Butterley Tunnel – Mini Adventures – Mick Fowler

Adventures come in the most unlikely places.

Butterley tunnel goes under the A38 dual carriageway near Ripley in Derbyshire. I had driven over the top hundreds of times without knowing what excitement lay below.

Enticing entrance. Some would say the colour of the water is not very welcoming.

Nearly 2 miles in length the tunnel was completed in 1794 as a canal tunnel connecting the Cromford canal to the main UK canal network. After various collapses and attempted repairs it was finally closed in 1944.

At the entrance the others launched canoes smoothly. I capsized immediately.

Once inside we paddled and then climbed up, over and under a series of wooden support structures which spanned the tunnel, some only 12 inches above the water.

Over involved dirty grovelling whereas under was unpleasant and involved nose just above the water activity.

At c800m the tunnel enlarged to the nearly unique underground wharf where barges were once loaded via vertical shafts from the surface.

Up until the wharf area it was distressing to find that my canoe was too long to turn round.

Side tunnel and shaft exploration ensued before a more memorable return paddle. Hanging unwisely onto a 12 inch square beam it was disconcerting when it collapsed onto my canoe.

The resulting forced headfirst exit into the silt while being squashed by a huge beam was both adrenaline packed and undignified.

Me emerging from under collapsing support beam.

Being unable to empty the water or get back into my canoe I had to resort to being towed through silt laden 5ft deep water to the entrance.

Unidentifiable submerged objects brushed against my body before an ignominious exit into the fresh air.

The length of a trip is not directly proportional to the retrospective pleasure. This one only lasted two hours but memories are enduring well.

Mick Fowler