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UK Tanfield Culvert (Boardwalk), Durham - May 2016

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Tanfield culvert was built in 1723 as owners of nearby coal mines needed a way of moving material from their pits to the Tyne (see Tanfield Railway). From the river it could then be loaded onto ships and transported to large industrial cities in the South. As the surrounding land was not suitable for a canal, and two sections of the Causey Burn had to be crossed, the mine owners were forced to build a wagon way to reach the river. At one of these sections, the culvert was constructed; it was dug out by hand, and the land above was raised higher by manually adding thousands of tons of soil. This ensured it was capable of supporting a railway line. Later, in 1725, at the second problematic section of the stream, a large single span bridge was constructed using the Roman compression arch concept, alongside large abutments to the valley sides. Today, the surviving Grade I culvert and archway are, in effect, open to the public; the former is a road, while the latter is a pedestrian walkway. 

Both the culvert and the archway were built using the same sandstone. If entered from the Western portal, the first part of the culvert comprises an arched stone section. Further on, wooden support beams, which were placed inside the tunnel to help prop up the rock and earth directly above, are still in situ. The floor is largely uneven and rocky throughout, until the wooden boardwalk section is reached at the halfway point. Finally, towards the end there is a large modern concrete structure, presumably created when the bank required reinforcement work, when the railway was replaced with a road. 

Our Version of Events

Back in the safety of the north, and away from the chaos of London, we decided to return to the Tanfield area and check out an old culvert a couple of us had spotted there many years ago while climbing near Causey Arch. We arrived bright and early (early for us at least) and wadered up in a nearby car park. From there we walked over to the stream. As there were a few walkers around giving us confused looks, we played the ‘we’ll pretend to be fishermen’ card. However, our plan didn’t seem to work at all; if anything, they stared even harder. 

At the stream’s edge, the sun was beginning to come out from behind the world famous overcast cloud that often seems to be a permanent feature of the North East. It was a pleasant change from all the rain we’d been experiencing of late. Unfortunately, however, our time getting a tan was cut short as the number of people watching us was growing at an alarming rate, to the extent that a small crowd was beginning to form. So, wasting no time, we jumped straight into it and headed directly for the Western portal to get out of sight. 

The first section was incredibly rocky, so going was slow to avoid falling over and filling the old waders up with water. A couple of sofas also lay ahead and required a spot of climbing; they made a perfect gathering place though, while we waited for the welly-wearers among us to catch up, as it offered some convenient seating. Of course, we did fail to take into account the fact that old sofas don’t fare well in wet conditions, and as we made the mistake of using them for their original purpose we very nearly ended up in the drink. After our near-mishap, we avoided the seating and chose to stand as we watched the others. They were struggling hard to avoid breaching their wellies; the water was millimetres away from spilling over. They almost made it too, until an unexpected drop cause an unavoidable deep area.

Once we were all past the sofas, the stream suddenly became much shallower and less rocky, and our progress through this section quickened. From this point on we found ourselves beneath archaic wooden supports. Water trickled from the ceiling and the beams, causing sporadic droplets to fall on us as we walked. It smelt earthy and damp in this part, and there’s something oddly satisfying about that combination, it smells good. The odour continued right up to the boardwalk section, where old wooden sleepers have been lain out perfectly on the floor. We were surprised to find a floor like this; you would have thought the floor would rot very quickly being in a river, and yet, it’s been there for years. The final section of the tunnel finished with the large concrete arch. From memory, the ceiling felt much higher in here and, although it’s modern, there is something about it that gives it a dramatic sort of feel; there’s the sense that’s it’s a bit boring, but somehow it’s also very impressive at the same time. If you don’t like spiders, however, you might find this section less appealing because, for some unknown reason, there were hundreds of them here – all different shapes and sizes, and lots of legs and eyes. 

Explored with Ford Mayhem, Meek-Kune-Do, The Hurricane and Box.












































































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On 5/26/2016 at 4:50 AM, Lenston said:

Some good snaps to be had down here mate :)



Yeah definitely! The wooden floor in there is incredible. 

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