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 infamous 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 bank notes 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, was 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 heath 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 though a tunnel in some 145 years.

A tunnel

I am sure most people know the history of the tunnel – or you can look it up – so I wont recount the obvious here.

Old brickwork meets modern concreteSlowly going down the tunnel, though we passed from the preserved original brick work 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 brick work 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 center of Wapping station in a spot that would be most unwise at any other time.

The Wapping End

There were strict rules about not stepping on the rails, so small “bridges” not only took us from the 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.

Going into the two tunnels

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.

A tunnel

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.

Entrance to the Victorian Fair

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 small incidental museum into a serious destination in its own right.

Inside the Brunel Shaft - 3

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:

853Diamond GeezerThe Great Wen (ex Time Out Big Smoke)Annie Mole.

Blogless photographers include:

LondonStuffmykreevewebponce & mctumshie (who has lots more photos of the fair than the tunnel).

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9 comments on “Walking though Brunel’s Tunnel under the Thames
  1. Ronnie says:

    Maybe TFL like to upset people. Im sure they could of made it possible for more tours and more dates to take place. It always seems these events are short lived with tickets which are no where to be seen only to be found by a lucky few. Well, at lease the slow train tour will be open. I really wish TFL would open an old station for good.

  2. Caroline says:

    It looks great, the HDR has worked really well. I’m going later this afternoon and can’t wait!

  3. IanVisits says:

    @Ronnie

    What did you really expect them to do though – close the tunnel for another few weeks just so that tourists can have a look and ignore the screams of complaint from the people who want to use it as a railway tunnel to get from one side of the river to the other?

    As to finding the tickets – I know a lot of websites and news sources were practically screaming in excitement about this (mine included) as soon as the event was announced. There is a limit to the publicity a charitable museum can muster and while the tickets did sell out fairly quickly, that is frankly not much different to any major sporting or music event.

  4. Ronnie says:

    It’s always the same with TLF, They know many people will want to visit a place, or go on a ride, but they only provide limited spaces. I would understand if it was an old train ride, But the tunnel has been empty for a couple of weeks already, the test trains have been and gone, much of the work is complete, so yes, they could of opened the tunnel for a few weeks, it would have been at night so that no day time work was effected. I am just annoyed that I live next to the place, and heard nothing about it. I don’t recall any of the local newspapers reporting it. I guess one day I’ll get a ticket to one of these events.

  5. Steve says:

    This

    > Pretty much every London based blogger worth the title has booked a tour

    is laughable.

    Are you really suggesting that (say) Girl with a one-track Mind isn’t a “London based blogger worth the title” because she didn’t book a tour and write about it. Ditto (insert your favourite blogger of choice)

    Looked at the other way, because I did go, and have posted a photo (and might write about it eventually) I guess that means I now have honorary associate membership of the “London based blogger worth the title” society.

    Meh.

    I’d prefer that there weren’t self-appointed and self-professed members of the blogging “great and the good”.

    Steve

  6. Ronnie says:

    Well, the workmen are back now, looks as if its all over.

  7. peter xyz says:

    Joined the “reserve queue” on Saturday – they were letting an additional 10 or so people through with each group, but the queue quickly made it to over 100 people

  8. JOHN BYRNE says:

    WAY BENEATH….

    Home a musty prison cell
    Taxes due, his debt unpaid
    The shameful waste of Marc Brunel.

    Time that concentrates the mind
    Forming fast, a mental plan
    Slow incarceration grind.

    To dig and burrow as the mole
    The wide, the murky Thames
    Men inside a rabbit hole.

    Dig the silt, pass the spoil
    Water cascade run like hell
    Fanciful dreamer Marc Brunel.

7 Pings/Trackbacks for "Walking though Brunel’s Tunnel under the Thames"
  1. […] Walking though Brunel’s Tunnel under the Thames […]

  2. […] Down and I took a walk through the Thames Tunnel this afternoon, just like every other transport nerd in London, and a jolly interesting, chilly, surprisingly clean step back in time it […]

  3. […] been lots written about these tours by other Londony types here, here and here. So rather than re-hashing what they have already said I’ll just link to my […]

  4. […] enjoying the tunnel tour this weekend: Adam Wright: Thames Tunnel Ian Visits: Walking though Brunel’s Tunnel under the Thames diamond geezer: Thames Tunnel Tour and Fancy Fair 853: Inside the Thames […]

  5. […] to the older existing line at Whitechapel. Then passing through the Brunel tunnel by train, just as I had passed through it on foot a few weeks ago – and it was a slight disappointment that they didn’t light up the […]

  6. […] river) in the hope for return tickets but many bloggers made it down there: Diamond Geezer, Ianvisits, 853, The Great Wen and Going Underground (for a further […]

  7. […] A chance to climb through a very narrow entrance and down scaffolding to get inside the main shaft at Brunel’s tunnel in Rotherhithe. Tours leave 5pm & 6pm on Sat 11th and hourly noon to 4pm on Sun 12th Sept. – £5, no need to book, just pay on the day (I’ve been before, a couple of times) […]