Yesterday, along with several hundred other equally excited people during the day, I finally got a chance to walk along a bit of train tunnel – yes the famous Brunel Thames Tunnel that had been the topic of much news reporting over the past couple of days.
Turning up to Rotherhithe Station with tickets in hand, there were four handwritten signs on the windows warning that the tours were sold out. It seemed that earlier in the morning, the BBC had said that tickets were available, leading to a flood of soon to be disappointed visitors arriving clutching banknotes in the hope of a peek.
Also thanks to the somewhat anger inducing ticketing website operated by the LT Museum, there were people who thought they had booked a tunnel tour, but had actually only got tickets for the Victorian Fair and were being politely, but firmly told they couldn’t go down the tunnel. Even after I booked my tickets, I wasn’t 100% sure I had got what I thought I had asked for until the tickets arrived in the post and I could relax a bit.
After the usual health and safety warnings about trip hazards and what to do if the lights go out (stand still) or an evacuation was needed (stand still), or feeling ill (stand still), we were handed over to our guide for the evening. A jolly chap from Chicago who only started working for the museum earlier that week. Not a bad start to a new job – take the first walking tours through a tunnel in some 145 years.
I am sure most people know the history of the tunnel – or you can look it up – so I won’t recount the obvious here.
Slowly going down the tunnel, though we passed from the preserved original brickwork into the newer concrete shield that was applied over the bricks when the tunnels were last modernised, rather controversially in 1995. I have sympathies with both sides of the argument, and in an ideal world, the tunnels should have been restored – but then again, why spend a fortune on brickwork that frankly, only maintenance staff would ever see?
Well, apart from a couple of thousand people this weekend of course – but even that rarity doesn’t justify not only the cost, but the extended closure of the line for the restoration. Sad, but true.
So down the tunnel, as it gently sloped under the river, punctuated with short breaks for a bit of history, and then slowly back up again to stand in the very centre of Wapping station in a spot that would be most unwise at any other time.
There were strict rules about not stepping on the rails, so small “bridges” not only took us from one side to the other, but also offer elevated platforms for photography. As an aside, we walked northwards on what is actually the southbound rail track – and visa versa on the way back.
Slowly heading back, without stops and back up and out into the fresh air once again.
OK, all we did was walk along a concrete-lined tunnel – but if you are going to walk down a concrete-lined tunnel, then this was the one you would have wanted to walk down.
Afterwards to the recreation of the Victorian Fair next to the Brunel Museum, and a chance to clamber through a tiny gap to get inside Brunel’s Shaft.
The museum curator gave a long, and innuendo-laden speech about the history of the tunnel and regularly reminded visitors that today was the first time in 145 years that anyone had been able to stand in the shaft itself. Apart presumably those of us who had a look inside last year?
Although walking tours are probably never going to happen again, they will be resuming the tunnel tours they used to run with London Underground. Basically, a guided tour around the two stations at either end, linked up by a slow train trip through the tunnel and they arrange to turn on the floodlights, so you can see from inside a carriage what some of us lucky few got to see by foot. I had done that tour a few years ago, and they are actually good fun, so worth a visit when the line reopens again.
Brunel’s shaft is currently being converted into an extension for the museum, which will roughly triple the amount of space they have for displays, hopefully turning a small incidental museum into a serious destination in its own right.
Obviously, I took tons of photos, and this time experimented again with taking HDR photos, most of which came out fairly well. The aim being to capture all the detail without needing a flash so that the photos reflect the dim light down there, without being too dark to see anything. In theory.
Pretty much every London based blogger worth the title has booked a tour and their reports can be found at:
Blogless photographers include: