Under the streets of Islington runs a tunnel – linking two parts of the Regents Canal, and next month tours of the tunnels will take place.

The tunnel was dug under Islington to avoid the need to have a large set of locks at either end as Islington is on a hill and it was eventually decided that rather than going over the hill, they would go under it instead. This was more expensive to build, but considerably cheaper to operate the canal is they didn’t need to operate two sets of locks.

The Islington Tunnel takes the Regent’s Canal 960 yards (878m) under Angel, Islington, and is the longest such tunnel in London. It opened in 1820.

Lacking a towpath, barges originally had to be legged through the tunnel – that is, men lying on their backs on top of the barges pushed the barge forward by pushing off the wall with their legs. In 1826 the tunnel was upgraded with a steam tug pulling a guiding chain above the centre of the bed which would propel the barges; which remained until the 1930s, when it was replaced with a diesel engine.

Now barges wanting to go through the tunnel use their onboard engines instead.

Normally only open to barge owners, the Canal Museum also runs one of its own boats through the tunnels so the rest of us can get a look.

The tours take place most summers, but haven’t for obvious reasons over the past couple of years. A guide from the museum offers you a commentary on the history of the tunnel as you cruise through it and the return trip takes just under one hour – with the tunnel trips lasting about 20 minutes in each direction. The boat they use can carry 10 people on each tour, so it’s quite a nice size group to go with.

Note, the tunnel is not lit apart from the light that comes from either end of the tunnel.

For the return trips, boats depart at 11am, noon, 2pm, 3pm. There’s also a one-way trip at 4pm, but that also includes passage through a lock.

Tickets cost £12 per adult, and £8 for children and need to be booked from here.

Tours are currently scheduled to take place on:

  • Fri 6th May 2022
  • Sun 8th May 2022
  • Fri 20th May 2022
  • Sun 22nd May 2022
  • Sun 29th May 2022
  • Fri 3rd June 2022
  • Sun 12th June 2022
  • Fri 17th June 2022
  • Sun 26th June 2022

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  1. Julian Walker says:

    Trips through the Islington Tunnel used to run from City Basin Lock during the Islington Canal Festival, which was traditionally the first Sunday in September (I know – I used to do the guided commentary on them!). Might be worth looking out for if the Canal Festival returns this year.

  2. Basil Jet says:

    When you talk about the cost of operating locks, do you mean the cost of keeping the hill section supplied with water, or were locks manned back then?

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