Norwich Aviation Museum

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Definitely worth a visit. Up close and personal with a Vulcan, a Nimrod and an English Electric Lightning (amongst others).

The aircraft are easy to spot from the main road but the entrance is hard to find

The museum seems to be operated entirely by enthusiastic volunteers, and a very good job they do too.

There’s a Lightning, a Vulcan, the remains of a Harrier, a couple of Jaguars, a Nimrod that you can go inside (guided tour), Andy Green’s Phantom and many more.

There’s also a whole museum of interesting models, salvage and memorabilia. The aircraft above are all outside on the field. It’s particularly nice that they are not too precious about their exhibits so some of the aircraft you can strap yourself into the pilot’s seat and get a feel for the controls (engines off of course).

The Harrier is incomplete, having had a rough landing and subsequently some components have been robbed from it.

There’s a rare two seater cockpit from Andy Green’s Jaguar (he of Bloodhound SSC fame). This would have been a training aircraft.

This is a Dassault Mystere. A French fighter/bomber which would have been in use between 1956 and 1981. First time I’ve ever seen one of these 😲

The Hawker Hunter was a staple of the RAF in the 1960s.

A complete, regular single-seat Jaguar.

The highlight of the day was sitting in the pilot’s seat of the Vulcan.

This delta wing bomber could be configured to deliver 10 x 1,000 lb conventional bombs or two nuclear devices. It played an important role in the Falklands War. Crew accommodation (5 men) was extremely cramped.

And here’s me with a Gnome jet engine similar in design to the T58 we planned to put in the Polo!

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Wealdway Day 6 – Hellingly to Polegate

Distance walked: 37.2 km

Steps: 55,088

I was up early from my comfy Travelodge bed and I hit the trail before 08:30am. It was tempting to simply bee line to the nearest bit of Wealdway and just get walking but I’d only be cheating myself. So I back-tracked the mile or so to Hellingly church and set off from there.

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On the way to Hellingly my opinion of Sussex farmers was confirmed. The path I had planned to take had been entirely obliterated by a field of wheat. So I was forced to trudge slowly along the overgrown verge beside the busy A267

The first place I discovered, just south of Hellingly, right beside the Wealdway path, was Horselunges Manor, a timber framed Elizabethan manor house, surrounded by formal gardens and enclosed by a high wall and a moat (Yes, a moat! How posh is that?) It even has a working drawbridge. The house was owned by Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager, until his death in 1995. I don’t know who lives there now but I do know she has two large dogs because she returned home whilst I was admiring the moat.

Just 500 metres further on, the Wealdway path passes through the derelict Horsebridge Mill. This place cries out for a creative photographer (not me) to spend some time here. I took some photos to whet your appetite.

Beyond Horsebridge, the trail twists and turns as it passes through a modern housing estate. I only found my way through by checking local knowledge in the form of two old ladies and a postman. But eventually the walker emerges at the A22, through a small, overgrown gap in a scratchy hedge. Crossing the busy A22 safely, at this time of the morning, takes courage, skill, determination and patience, but it can be done.

The next four kms is challenging. The waymarking is poor to non-existent, signage is damaged or rotten and the path has seen no maintenance for years. The brambles and stingers have reclaimed their territory. I got lost several times, saved only by map and compass, walking on a bearing. This section was very time-consuming.

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After a tortuous ramble, I reached Michelham Priory where two ladies were exercising their horses under the watchful eyes of ‘Inky’, a fearless black guard dog.

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Inky, black as your hat, was pretending to be fierce, and making quite a convincing job of it but a few kind words and he was soon my friend. He let me go on, to Bede’s amazingly well-equipped sports ground.

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Another blooming unmanned railway crossing. This one with tracks in both directions. I’d really prefer a bridge. From the top of the second stile I can see the Long Man of Wilmington.

