Sapperton Tunnel - 1

Tunnel Trips (2) -  How to get there (3)

Sapperton Tunnel in the middle of the Thames & Severn Canal, was first used over 200 years ago on the 20th April 1789. At the time it was the state of the art in canal technology, being then at 3,817yds (2·17 miles or 3·49 km) the longest tunnel ever dug in England.

It took five years to dig (mostly by hand though gunpowder was also used through the rocky sections) which was only a year longer than originally intended, and was much faster than most contemporary tunnels. It was difficult and dangerous work and there were many fatalaties, though it does not appear to be recorded as to exactly how many.

The tunnel's completion allowed the passage of boats through to Cirencester laden with cheap coal from the mines of the north and west, which had hitherto been transported expensively by road. By the 18th November 1789, the whole length of the Thames & Severn was open, allowing the relatively quick passage of boats with their varying cargoes between the west of England and London, as well as to the many towns and villages in between. Trade flourished, and despite problems with the construction and water supply, the canal and Sapperton Tunnel remained in use until the early 1900s.

As well as the tunnel itself, there are many other interesting canal features nearby: one of the five T&S round-houses, the Skew Bridge where the railway is taken over the canal which is lined with some very impressive brickwork, and there is the King's Reach leading up to the portal, named after a visit by King George III. The Coates Portal itself, rebuilt in 1976/7, is also worthy of a close look, as is the newly refurbished Daneway Portal , two miles away. Also not too far away is the Source of the Thames, where in wet weather, the water almost fountains up out of the ground.
Mud-proof boots are definitely needed for any nearby walking, including the slope down to the boat, but please remove them before entering the Tunnel House Inn, which does a nice selection of food & drinks.

Links:   Sapperton Tunnel Picture Gallery   Aardvark-World Home Page   George's: Canal Boating in the U.K. and Europe
   Cotswold Canals Trust

© 2011 Charles R.W. Lyne
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Page last updated 10th May 2011.