European Minerals and Welsh Slate – searching for something to do

Once upon a time there was a flunky. And this flunky was responsible for authoring blog posts and updates for the website, but his writing mojo deserted him and he grew distracted and disillusioned with the whole process. He likes to blame the lack of updates over the last five year on the pandemic curtailing activities. But it is also possibly down to the onslaught of social media on the exploring community that has sucked some of the fun out of it (see a previous blog post for our thoughts on this). But lo! The gaffer came unto him, who struck him about the head with a shoe paddle and spaketh with a Great Voice. “Good game, good game! Stop dicking about and get on with updating that bloody website, you great sack of jobbies”. And thus the flunky raised his eyebrows in alarm and muttered “I must write Things” and got to work*.

*Footnote: this may or may not have happened. We just forgot about the website for a while. So here goes.

I had planned to write this about a few short trips to Wales recently, but realised we have not written a blog post on our wanderings in close to five years now and thought a more general update may be of interest. We do still explore, but 17 years of poking about derelict, unseen places means the enthusiasm wanes from time to time . A lot of where we visit has already been covered extensively by either a 45 minute long jarring YouTube videos of someone stumbling about the place, or 28000 photos on an Instagram reel. Whatever happened to the days of posting five photos because your 56k dial up couldn’t hack it and the local lights dimmed if you uploaded too many? Grumble grumble, now where are my slippers? This hasn’t stopped us from exploring, and we do enjoy a weekend trip every now and then.

Wales

If you have ever driven through North Wales and the Eryri National Park (nee Snowdonia) you will have noticed the enormous piles of broken grey rock that sit upon the mountains like errant slugs. North Wales was a hotbed for Slate Extraction from the late 18th century until the late 20th century and dominated the world slate industry during this time.  In recognition for its part it played in the world, the North Welsh slate communities were awarded UNESCO status (see image below) as the ingenious development of technology, intact remains of the quarries and their supporting buildings, and the impact on the world were considered outstanding and in need of preserving. As an explorer, someone who likes large underground spaces as a photographer, it is hard to ignore this huge playground that the area has to offer, where many old quarries sit silent, accessible and intact; providing you are ready from some serious walking and prepared to embrace the welsh weather.

5 of the 6 UNESCO Areas

For years we slept on North Wales slate as we never truly understood the extent of the opportunities on offer – it was simply to far away to have a good local knowledge, and information online was scant, or buried deep within obscure websites and books we rarely visited. Our interests lay at the time with other things, such as Asylums and ROTOR bunkers, and local day long explores in the early days meant we didn’t need to travel to the other end of the country! We made a fleeting visit to Dinorwic back in 2011, and a fast trip into one Blaenau quarry in 2016 that left us wanting to pay the area another visit. It wasn’t until we started visiting the area for a few holidays did we realise just how much there was. You can’t move for the slate tips, old mills and remnants of the many transportation systems. After a few conversations with friends, one who lives up there, and after delving into a few books, did we start planning to visit. Then the Covid lockdowns happened and all plans were shelved.

In 2023 we finally made it.

Cavern

The tricky thing with exploring in Wales is that everything is quite close together (as the crow flies) but large mountains and long winding valley roads mean you spend a reasonable amount of time observing the scenery. It’s the same in Scotland, it’s ok though – everything is 20 minutes away. Once you arrive at your destination, you then have to locate the tiniest of adits buried in a landscape that all looks the same, or sometimes, the path you need to take to even get to the quarry. Lastly, the Welsh weather will always cause an affray and attempt to battle you down off the mountain.  Especially if you left your waterproof jacket in South London like a complete idiot (n.b. Betws-y-Coed has some great outdoor shops if you are ever caught short).