Throughout the day, the Long Man of Wilmington was often visible in the distance. The Wealdway passes him very close by, so at 7:00pm I was standing at his feet. The neolithic men of Wilmington village made him by cutting turf from the hillside to reveal the white chalk just below the surface.

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Towards the end of the day, I had to cross the road leading up to  Folkington Reservoir. My curiosity got the better of me. There was nobody about, so I jumped the gate and went up to have a look. The reservoir is set in a 5.7 hectare site with SSSE status. The view from the top was amazing.

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I got the train home from Polegate. There’s only about 20 km left now, from Folkington Church to Eastbourne Pier. Would make a nice family day out walking.

Wealdway Day 5 – Buxted to Hellingly

Distance: 31.2 km

Steps: 47,545

Right, did you know that they talk different in Sussex to what we do nearer London. In the pub lunchtime the govenor asked me where I was headed. I told him ‘Hellingly’ said ‘helling-lee’. He was on me like a sprung trap. Apparently, in Sussex, they are so much posher than the rest of us that they have to say it ‘Helling-Lie’ (as in: to tell a fib). Same rule for other town names. So in a way, I had wasted the first half of the day, heading for the wrong place.

My train got me to Buxted for 10:15am. I strode out down the hill and entered the grounds of Buxted House. Wow, what a gaff! This is the place where Lloyd was DJing and was all set up ready to start before he realised he’d left his CDs at the Yard. I well remember doing the International Rescue routine in the old Camper.

Also in the grounds of Buxted House is this rather spondicious pill box. Apparently its a ‘Thin walled Type 24’. I’ve never seen one just like it.

I took this pretty picture of the Hempstead Mill sluice gate. It must have held back an incredible amount of water back in the day.

Just beyond Hempstead Farm there was a variation notice from the local authoritity re -routing the Wealdway.

My route now included in an unmanned, unexpectected, railway level crossing. One of my least favourite features of the British countryside. Scary things.

At Tickerage Farm I pondered over this contraption. It is installed close to a large pond and seems to be entirely ‘stand alone’. It beats me, I can’t work it out. Does anyone have any ideas?

Sussex farmers seem to have more of a cavalier attitude towards footpaths than do their Kentish counterparts. Almost all footpaths that I’ve used today over arable land have been ploughed under. Mostly this means having to detour around field boundaries or sometimes forging through crops, walking on a bearing, but I really don’t like doing that.

Just before lunch I lost the path in such a field. I emerged onto Beechy Road and ended up walking 4km on tarmac to reach East Hoathly for lunch.

The ground is so dry now. It cannot have seen much rain in the last few weeks.

At Gun Hill I discovered these two scissor lift MEWPs. One at least is operational. Can’t see what you’d do with them on a farm. Back in the 80’s I used to manage a company renting them out to contractors.

On the skyline at Westenden I saw this group of trees. Clearly cultivated, they’re too tidy and regimented for nature, they don’t look indigenous. I kind of think that they might be antipodean in origin but that’s only a hunch. I never got close enough to properly ID them.

But he never was. Not even in 1987 when my concrete block wall was piled on top of his brand new VW Golf (I guess you had to be there).

In the woods near Westenden Farm I spotted this bear masquerading as a tree.

I’d be interested to know how these two iron balls, each about half a metre diameter, got to be lying on the lawn at Lealands.

As I reached Hellingly I spied this traditional gypsy caravan lurking behind a hedge. Nobody about.

My final destination en route was Hellingly church. I arrived just after 8:00pm (bah, missed Evensong). Just a mile to the accommodation, the Travelodge at Boship roundabout. I’ll be glad to get these boots off 😜

Down Street Underground Station

Down Street tube station sits astride the Piccadilly line midway between Green Park station and Hyde Park Corner station. No trains stop there anymore, they just rumble past at full speed.

