From the Archives

31 Aug 12 2 Comments

I’ve got some new and exciting projects in the pipeline which I can’t wait to share with you. Unfortunately, they are taking a lot of my time — I hope you don’t mind if this week I leave you with a fun story from the archives.

If you would like to follow me on Twitter, I stick to aviation topics (and notify you of blog posts) on @fearoflanding and I’d love to connect with you there. You are also welcome to follow me on my personal account which is where the following took place.

I spent last week in England, hoping to get a chance to fly the Saratoga and get current with my take-off and landings.

The only day that the plane was not available was Tuesday.

That was, of course, the only sunny day of the week. The rest of my time in England was spent watching the low clouds drift past and the rain fall in a long slow I-can-keep-this-up-forever drizzle which, by the end of the week, had shifted to snow.

When I saw the sunshine, I hoped that perhaps it would last a while. As I couldn’t fly, I thought I’d take advantage of the weather and explore the countryside. I took my iPhone and a raincoat and made my way outside. I sent messages to Twitter about my adventures as I went. Here’s the transcript of my no-fly day which turned out both more and less interesting than I expected.

Walking along the somewhat sodden trail of the Essex Way, I wasn’t sure where I was going.

I meandered along through a small village. I sent photographs to Twitter from my phone, hoping that they could be used to track me down if I got lost.

It looked like it would be a quiet and uneventful day.

Then I found this sign and I knew I had a purpose. I turned left at the junction and walked on, expecting to see a secret bunker just around the corner. But it didn’t appear and I proceeded past a number of junctions without sign posts. I was pretty sure I was lost.

I sent a message to Twitter that I was giving up.

I decided to walk to the next village and see if I could find a taxi. I had walked 6.5 kilometres (3 miles) in total and I couldn’t face walking straight back.

I was feeling footsore and depressed when finally I found another sign at the roadside.

I’d found it!

There was a paved road curving through the fields. It looked like it might be a bit of a trek but I felt renewed at having finally found the place. It would be silly for me to turn back now.

But almost immediately, there was a new obstacle.

I posted the photograph with a plea for the Internet:

Help me out. Am I likely to get shot at if I continue?

The general consensus was that I should carry on – after all, the big sign definitely said open. I had walked so far, it really seemed a shame to turn back now with nothing to show for it.

I carried on.

I walked for another kilometre, past a paintball complex and through the carpark with a high tower on it that didn’t look super-secret to me.

The carpark was muddy and empty but then I saw two cars parked at the side, so I felt a bit more confident. There was a trail with signs saying This Way and then another sign on an unlocked gate saying Open!

So I continued. Finally I found it – a little farmhouse in the countryside, innocent as could be.

From a distance, it was a simple small bungalow hidden amongst the trees. Well, except for the tanks parked in the garden shed and a notice on the front steps:

“Welcome to the ex Government Regional HQ, the home of the Central Government in time of nuclear war.”

There were signs saying to come on in, take a wand, take the tour. As I walked into the building, it was clearly an unmanned entrance but everything was set up to make the instructions very clear. Take a wand and take the tour! Once you pass through this door, you MUST have a wand. Adults should take a red wand and listen to it!

I took a wand and listened to the soundtrack and walked through the door. I saw a new set of signs warning me that I was now committing myself to £6.50 entrance fee, to be paid at the exit. No credit cards. No exceptions. You are on CCTV, we know what you look like! Don’t think you can get away with it (and do you have a wand? You need a wand!)

I nervously checked my wallet to make sure I had £6.50 in change and waved at the camera.

I stared down the long concrete tunnel taking me down while I listened to the information on the wand. The bunker was built in 1952 and was meant to ensure the government’s survival in the event of a nuclear war. There were iron bunk beds pushed again the wall and radiation readers and gas masks – it truly looked like something directly out of Fallout 3. The tunnel, 120m long, led to the ground floor which was actually 80 foot below the the ground. It was as I reached this part of the tour that I began to suspect something was wrong. The initial lights and displays were on and there was a radio broadcasting METARS from main cities all over Europe. But this next section was dark. I hovered a bit, listening to the wand and looking for sensors that might put the lights on, and then I lost my nerve and ran up the stairs. My plan was to go straight to the exit and find out if there actually was someone collecting the entrance fees and watching the camera, someone who could verify that I was allowed to be there.

I found a canteen, lights on, and a sign asking people to put their money into the honesty box and leave their wands in a box on the counter. As I looked around, a young man came into the room and stared at me.

“What are you doing here?”

“I, um, I was doing the tour. But then some of the lights were off.”

“The lights,” he repeated. Then he spoke very slowly, as if speaking to a mad woman. Or to an American, which many Brits believe to be the same thing. “The lights are off because we are closed. There was a sign at the road saying that we are closed on Tuesdays.”

“Right, well, there was also a sign that said open.”

“Next to the sign that made it clear that we are closed on Tuesdays.” He raised his eyebrows in a way that said, surely I wasn’t going to argue that this was false?

“Right.” I smiled in what I hoped was a conciliatory manner. “So I’ll just, um, leave the wand with you and be on my way.”

“Yes,” he said. And just in case I hadn’t understood. “Because we are closed. It’s Tuesday.”

“Tuesday. Closed. Right.” I handed him the wand and fled.

He followed me to the exit and I updated the people watching on Twitter.

Bunker was definitely interesting. Also definitely closed. I was escorted off the premises.

I followed the path back to the main road and walked on until I found a pub, where I collapsed quietly and drank an ale called “Bitter and Twisted” until my feet stopped aching. And then I phoned Cliff and begged him to pick me up.

I sent one last message to reassure the people who had followed my adventures that I wasn’t in trouble.

And then I fell asleep.

The little bit of the bunker that I explored was fascinating and I will definitely be going back. There were also signs about a £5.00 licence to take photographs indoors, so next time I will take my Nikon with me for decent shots.

You can read more about the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker on the RGHQ 5.1 Official Website and, as of March 1st, they’ll be open every day. I’m looking forward to taking Connor to explore it – but probably not on a Tuesday. Just to be safe.

And if you want to follow my next adventure in realtime, just add me on Twitter as akaSylvia.

Category: Miscellaneous,


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