed their kit and went off to shower. I thought I heard Jus muttering as they passed me in the galley.

“They are so dead; walking the plank’s too good for them!”

About fifteen minutes later they both emerged fresh and clean. The guys had laid the table and with a bit of jiggling and very little elbow room we just about all fitted round it. I’d placed a big tray of chips, grilled tomatoes and a bowl of fried mushrooms in the centre with the salad and dressings wine and Coke’s and then with the griddle pan hot set the first four steaks griddling.

“So how do you guys want your steaks cooked?” I turned and asked.

“Medium, please,” came from Craig and Liam

“Little over medium,” please Justin said.

“Same for me,” Will added.

“Okay, that’s easy enough,” I said as I turned the first four steaks. So how about you guys?” I asked the twins.

“Um, not sure,” they replied. “What’s medium?

“Rare is very red in the centre, medium-rare is with a little less redness in the centre, medium’s well a bit less still and well done is ruined! No red left at all,” I explained.

“Go for a little more than medium,” Jus suggested. “You’ll be fine with that. Well done is for oldies! According to me dad anyway,” he laughed.

“Oh, okay, then we’ll have bit more than medium then please,” the twins replied.

“First mediums coming up,” I said as I turned the steaks out onto plates and handed them to Craig and Liam. A minute or two later I added “First just overs ready,” and handed two more plates out to the twins, then refilling the griddle pan with the last four steaks I started to cook those.

The boys helped themselves to chips, mushrooms, the grilled half tomatoes and salad. The second batch of steaks were ready and after serving Rick’s and mine onto plates allowed the remaining two to cook a little longer. Rick served up ours with all the extras by which time the last two were ready and I served those, turned off the griddle and thankfully sat to eat.

Rick had poured wine for himself and me and I raised a glass and said

“Here’s to a day well done. Cheers everyone.”

“Cheers,” came back from seven voices around the table. There were no further noises for a while apart from the sound of cutlery on plates.

Eventually, when we’d all finished and Liam had collected up the plates, I sat back with my glass of wine and said

“Tomorrow morning at eight-thirty we go through one of the longest tunnels on the canal system. It’s called the Harecastle Tunnel and its two thousand nine hundred and twenty six yards, almost two miles long, through Harecastle Hill and will take us about forty to fifty minutes to get through. They let boats through in small convoys from each direction at a time. It’s quite an experience, believe me,” I enthused and continued with “I think we’ll enjoy tomorrow as we’ve no more locks until we reach Stoke–on–Trent and the Potteries, which is about six miles, okay?”

“No locks!!... Brilliant!” Will and Jus exclaimed together.

“Well, not completely, but nowhere near as many as we’ve done today,” I explained.

“How many have we then?” Justin asked.

“Well I’ve also got another ‘off the boat’ visit arranged for tomorrow, so not too many. I think it’s around eighteen left to do between tomorrow and Friday evening,” I replied.

“We’re good at ’em now, anyway,” Will chipped in. “Eighteen’s no problem after what we’ve done today,” he added.

“True, I ’spose,” Jus agreed.

“When’s our mum collecting us?” one of the twins asked.

“We’re meeting up with her tomorrow morning and having some lunch together at somewhere I’ve already arranged. Not where we originally thought, either. I’ve had another chat with your mum on the phone this afternoon, okay. I’ll tell you all tomorrow after we’ve got through the tunnel,” I explained. “But it’s got a lot to do with why the canal got built in the first place, so there’s a clue for you,” I added.

Rick brought a bowl of fruit to the table and we enjoyed a relaxed time just chilling out after the long day we’d experienced. I saw the twins help themselves to a banana each and wondered if I could see any difference that’s help me tell them apart. They noticed me looking and after nudging one another smiled and said

“You’re trying to see if you can tell us apart aren’t you?”

“Yeah, sorry guys I didn’t mean to be obvious,” I replied.

“’S’okay, we’re used to it now, doesn’t bother us anymore. Our mum can easily, dad hasn’t a clue and one or two friends can sometimes. Mr Stonebridge can at school, but that’s about it,” one answered.

The twins got up and sat on the other side of the table hands on elbows and looked directly at me smiling away.