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The Leslie Green designed station was opened in 1907, three months after the Piccadilly line saw its first traffic, but Down Street station closed permanently in 1932. Today, guided by Matt from the London Transport Museum, I descended into the depths of the station to learn a bit about its history. Obviously, to ensure I had a proper understanding of abandoned tube stations, I commenced my research by watching Creep (2004). Nothing like that really happened. Maybe I should have checked Cloverfield (2008) for a more realistic introduction.

We entered through the door marked ‘Keep clear – emergency escape route’

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and immediately began to descend the 122 step spiral stairway. Part way down we paused to acknowledge a fire door through which we would later emerge.

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In 1938, with Britain on the brink of war, the Railway Executive Committee (REC) was formed to coordinate the then four main railway companies in the event of war. They needed somewhere safe, close to Westminster, to meet and they chose the relatively bomb-proof, abandoned, Down Street Station.

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My tour reached platform level at the bottom of the spiral stairway, 22 metres down from street level. This must be the dustiest place I’ve ever been. Black dust. I thought ‘brake dust’ from the trains but apparently, mostly it’s 100 years of human skin cells, never been swept up. Eeugh! We rounded a 90 degree bend and a tunnel opened up before us.

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There’s a passage off to the left which leads to the bathrooms. Delightful.

Stairs go upward in complete darkness then we emerged from that fire door we saw on the way in. Back down the spiral stairs, through what was once a typing pool, then through the area where the REC executives would have had their meetings. This would also have been the venue for more than forty meetings attended by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill slept on site here when the blitz was at its height, on a camp bed, in the conference room. All the while we can hear trains rushing past at full tilt. Down a dozen more steps and we’re on the platform. There is still thick black dust everywhere.

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Efforts made to soundproof the various rooms we visited seem pretty ineffective to me. All conversation had to cease (and lights out) whenever a train approached, which was every couple of minutes. We visited dormitories, an operations control room, a copier room with three hand-cranked Gestetner duplicators (photo of some dude off his face, been breathing the fumes), the shell of a kitchen that once served 40,000 meals a year and a telecommunications room (then and now pictures below).

All the while, trains were noisily rushing by at full speed on either side of us but nothing stopped.

This has not always been the case. At the end of their working day, REC executives could hail any passing train, just like we might hail a taxi at street level.

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It all hinged on that lantern on the right of the photo above. When the executive was ready to leave he’d turn on the red light and the next train along would stop and pick him up. The driver would let him travel up front, other passengers being totally unaware.

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Our final stop was this cavernous shaft, capped off at the top with a plug of concrete over a metre thick to protect Down Street and its occupants from German bombing.

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Before leaving, Matt pointed out one of the many mysteries of Down Street station. This letter G. Nobody knows its purpose, though apparently there is a similar F at Aldgate?

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Back at street level, a couple of points to note. 23 Down Street was luxury apartments where the REC executives went for a bit of rest and recreation. Caviar, champagne and brandy (not rationed) were served here.

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Down Street is the only tube station with its own Mews. Here were stationed four motorcycle couriers, including Jill Horscroft, pictured above. Their role was to distribute typed instructions arising from the decisions of the REC to stations and stationmasters around London.

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I have nothing but praise for Matt and the Hidden London team who made my visit possible. There is far more to tell than I have recounted above. You have to be there to experience the trains rumbling past at full speed. Only by a personal visit can you truly appreciate how much black dust there was.

 

 

Tunnels and Caves at Ingress Abbey

 

What a fascinating place. Ingress Abbey and its Coach House are in Greenhithe, Kent. The Abbey is a Grade II listed building, now a private residence. Its story goes back to 1363, when Edward III gave it to the Bevis family. The current building is a Neo-Gothic, Jacobean style country House, built around 1833 for Alderman James Harmer, a London lawyer. The architect for the project was Charles Moreing. His work on the house followed on from the previous design of the estate grounds by Capability Brown in 1763. I visited the Abbey site on 20th June 2018.

