The Christmas Day tunnel

There’s a disused tunnel in Cumbria at a remote hamlet called World’s End, which is worth a visit if you can find it. It’s called Hincaster Tunnel and it stands in splendid isolation towards the top end of the Lancaster Canal.

Hincaster Tunnel horse-path Hincaster Tunnel horse-path

The canal was once much busier; in the 19th century  passenger-carrying packet boats operated between Preston and Kendal and a contemporary print shows one of these boats approaching Hincaster Tunnel. Packet boats needed fresh horses every four miles and a former canal house with attached stables still stands to the west of the empty canal bed here.

Thomas Fletcher - 1817

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster CanalThe tunnel has an impressive bore and once had a wall-mounted chain for hauling boats, but no internal towpath. Instead a secretive horse-path with stone walls and mini accommodation bridges winds upwards over the fields. In December it is often dusted with snow and offers views of distant white-topped hills.

Hincaster Tunnel was designed by Thomas Fletcher (c1770-1851) with William Crosley as resident engineer. It has nicely dressed limestone portals with blank panels that may originally have been intended for inscription. At 346 metres long it is dead straight and lined with around four million bricks that were made locally, specifically for the tunnel project. The tunnel took four years to build and was completed, with a fitting sense of occasion, on Christmas Day, 1817.


Last date edited: 15 December 2015

About this blog

Nigel Crowe

As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.

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