A NARROWBOAT crew, travelling from Leeds to Liverpool, literally ‘legged’ their way through the Foulridge Tunnel.

The 150-year-old wrought-iron boat, called Elland, was pushed by the crew using the age-old method while travelling along the Leeds Liverpool Canal.

It is believed to be the first horse-drawn boat to travel the 127-mile route for 68 years.

Organised by The Horseboating Society, the only northern operator, the boat is being pulled along the canal to raise awareness of the historic form of transport, and the society, which was formed in 2001.

Sue Day, one of the founding members, said: “When a canal barge gets to a tunnel, if there’s a tow path the horse would walk along it. If there isn’t, you have two options, using poles to push yourself, but this isn’t a very powerful way, or ‘legging it’.”

‘Legging’ is where members of the crew lie on their back on a plank and propel the boat through a tunnel by ‘walking’ along the ceiling, or walls. It was common before 1880.

“Coming through the Foulridge Tunnel, we couldn’t reach the roof, so we used the walls,” said Sue. “It took 38 minutes, which is a good time. Foulridge Tunnel wasn’t a great challenge to the crew because we have always ‘legged’ tunnels.”

Alistair Morris, another society member and doctor, and Edward Randell, from Cafe Cargo, on Foulridge Wharf, ‘legged’ the boat through.

Sue, from Mossley, said the average narrowboat is 70ft long, but only a 60ft boat can complete the Leeds to Liverpool journey.

Elland was specially sourced for the trip and is believed to be one of the oldest narrowboats in the country. Pulled by veteran cob horse Bilbo Baggins, the boat set off from Leeds in mid-April and aims to reach Liverpool in July.

Sue said: “There are only five operators of horse-drawn boats in Britain, including ours.

“It’s all about heritage and education work, and we try to encourage people along our route to get involved and join in with the locks.”

The society has linked the journey to both the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics by dressing the boat and harness in red, white, and blue, and taking part in a baton relay of token cargoes with people they meet along the way.

This year also marks the centenary of Buttercup, the cow, who fell into the canal and swam the length of the 1,500m long tunnel.

The crew will now take the narrowboat from Burnley embankment to the Weavers’ Triangle, and then on to Hapton, Church Kirk, and Blackburn.