foulridge tunnel overview

Foulridge Tunnel on the Leeds & Canal is also known as the Mile Tunnel. A great engineering feat of the 18th Century it is now the longest canal tunnel in the country that you can canoe or kayak through. Although known as a mile it is actually fractionally short of that at .93 miles (1,630 yards or 1.49 km).

After the first 3 days walking to this point along the canal heading west from Leeds, I was getting deeper into Lancashire after passing by the canal walk across the border from Yorkshire. Being a man that was born and bred by the Pennines I had been wondering how the Leeds & Liverpool canal actually got through the hills. For example like the narrow canal towards Huddersfield and the Standedge Tunnel.

foulridge tunnel at foulridge end

When the canal was originally started to be built, in 1770, there was in fact no tunnel to be built. The original plan was to have a great loch system to cover this mile stretch at a higher level along the canal.

The Revolutionary War in America put a pause on the canal building and in 1789 the route was relooked at. This is when the idea of a tunnel at Foulridge came to fruition. Construction began in 1792 and took almost five years to complete.

BaldHiker Retreats

There is also a great local story about the tunnel that many people have heard of. It is purported that in 1912 a cow fell in the canal at the other end of the tunnel from Foulridge village. It then swam through the tunnel where it was helped out and revived with rum or brandy by the locals.

leeds and liverpool canal at foulridge

Of course on our canal walk we could not pass through the tunnel and so Malc and I had to take a route over the top. A similar route to how the horses that towed the canal boats along the canals had to take.

The boats would have had to be legged through the tunnel itself in its heyday. (Legging involved two people lying on planks at the bow of the boat, using their legs against the tunnel wall to walk it through). A very dangerous thing to do, and when legger drowned and died in 1886 a steam tug was brought in.

As we walked up and out of Foulridge we could look back down at the village and imagine the canal getting deeper and deeper below us.

looking over foulridge

On the route up you can look over onto the fields and see some brick and stone chimney like structures coming out of the ground.

These not only show exactly where below the canal is, but they also serve an important purpose. These are the ventilation shafts to clear the air deep in the tunnel. You can only imagine what it was like in the age of steam or coal etc.

ventilation shaft canal tunnel

Then, at the top there is the great expanses of water, Upper and Lower Foulridge Reservoir. Often named Lake Burwain too. It is up on here that the water supply was organised properly for the full canal.

A big reservoir was required up at the summit to feed water down the canal as it was used by the locks etc.

foulridge reservoir reflections

If you imagine the water supply way down at Bingley Five Rise getting lower and lower, someone needs to turn the tap on and off at the top! There is a lot of work always ongoing by the Canal and River Trust to keep the water levels maintained.

Walking down the other side towards the tunnel exit the path resembled more a path the tow horses would have taken. A lovely little walk full of nature and streams. In fact, the nature was quite tame and a young magpie kept attacking Malc from behind!

bird chasing the dog

At the tunnel entrance on the western side you are surrounded by greenery and nature beside the water. The only building is the old leggers hut where workers who wanted to make money arduously legging the boats through waited for boats.

the leggers hut on canal tunnel entrance
foukridge tunnel exit

We were back on the towpath and back on our way along the canal. Next stop, Burnley, see you there.

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  1. Great read. Thanks!

    I keep looking out for more information on Foulridge tunnel and its operation. My Great Great Grandfather, called John Aspinall, was tug master at the tunnel. Pretty proud to have that in my family. And I imagine it was a more stable job than the few generations of boat people which he came. His father died in Foulridge (in Canal House) at a ripe age of 93! I must get myself down there to see if this house still exists and in what form!

    1. Paul Steele says:

      Hi! yes Canal House is a Grade 2 Listed Building on Warehouse lane.

  2. Janet Pemberton says:

    How enjoyable it was to read your article in Waterfront magazine. It brought back memories of how in 2017 my husband I decided to walk in sections the Leeds Liverpool canal joining at Barrowford. We thought can we get to Leeds! We are not in the first flush of youth! The first
    sections were short at first and further on longer and we would find eventually somewhere to leave the car and return to it each time. The views, flowers and nature were incredible and each time we ventured out the weather was kind. We never managed Leeds but called our finishing line Bingley. We talk about going towards Liverpool a place that was home a very long time ago. We can be sure a walk on any canal will be full of surprises and never disappointing.

    1. Paul Steele says:

      Hi Janet, thanks so much for the kind words. Yes, it is a magnificent walk. Done in big stretches or enjoying in small parts. Opened my eyes for sure.

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