Having arrived at the limit of navigation on the Chesterfield yesterday and reversed up to the entrance of the blocked up Norwood Tunnel, we knew that we wanted to explore on foot the section that has been abandoned years ago and is no longer navigable. Pearsons guide mentioned that at the Western end of the tunnel portal, the other side of the M1, there was a course of old locks- 3 sets of 3 staircase locks and a 4 chamber staircase.
This morning we set off with little more than a vague idea of where we needed to head- following the Cuckoo Way seemed to be sufficient. A walk along the towpath afforded a better look at the Eastern end of the tunnel, completely bricked up- According to the Chesterfield Canal Society’s website, this tunnel is in excellent condition for the first 450 or so meters, then a roof collapse makes further passage impossible. The society intends to use this first short section of tunnel for the canals future restoration. We climbed above the tunnel and walked over the hill, strangely knowing that the tunnel was beneath our feet, dark, quiet and abandoned.
We walked on, across the road and followed the yellow Cuckoo Way signs across towards the old colliery are and then were faced with several footpaths in varying directions with no signs as to where the Cuckoo Way went. In the absence of further instruction, we carried on the path straight ahead, up, up and up the hill. A good climb took us to the very windy top and far reaching views. We could see the M1 across the way, with the farm-track tunnel over to the right of us- we just had no idea which path to take. Fortunately, a lady walking her dog was familiar with the Chesterfield Canal’s future restoration plans and was able to point us in the right direction.
Like the Grand Old Duke of York, we’d walked to the top of the hill (unnecessarily, as it turned out)and now we had to walk down the other side. So many footpaths, so little directions and for the umpteenth time a wish for an Ordnance Survey Map! The farm track tunnel under the M1 was big enough not to loose sight of, so we pressed on, with surprisingly few wrong turns.
Once through the tunnel, we set about finding Western tunnel portal. Easier said than done. Knowing that there used to be 14 locks straight out of the tunnel, we were looking high. Having lost all sense of direction and height, we just couldn’t find it. Ever optimistic, we walked down the hill a little further, then saw some fence posts that looked suspiciously like that were creating a barrier against a sharp drop- the kind you’d find associated with a tunnel portal. Then we spied some water as we walked on, then there it was!! The Western tunnel portal- bricked up virtually identically to the Eastern one, save for a small grate in the brickwork. A shot pound gave way to the abandoned course of the old staircase locks- barely visible in the undergrowth and we had a hard time working out which chamber was which, although the original sill and first lock gate stone pillar was still visible.
We walked on further and found the last chamber that gave way to a water-filled pound, with obvious signs of lock chambers beyond. These locks however had been preserves as water features of new barn conversion type properties that had been built. Some of the chambers had a culvert, to enable an access driveway to a property, but the one at the end was clearly a lock in previous life. We wondered how the proximity and new function of these locks worked with the plans for restoration, as we couldn’t see that the canal could run alongside these dwellings- the abundance of CCTV cameras gave the impression of unwelcoming occupants!
By now, we must have walked for at least 2 miles (at 2880 yards, the tunnel itself nears 1.5 miles long!)and conscious of the fact that we had to retrace our steps (and the unnerving CCTV camera swiveling with our progress as we walked past) we decided to turn and head for home.
Armed with the knowledge of hindsight, we were able to skirt the hill and take a more direct route back to the boat. A long trek back and some tired legs, but we are really pleased we did the walk, as it gives us a better understanding of location when looking at the restoration plans.