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There is an entry in Charles Moreing’s notes adding an additional £120,000 on to the original budget, to pay for ‘the construction of follies, tunnels, grottoes, and hermit’s caves’. Ingress Abbey abounds with tunnels and caves. The geology of the area being largely chalk, lends itself well to tunnelling.

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The Monkswell Tunnel is allegedly haunted and leads to a semi-circular vaulted chamber, where is located a well, previously used by monks (hence ‘Monkswell’). Here’s me standing outside the business end of Monkswell Tunnel and also a photo of the well, which appears to be covered by a circular grating (photo taken at arm’s length through a locked, barred gate).

The Cave of Seven Heads pictured below, is under the Fastrack bus road, and lies close to the former gatehouse to the estate.

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Set into the chalk cliffs is the bricked-up entrance to the Georgian Wall Tunnel (aka Georgian Garden Tunnel or the South Tunnel). This is located in a wild overgrown area at the end of Park Cliff Road. It is not accessible but with a bit of imagination, can be seen from the park. This tunnel was used as an air raid shelter in WW2.

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The Coach House  Tunnel runs from the main house to the Coach House. This tunnel is still in service although locked. I am hoping for a visit next week

The Grange Tunnel emerges 200 metres south of the main house, in the Grange folly. The Grange is in good order and so I’m assuming that its tunnel is too. Hopefully I can explore it next week.

The Grange has a minor road running through its arch.

There is a flintstone arch shelter with a bench, installed in 1763 as part of Capability Brown’s work. This is known as the Lovers’ Arch.

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Legend has it that there is a tunnel leading from the main house all the way to the River Thames, this would be a distance of at least 300 metres. The only viable route would be via the avenue opposite the front of the house. I could find no evidence of a tunnel emerging anywhere on the river bank.

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The house in about 1917

This blog on Ingress Abbey is still very much ‘work in progress’ and I have more research to do. I hope to visit Ingress Abbey in the next week or so to view the tunnels at first hand. I would particularly like to ascertain whether the tunnel to the River Thames is myth or legend. Watch this space 🙂

 

Plessey’s Ilford Factory

In September 1940, the Plessey works in Vicarage Lane, Ilford was manufacturing component parts for for Rolls Royce Merlin aero engines. On the night of the 18th, the Luftwaffe did terrible bombing damage to the machine shops. A further attack on 9th October sealed the fate of the factory. Major work would have been needed to get the factory up and running again which would cause unacceptable delays in production. The directors of Plessey looked for an alternative solution.

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Before the war, London Underground had extended the Central Line in East London from Leytonstone via Redbridge, Ilford and Wanstead to Gants Hill. The tunnels had been dug and lined but the contractors stopped work before the tracks were installed as finances were diverted to the war effort. Plessey came to an arrangement with London Underground and the empty Central Line tunnels became a factory 13 feet 6 inches wide and five miles long. This secret ‘factory’ was known as Cambridge Park.

2,000 operatives worked here at any one time (2,000 per shift). This 300,000 sq ft production facility, made all manner of technical parts including: wiring harnesses, starter motors, gear levers and field telephones. The shift system ensured that the facility was in operation 24/7. Conditions were dirty and grim, very cold in winter and it was a trial to get so many people and materials in and out every day. The tunnels were however relatively safe from air raids. Former workers have commented that it was like working in a mine.

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There was apparently an excellent canteen facility at Redbridge. Additional ventilation shafts were installed to the surface. Extra loading and entry points were added at Danehurst Gardens and Cambridge Park and bicycles were used below ground so that workers didn’t have to walk so far underground to get to their places.

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The existence of the factory and its purpose was kept a closely guarded secret throughout the war. The factory closed in 1945 and after 12 months work decommissioning and removing the concrete floor, the tunnels were handed back to London Underground. 12,000 tons of equipment and broken up concrete had to be removed before track  could be laid in the the tube tunnels. The former factory reverted to the Central Line and opened for business in December 1947.

