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Spey’s subterranean sunset

Winter sun lights up Maida Hill Tunnel

On 27th January, boater and musician Tom Kitching was cruising through Maida Hill Tunnel in Little Venice when he caught this extraordinary moment behind him. The winter sun was shining directly into the 260-yard tunnel, lighting it up almost entirely south-to-north.

Tom Kitching catches the winter sun illuminating the Maida Hill Tunnel.

There’s a long-running legend that Brunel aligned Box Hill Tunnel, on his Great Western Railway, so that on his birthday the sunrise shone directly through the 2-mile structure near Bath. Recent experiments confirmed the theory as ‘nearly right’, although a more likely date is that of his sister’s birthday.

Did the Regent’s Canal’s mastermind, John Nash, have the same idea for Maida Hill Tunnel, some 20 years earlier than Brunel? Tom Kitching checked the dates and said: “Interestingly we tried to tie this phenomenon to Nash’s birthday, and found it was out by about nine days. Until we realised he was born under the Julian calendar, which might account for the difference!” 

Tom’s boat, Spey, was involved in the recent HVO fuel test (News, WW February 2022), when he cruised from the Bridgewater Canal to London on a single tank. It’s a historic Thomas Clayton ‘gas boat’ with an old Bolinder engine, and he found huge benefits to the new fuel.

Tom is now writing a blog, Where There’s Brass (buskengland.wordpress.com), that he will use as the basis of a book, and preparing an album of music and soundscapes to accompany it, much as he did with his earlier projects (tomkitching.co.uk).

We would be interested to find other canal tunnels where this phenomenon might occur. 

This article appears in "On The Cut" in Waterways World April 2022