“So, can you see it yet?” one asked.

I’d been carefully studying the two to me identical faces grinning back at me and had to say

“Um… no, actually I can’t see anything obvious,” I admitted.

By now the rest of the guys had gathered round and were looking at the twins now giggling away well satisfied that they’d fooled the lot of us when one said

“Right, now we’ll tell you. There’s one small difference under our left eyes. I’m Steve and I’ve got a big group of freckles just there and Eric has only a couple, can you see now?” he grinned at us.

Both turned their heads from side to side and in certain light it was just possible to notice a small difference… if one looked for it and knew where to look!

“I guess your mum knows as she can best tell, but if you’d never said I wouldn’t have spotted that without some help,” I replied. “But yes, now you’ve told me where to look, I can see it.”

“So don’t go telling everyone or half our fun’s spoiled,” Eric said grinning.

“No, I won’t. I’ll bet you’ve done some tricks on people though?” I asked.

“Yeah, a few, but we’re not telling,” Steve added.

We spent a half-hour washing up and clearing away the dinner things and after a coffee and some chocolates that Rick’d produced from our cabin and were delightedly enjoyed by us all, Rick got up and said

“Okay, guys see you in the morning. Don’t stay up too late. We’ve to be away about eight fifteen,” and then turned to me and added “I’m going for a shower and then to read in bed.”

“Yeah, I’ll be following you into the shower anyway,” I replied.

Shortly after Rick had finished his shower I got up to follow and Craig and Liam helped the others sort out the bed from the dining table and the twins’ mattresses, then taking their leave went out through the bow doors and around to the stern and their cabin to settle down for the night. I heard them quietly chattering away for a while and then by the time I’d showered and got ready to turn in the boat was all quiet. The fresh air and the exercise had worked and the lads were all out for the count.

The following morning dawned bright and cool; somehow it seems we couldn’t avoid the determined attention of visiting convoys of ducks ever hoping for cast off bread. I made it first to the kitchen and put on the kettle before turning to see if there was any life from either the bed or the two sleeping bags on the air mattresses. After I’d banged about setting up tea mugs and breakfast crockery I saw some movement from the floor and two heads appeared from the sleeping bags.

“Hi, sleep okay?” I asked them.

“Yeah, great, wassatime then?” one asked.

“A few minutes before eight,” I replied. “We’ve to be off from here in twenty minutes okay,” I added. “Dig those two up when you crawl out please,” I asked them as I returned to our cabin with two mugs of tea for Rick and myself and got dressed and ready for the day. Just before going back through to the galley from where sounds of Will and Justin being roused again with, I guessed, the duck feather torture, were emanating at increasing volume. I turned and rattled on Liam and Craig’s cabin door and upon getting a response went through to get some breakfast organised.

Will and Jus were pretty much dressed and looking for tea and toast when I said that I’d be doing sausage and bacon rolls to eat while we were going through the tunnel.

“Oh, cool,” they all replied and set about sorting out the bedding and mattresses.

The twins were busy packing away ready to leave the boat later that morning. A few minutes later I heard the engine start and both Craig and Liam arrived in the galley looking for some tea. I poured them a mug each and then taking mine said

“I’m going to get started. I’d like to be near the front of the queue if there is one for the tunnel, okay? Would you do the mooring ropes for me now?”

“Yeah, we’ll do that,” a twin that I thought was Steve replied and he and his brother hopped out through the bow doors to deal with the moorings.

A few moments later we nudged away from the towpath and headed around the bend in the canal for the northern portal of the Harecastle Tunnel.

“Why’s the canal gone a sorta red colour?” Will asked me from where he was sat in the stern seats.

“It’s from the mineral deposits in the hillside, mostly iron, I believe,” I explained as we approached the tunnel mouth and pulled into the tow path to await the tunnel keeper’s instructions.

There’re two tunnels?” Justin asked.

“There are, but only one is operational now. The first one to be built was the smaller one you can see over there on the right. It was built by James Brindley in 1777 and it took about nine years to build. That was quite a feat for those times. You can see its diameter is much smaller than the newer one built by Thomas Telford in 1822 which took three years to complete. The tunnels ran as one way until the twentieth century when the original one became unsafe. Because of its narrow height and no towpath, boats had to be ‘legged’ through by the crew lying on the top boards, or a plank across the bows of the boat and pushing against the tunnel walls or ceiling with their legs. A long and backbreaking occupation I believe.”