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Plessey workers further contributed to the war effort by collectively donating a  proportion of their wages to a Spitfire Fund. In 1941 they funded the manufacture of Spitfire AD381 which flew from RAF Digby in Leicestershire throughout the war until June 1945. It was ultimately brought down due to a flying accident, not enemy action.

Two Bexleyheath Pubs

I’m trying to research and understand the relationship between two specific boozers in Bexleyheath: the Drayman and the Camden.

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On the corner of Pickford Road, The Drayman, or Jolly Drayman, No. 2 Broadway, Bexleyheath, opened in 1871. It was originally called the Upton Hotel but is no more. It is no longer licensed premises at all but the building has now been converted to apartments for residential use. In its final few years the sign outside said the Polo Bar or Bar2 but I think that most people of my generation remember it as ‘The Drayman’.

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The William Camden is just around the corner at 91 Avenue Road, almost opposite Bexleyheath train station. It is alive and well, a popular pub currently operated by Greene King. The pub is much younger than the Drayman and first opened its doors in 1956. Today the theme of the Camden is strongly influenced by sport, particularly football.

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The two pubs are 550 metres apart, as the crow flies. I believe that in the 1990s both pubs were owned by the same operator. Rumour has it that there is (or was) a secret tunnel between them. I’d really like to hear from anybody who knows anything about this?

I have searched the web but I can find no reference to the tunnel. In the process, I did however stumble across this article on the Tyrone Tribulations website. Well worth a read, it made me smile 🙂

Update 20/6/18 – I bumped into Bindi today (who used to own the Drayman), so I asked him about the tunnel. He knew nothing of it.

 

Wealdway – Day 4

Stone Cross to Buxted

Distance: 32.0 km

Steps: 46,573

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Manor Court Farm B&B at Stone Cross, Ashurst is a first class, spick and span, nice establishment. Comfy bed, powerful shower and hearty breakfast. Sue collects the breakfast eggs fresh each morning from their own chickens. Yes, I would recommend it to my friends.

I was back on the trail by 08:30 and headed south to cross under the railway via the bridge by Ashurst station.

 

Here, just by the bridge, I found a candlelit memorial to 25 year old soldier Toby Crundwell, who was sadly struck by a train and killed. He had returned to see his family on leave from a tour of duty in Iraq.

The Wealdway meanders here across a flood plain. I crossed many footbridges and passed Summerford Farm to reach the Forest Way Cycle Path, which runs dead straight east-west towards Hartfield. Not part of the Wealdway, in fact it is at 90 degrees to it, but I turned right in search of a shop or similar.

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The Forest Way carries on west, but I left it after 2 km at Hartfield and went in search of something to put in my pack for lunch. I found a proper farm shop and stocked up with cheese and biscuits.

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Now, I could have backtracked and rejoined the Wealdway but that always seems a bit negative to me so I found a more interesting route on the map, via Withyham, across the fields of the Buckhurst Estate. By the map it looked about the same distance but I missed a turning and ended up a long way up a private farm road, definitely off course.

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I was grateful to a farmer on a quad bike with his dog, who came to my aid with local directions. In my defence, the turning I had missed was hugely overgrown and not marked in any way. Once back on track I made good time heading generally south for about 6 km through High Weald and the Ashdown Forest. I passed through the Five Hundred Acre Wood (of Winnie the Pooh fame). I never did find the Poohsticks Bridge but emerged onto heathland just after midday.

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A concrete road crossed my track and curiosity got the better of me. I reckoned it had to lead to something interesting, otherwise why put it there. These metal lid things, each about a metre square were set into the ground and quietly humming. When kicked they resonated with a deep ‘boing’ sound. Under the heathland here there must be a cavernous space. A discrete notice explained that this is a Reservoir Transducer Check Manual Measurement Point. It’s not on the map.

