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Open Country
Sat  6.10 - 6.35am
Thurs 1.30 - 2.00pm (rpt)
Local people making their corner of rural Britain unique
This week
Saturday 16 September 2006
Listen to this programme in full
This week, Richard Uridge legs his way through the Standedge Tunnel, the longest, the deepest and the highest canal tunnel in the country. 
Connecting Marsden in the Colne Valley to Diggle in Saddleworth, the Standedge Tunnel carries the Huddersfield Canal underneath the Pennines and at 3 ¼ miles in length it forms the longest navigable tunnel in the world. It is also the highest canal tunnel in the country at 645 feet (196 m) above sea level and the deepest at 638 feet (194m) below the highest point of the Pennines.

Built over a period of 16 years to open up trade routes between Yorkshire and Lancashire the tunnel was finished in 1811 with the renowned engineer Thomas Telford taking over in the final stages. It was last navigated in 1948 and was reopened after twenty years of restoration work by the Huddersfield Canal society and British Waterways aided by Heritage Lottery funding.

Richard is accompanied on his journey through the Standedge Tunnel by legging partner Terry Sigsworth, a British Waterways tunnel guide who recounts the days when to avoid damage from capsizing, official leggers were employed to take the barges, which would often carry over 20 tons of goods, safely through. Tunnel guide, Brian Broadley relates the  history of the construction, describing how the navvies would dynamite the millstone grit and then remove the debris with pick and shovel or with their bare hands, their only light supplied by a candle stuck to the peak of their flat cap. The injuries and casualties, not surprisingly, were many.

Eighty seven year old Ronnie Barnes recalls being the last man to leg his way through the tunnel before its closure in the late forties and Lilly Turner recounts the extraordinary day in 1914 when her father, David Whitehead, legged the three and a quarter miles in an astonishing record time of one hour and twenty five minutes.

It would have been far too costly to put in a tow path through the tunnel besides being too dangerous for the horses, so after towing the barge for many miles the horse would be loosened and walked over Pule Hill meeting the barge as it emerged on the other side. Nigel Dix takes Richard on the walk, together with Bonnie.

Nowadays visitors are able to go through on an electric boat driven by Fred Carter or one of his colleagues. Alternatively the boat can tow up to four private leisure craft.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal has 74 locks in its 20 mile journey from Ashton- under-Lyne.This is believed to be the greatest number of locks any canal has in such a short distance. The result is that the canal and the tunnel must be supplied with copious amounts of water and Richard Humpidge from the National Trust guides Richard around the reservoirs built for this purpose, spotting one of Britain's rarest breeding birds, the golden plover.
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