“How do you know all that?” Justin asked.

“He’s just read the guide book, that’s why!” Rick interjected laughing.

“True, I knew the facts, but not the actual dates until I read it again just now,” I admitted.


The tunnel keeper came along just then and took the boat name and licence number. I smiled and he said

“You’re the only one from this end so we’ll be letting you in a few minutes,” he said.

“Many thanks,” I replied and got ready to enter the tunnel.

“Best place to be is up in the bows or back here in the stern,” Rick said. “But you’ll need your cagoules as the roof leaks water a lot!” he added as he came out onto the stern deck with his cagoule and mine which I slipped on before proceeding when the keeper indicated by opening the bar across the tunnel entrance and waving us on.

The boys all quickly went below and the twins with Will and Jus appeared again at the bow while Craig and Liam joined Rick and me at the stern as I steered into Harecastle tunnel. After we’d entered the gates were closed behind us and with our headlights full on we proceeded onwards into the depths of this very long tunnel.

It was not long before Liam remarked that we could hear every word that Will, Jus and the twins were saying as the tunnel was having an amplifying effect on their speech. They were chattering away about ghosts in the tunnel. I said

“There’re rumours of a ghost from sometime in the nineteenth century. Apparently a headless figure appeared after it’s alleged that a woman was decapitated by the tunnel and dumped in one of the old side tunnels that used to be loading areas for the coal mined here. They didn’t bother to take it all the way up to the surface, but just made sideways tunnels out into the canal which allowed drainage for the mines and also an easy way of getting the coal out,” I explained. “But like all stories of ghosts I suspect it’s more legend than fact with plenty of added exaggerations over years of re-telling the stories,” I laughed.

“Oh wow, headless ghosts!” Liam laughed.

Rick looked up and said

“They’re all stories. No one takes them seriously these days. They’re in the guide book for amusement really.”

“Well, yes probably,” I agreed and then added “Look out! Water coming down!” as we went under a particularly large and cold stream of water from the tunnel ceiling which produced squeaks and exclamations from the bow as the bow four got a good dose of the water down the back of their necks by the sound of the protests reaching us back in the steering position at the stern.

“Take over, please, Rick,” I said. “I want to get the breakfast organised.”

Rick took over the tiller and I went below and made up the breakfast bacon and hot sausage rolls. I’d just completed that when Liam turned up and said

“Anything else need doing?”

“Yes, could you get mugs on a tray and make some tea for us all?” It’s really quite cold in the tunnel and we’re a long way below the hill top here,” I said.

“Sure, okay,” he replied and set about making tea.

“How’s things between you and Craig?” I casually asked him.

“Oh, Craig and I are getting on great. It’s what my mother’s going to get up to next that bothers me most,” he replied.

“I shouldn’t worry too much. I think that between us and Adrian, if needs be, we have those possibilities covered. Just enjoy things and we’ll deal with anything like that when and if we need to. You’re not alone anymore, don’t forget,” I reminded him.

Liam turned and smiled and then said

“Yes, I’m beginning to realise that and it’s hard to say right now just how much that means to me.”

“Right, let’s get this lot served,” I said rapidly changing the subject and bringing us both back to the task in hand.

Liam and I took a tray of rolls and drinks up to the bow where they were well received and then returned to the stern deck with the rest.

Exactly forty-five minutes after entering the tunnel we saw the southern mouth of the tunnel ahead and in a minute or so burst from the mouth into the brilliant sunshine of that October day. Liam was now steering as we headed towards Stoke-on-Trent and the Potteries.

 ** ** **



Very many thinks for all the emails. I very much appreciate receiving them. I believe I’ve answered you all. The fully illustrated is as ever at IOMFATS and there is a full .Pdf - again illustrated at the Google and Yahoo groups.  Do please support The Nifty Archive whenever you can as without that its just won’t be there!

Next and final chapter of William will appear in a week or so. There will be a sequel watch for announcements.

Paul Jamison


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