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It was approaching lunchtime and ahead I could see Camp Hill on the skyline. The most elevated spot for miles around, at 198 metres, this seemed like a good prospective venue for my packed lunch.

 

Camp Hill Clump has a couple of dozen trees, three benches, nice views over East Sussex and curious cattle wandering about. I had company for lunch but they moved on before I did.

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Still heading south, I set off for the village of Fairwarp. This section of the Wealdway has intermittent waymarking and one critical waymark disc has been removed from its post. I followed a variety of tracks and roads which led me to the grand gates of Oldlands Hall near Fairwarp. I investigated the village amenities then carried on towards Buxted. The trail here takes many turns and after about 1 km enters Furnace Wood. This is a spooky, wierd, dark woods. Lots of dead trees and gnarly old roots.

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On the far side of the woods is Hendall Manor Farm. Then at Wood Cottage I was confronted by a dog, enthusiastically protecting his territory. He was not interested in making friends so I carried on walking. From here on it was mostly (busy) road walking to Buxted, from where I caught a train back to London and home. Proper in the country, Buxted, only a single, reversible track. And the train pulled by a burbling diesel loco 🙂

 

 

 

 

Wealdway – Day 3

Tonbridge to Stone Cross

Distance: 28.3 km

Steps: 39,809

First I must say that it’s not 28 km from Tonbridge to Stone Cross. That is however the total distance I’ve walked today. I’ve given up on the pedometer thingy on account of it not counting my shuffling steps. On Jack’s advice I’m now using the ‘Health’ app on my iPhone. It gives a far more accurate figure.

Got up at 06:30 and fed the cat 🐈. He’s in cahoots with Dexter next door 🐕 about something. He has Free Yard for a couple of days while the girls are in Ibiza, so who knows what might happen.

The 08:12 from Bexley, via London Bridge, got me to Tonbridge before 09:30am.

Tonbridge railway station was opened in 1842. It was initially called ‘Tunbridge’ and it took 50 years of haggling before the railway company swapped the ‘u’ for an ‘o’ so the name of the station matched the name of the town.

I walked through a riverside district called Barden (takeaways and a Turkish barber) to cross the Medway via Lucifer’s Bridge.

Here, legend has it, the Devil instructed cyclists to dismount but as yet, none ever has.

I turned left and followed the path beside the Medway. Crossed again further upstream and again observed an abundance of fish in the river here. Must return another day with rod & line 🎣

The Wealdway waymarking gets a bit thin around Haysden Park. I was glad to have my map and compass to get me back on the trail.

The map shows the Wealdway passing under the A21 via a subway. It doesn’t. The subway is fenced off with a council notice saying it’s temporarily closed for repairs for 6 months from June 2017. So I checked my calendar and today being June 2018 I surmised they must be finished by now, so I climbed the fence. But the subway is blocked off halfway through by a wall of sandbags. So I tutted loudly in the council’s direction and detoured east to the next bridge. Met a very fed up gentleman coming the other way who was trying to walk the same detour but without a map. He simply did not see the positive side of the situation.

I stopped for elevenses and watched Bidborough play cricket. Not sure who was winning.

Emerged via the churchyard of St Lawrence’s church and walked down beside the school.

Bidborough is a pretty Kentish village with a population of about 1,000.

At the base of Speldhurst Hill I found an abandoned mill and derelict farm buildings just waiting to become a prestige development of luxury apartments.

Today has been the hottest day of the year so far. Whilst resting my weary legs outside the George & Dragon in Speldhurst, a car crashed into the pub wall and I stole a baked potato off the plate of the lady opposite whilst she wasn’t looking 😲

Walked on through Avery’s Wood to Fordcombe, where I watched another game of cricket 🏏 . Very friendly locals.

I arrived at Stone Cross at 4:00pm, two and a half ahead of schedule. So I decided to go for a wander. I crossed the fields to Ashurst and glad I did.

