Waaaaaaayyyyyy back in the 1880’s the powers that be were completely fed up with the amount of time it was talking to haul their shit across the peaks to Sheffield from Manchester. The massive journey time was costing them big style, and as it was suggested that a tunnel be bored underneath the peaks to get goods and people between the two cities in a more timely manner. A number of shafts were sunk on the surface to the tunnel level (the largest being almost to 700ft in depth!) and boring commenced in 1888.
The geological make up of the ground under the route of the tunnel made the boring extremely difficult indeed. A the worst point, 2,250,000 gallons of water A DAY were seeping into the tunnel from the bedrock, forcing the workings to be inspected by boat. A massive drainage system had to be installed to get rid of this insane amount of water, slowing the workings further which was set back again by numerous cholera and typhoid outbreaks exacerbated by the soaking wet conditions. Upon completion, this genius engineering marvel was the longest rail tunnel in the UK, being trumped by HighSpeed-1 in 2003.
Ok, so some navvies got wet and I can now get to shef without driving the snake pass… so what?
Well.. About half way into the tunnel, the workers came across a huge natural underground cave they dubbed ‘The Cathedral’. They decided to incorporate this cave into the ventilation system for the tunnel and sunk a huge 700ft shaft down to it from the surface. No photos existed anywhere of this cavern, and the sparse (and often contradictory) information we were able to dig up ranged from a tiny alcove big enough for one or two people to a huge tunnel system used to store documents in WW2. This had to be investigated.
Our first attempt at this beast was unsuccessful. We got track-side at the eastern portal just as the last passenger train of the day shot out of the tunnel bound for Sheffield. It wasn’t long before a weighty savlo of freight cars, shot past us in the other direction, fresh from the Lafarge Cement works at Hope. Waiting for the best part of an hour to test the regularity of the trains, we determined there was no real regularity to them at all, and there was a lot more than we expected.
We eventually snapped and just went for it. There were safety alcoves roughly 22 yards apart for the length of the tunnel, so keeping in groups of two and three we pressed on, ensuring we were always one alcove apart with each group vowing to run forward to their nearest one should a train come.
After a mile and a bit of trudging across the balast and sleepers, we thought we’d past it, reaching what we thought was a signal mid-way into the tunnel. The bright light of this signal making it extremely difficult to see any train that might be making its way to us through the tunnel.
Either we’d missed the passage off to the cavern or it didn’t exist at all, and A near miss with a freighter (they really do sneak up on you) properly ended this excursion and we made our exit. It was only after getting home and reviewing our journey that we realised how close we had been. Another 300 yards or so and we would have been at the position of the 5th surface vent shaft rumoured to lead down to the tunnel. We had to try again.
I gots Technology bro!
Our next trip was a far more precise operation. 7 strong and armed with walkie talkies, we cut through the tunnel in about 35 minutes. After about 1.5 miles, the sound of running water started to contend with the crunch of balast under our feet. 100 yards later, and a huge cavern opened up to our right hand side.
The cavern itself had been clad in brick in a similar style to the tunnel, with the huge vent taking centre stage. Gallons and gallons of water following down into the cavern like a crazy underground water feature, with a main section of water in the centre that moved around like a tornado. Morse thought it’d be an excellent idea to stand under it to get ph0tonz. What he got was wet.
We exited pretty sharpish, dashing towards to red signal light at the end of the tunnel, our fingers crossed hoping to fuck it didn’t go green…
Over and out :)
a video by tweek