BREATHE IN I had sought after these tunnels for about a year or so, not paying them full attention or putting in the proper research until I received a tip off from another explorer who, little did I know at the time, would eventually become a close friend and regular partner on our missions. A team was assembled and we set off up to the big smoke. We were exited and laden with photography kit. With a rough idea of access in our minds, we were confronted with our first obstacle, a tall black iron fence with large spikes on the top. Now normally this would not warrant a mention in a retelling of the events, but the fence was right next to a busy main road and next to traffic lights. Our group had to time our actions with the amount of traffic and the start/stop pattern of the lights, as well as pedestrians walking up and down. A fair bit of waiting later and we were split half and half; some of us in the bushes on the other side of the fence, away from public eye and the other half of the group who were yet to tackle the fence and clamber over the sharp iron spikes waiting to wreak havoc to your manhood should a small slip occur. Once all in the safety of the bushes a moment to gather our thoughts was needed. We saw our access to the tunnels and questions were raised about being able to fit through the access. Not wanting to hang around I set about shimmying myself down a small brick vent to then lie flat on my stomach and slowly but surely start making my way to the tunnels. This section is what gave this story its name 'Breathe In'. I am not an overly tall person, shorter than most guys if anything, but still my 5ft 8" skinny body was spread out in this small area were I was waiting for more members of the group to join before pressing on. cut.and.cover soon joined me in this waiting area and I started on the final shimmy into the tunnels while the rest of the group were following. It was only around 10 meters but with arms outstretched in front and legs following suit it seemed like a lot longer as I dragged myself through this dusty vent, pushing my bag out in front as there was no room between my chest on the floor and my shoulders on the ceiling, so wearing a bag on my back was not an option. There was no room to turn around and shuffling backwards was also not an option, only forewords into the dark tunnel. Eventually I was in the tunnel that would lead us to the main tunnel, it was not big enough to stand in but comfortable enough to kneel or sit in while I waited for the rest of the group.
There we were, our 5 strong group doubled over walking underneath the River that made the city what it is today, completely unknown to anybody else that we were there. The small tunnel slopes down, then comes to a T junction, and widens out to standing room, giving our backs a needed rest. Turning right the tunnel leads uphill slightly but ultimately ends at a brick wall with an emergency manhole above. Turning left at the T junction takes you further under the river, towards the four legged, red brick behemoth born at the beginning of the last century that these tunnels were originally dug for. To transport the steam generated from the works to the housing estate on the other side of the river, to heat the houses of working families. The tunnel is wet, dark and the smell of stale air lingers. We were walking for a long time when a ladder appeared and led up to a large chamber, on one side of the chamber there were metal platforms laid out in levels up the shaft with ladders joining them all together. In other explorers photographs this section is lit but we had no luck trying to turn the lights on and had to stumble around the best we could with headlamps and torches. At the top of the shaft there was a hatch, unsure as to where it would lead I gave it a try but to no avail, it was firmly locked. We climbed down and continued along the tunnel. At the bottom of the picture, you can see a square hole in the floor, this is where the aforementioned ladder leads back into the tunnel. The whole shaft is around 25-30m in height and the photo was taken 3/4 of the way up.
Carrying on down the tunnel we came to a long set of steps going up, with a pinprick of light visible at the top. Naturally we went to investigate. At the top of the steps the tunnel led into a large concrete chamber with a thin layer of water covering the floor, the light was coming from a hole in the ceiling. We were obviously no longer under the river. We followed the course of the chamber, the water starting to get deeper, just creeping up to toe level. Another source of light was visible, this time in the side of the chamber wall, this hole was slightly bigger than the one in the ceiling, big enough for a person to fit through. With a helping hand you could peer through the hole and what met my eyes left me speechless. We were in the belly of the beast. Looking up to a skeleton of scaffolding holding together this once majestic feat of engineering left me without words. The time was pressing on and we had to abandon the allure of redundant industrial glory, and words of returning were uttered. We strolled back down the steps, exited that we had found a glitch that would lead us right in the middle of one of the urban exploration holy grails. We stepped up back into the crouching tunnel and headed uphill to the squeeze section. The first of our group to get to the squeeze section said he could hear voices on the other side. We all fell silent trying to listen to these phantom voices, the suspense was almost tangible. Then, a sentence was said by one of the voices that cut the tension, and replaced it with fear. "Lets seal it up then" Never have I seen a man shuffle so fast as the first of our group to enter the squeeze. I was next and was listening to the reception that our guy was getting; shocked, angry responses were the majority. I clambered out of the tiny vent to more shocked responses. "How many of you are there?!" One by One all 5 of us popped out to be greeted by the compounds maintenance crew. While getting a lecture on the dangers of being in the tunnels I lent down to tie my laces and slyly removed the SD card from my camera and hid it in my bag should security or the police be called. (Although neither security guards or police can make you delete your photos as they can be used as evidence in a court case). In the background angle grinding could be seen with sparks flying, they were cutting a metal sheet to fit over the vent to seal it. "You've got 5 minutes before I call the police". With that parting comment we all jumped back over the fence, ignoring the passing traffic and paced down the road, aiming to get as far from the tunnels as we could. In hindsight, should they have sealed the tunnel with us inside we could have walked back through the tunnel and squeezed through the hole in the wall to get out and either turn ourselves in to the security services there or try and sneak our way out of the buzzing construction site, we had heard stories of explorers getting caught having to take chemical showers and put on Hazmat suits because of asbestos fibers being present in the area. All in all our run in with the maintenance crew only added more funny memories to an already enjoyable experience, the squeeze section alone is an adventure and really sets this tunnel apart from the others that can sometimes be repetitive. Myself and another of our group returned a few weeks later to find the vent bricked up and impassible. As far as I know it is still sealed up. Until next time...
None of these pictures are real.