Today was the day of the Ashurst village fête and raft race. There was a Commitments style covers band playing and a welly throwing competition. It was very well attended. For a village with only a dozen houses and an unmanned railway station, the people of Ashurst put on a very good show.

Returned to Manor Court Farm where I’m booked in for B&B at 6:30pm. Updated blog and turned in for an early night 🛌. No blisters. Heading for Buxted tomorrow.

Gravesham Civil Defence Bunker

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Hats off to the team of volunteers from Thames Defence Heritage, who have rescued this chilling piece of modern history and restored it to how it might have been, back in the days of the Cold War. This 13-room Civil Defence command centre was built in 1954 in Woodlands Park, Gravesend and remained in service until 1968. I visited the bunker today with Ruth. We were given a really well-informed guided tour, followed by plenty of time to explore and look at the individual exhibits in more detail. We sat beside a WE177 air-dropped bomb whilst our guides described aspects of the bunker.

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These 3 metre long, versatile monsters, destined to be dropped from Vulcan bombers, formed the basis of Britain’s early nuclear deterrent capability. The WE177 itself is a delivery vehicle, capable of transporting a variety of payloads. In ICBM mode it can carry a 10 kiloton thermonuclear warhead to devastate an area 3.4 km in diameter. In Piñata mode it can distribute up to 550 kg of Spangles and Opal Fruits over a similar area. Sadly, the latter option was never put to the test.

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Following our introductory presentation, we visited the ‘Message Room’ where, back in the day, if the bomb had gone off, cyclists would have delivered urgent messages from around the borough.

 

Directly opposite, across the spine corridor, is the plant room. The original generator is long gone but the fresh air system still works just fine off the mains. We were shown a genuine 1954 asbestos based filter, intended to remove harmful (radioactive) particles from the air. The rooms on the left of the corridor comprise the female dormitory and male and female Elsan based toilets.

It’s a peculiarly British thing that with hell on Earth going on outside, with friends and relations literally left dying on the streets, the authorities still felt the need to have segregated toilets. Yet there was insufficient space for a guardroom or any form of dedicated military presence.

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The female dormitory has just four bunks. When the facility was operational, these would have served 16 female staff. The arithmetic for the men’s dormitory, across the corridor is similar: six beds for 24 male staff. The final small room, next to the emergency exit, was the home of the Clerk of the Works.

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The Clerk of the Works was ultimately in charge of the bunker and it was he who had to set priorities or decide where to send the last fire engine. Three individuals filled the rôle, working a shift system to maintain 24 hour cover. The bunker at Gravesend was cast to represent the Cabinet War Room in a film, Age of Heroes, in 2011. James D’arcy played the part of the officer in charge. Across the spine corridor are the operations rooms and communications facilities.

Orders and observations were expected to arrive by telephone (as well as by bicycle) and here they would have been decoded and interpreted, then written onto notes and passed through a hatch to the control room. The Control Room is the heart of the facility, where following a nuclear strike, difficult decisions would have to be made. Representatives of the local authority, Police, Fire Brigade, NHS, utilities companies and Army would have all been based in this room. To get an idea what it might have been like, watch Threads (1984), probably the scariest and most realistic ‘after the bomb’ movie ever made.

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The Control Room has been set up by members of Thames Defence Heritage to recreate the environment as it would have been in the Cold War, just add a couple of dozen stressed people and remember that 80% of them would have been smoking. The volunteers have managed to bring together a truly unique collection of contemporary period stuff to help us understand what it might have been like. There are two blast calculator devices which I have never seen on display anywhere else. Does anybody know how to use these?

Everywhere there are books giving instructions and government advice. All of which are freely available for the visitor to pick up and read.

This facility is the most informative and best presented example of the local government aspect of ‘after the bomb’ Cold War Britain that I have yet seen. It is open once a month and you have to book in advance with the local tourist office to buy tickets. Not to be missed if you like this kind of thing.