Adit

The great thing about the Welsh Slate Quarries is that every quarry is very different. Some like Dinorwic are huge open cast pits carved into the side of the hill, with inclines criss-crossing the landscape where thousands of tonnes of slate were extracted. The slate quarries around Blaenau and Bethesda have large underground caverns, and a few large holes, dug into the mountain at a reasonably shallow angle, their only (bloody huge) noticeable feature being the vast spoil tips surrounding the town; finally the Corris quarries are near located in near vertical slate veins that have left deep, cathedral like caverns buried deep within the mountains. Many of the quarries around Blaenau will see you to walking to the top of the mountain before you descend down to the lower working levels back beneath where you started, only to have to climb back up and down again. It’s the sort of explore that you feel for days after. And if quarries aren’t you thing, there are plenty of other sites to see in the area.

Apparently.

Something else

If you happen to find yourself in Llanberis on a wet Welsh summers day and need something to do, the National Slate Museum is a worthy visit. Situated within the old the preserved 19th-century workshops of the now disused Dinorwic quarry, it takes you through the history of slate quarrying in Wales and how it left an indelible mark on the Welsh. The live demonstration of how slate is split by hand and the foundry are well worth it alone. Following this, a walk up the restored Vivian incline will give you a taste quarrying life, and how hard and exposed it must have been. The main quarrying areas of Wales were around Blaenau Ffestiniog, Bethesda, Llanberis, Corris, Nantlle, and Llangollen/Glyn Ceiriog. Their development was spurned on by the explosion of the industrial revolution in towns like Manchester in the late 18th century and with the coming of mills and factories, there was an enormous demand for slates to roof the long terraces of houses built as homes for the workers – as well as the foundries and factories themselves. In 1882 the county’s quarries produced over 280,000 tons of finished roofing slates, and in 1898 the slate trade in Wales as a whole reached its peak with 17,000 men producing 485,000 tons of slate. Given roughly 90% of slate extracted is waste you can understand why the slate tips are so huge! By the end of start of the 20th century, the industry was largely dead with only Penrhyn and Oakeley operating and producing slate; some untopping work still occurs at Manod and around Maenofferen.

The Quarrymans Cathedral

I had planned to write a bit more about the history of welsh slate quarrying, and the weekend roadtrips, but this blog post took a different direction a little way through and i’m sure people don’t want to know about cups of tea in the pitch black, MRE’s in an old slate workers hut or the excruciating muscle burn walking back up from the lowest levels of an underground working.

Europe

British explorers love a bit of Euro Action.  The UK does have a lot of large and interesting sites, but it feels like they are becoming fewer and further apart, with an added side dose of aggy security. Europe also has massive derelict buildings, large labyrinth underground workings  and vast industry, it is also a short hop over the Channel and amusingly closer than somewhere like Yorkshire!  I’ll probably Jinx it, but they seem more chilled out about idiots poking about in their old buildings taking photos. This isn’t strictly true – Germany are very swift and efficient at sealing anything to do with the underground and access to the French Forts changes quickly and access is pure luck.

Tunnel

We’ve made a habit of visiting once a year with a good bunch of bunker perverts and when we go, we take a simple approach to what we want: underground and large, or military in style, or both. We have a few contacts in Germany who are always happy to show us a few sites, or point is in the right direction of travel. In one area we were within walking distance of an old Gypsum mine, one of the largest Maginot forts constructed and a small Abri that was mint. It’s rare for us to be somewhere which has that much in close proximity

If you find yourself in the Saarland (it’s a hot tourist destination), the Volklinger Iron Works and the Coal Mining Museum are both worthy of a visit, and if you go to Metz, you’ll fall over Forts.

How did that get there?

The one thing we do love about a French Quarry is that they have developed a national sport of seeing how far you can get a derelict car into a tunnel. They’re always surprising to find and are very photogenic.

Now we got to the end of the blog, have some photos – that’s what you’re really here for. The text was just random filler to plug the gaps between the images that’s just the words of a wittering middle aged man.

Fine Art Photographs for sale

Over the summer months, we received a number enquiries to the website as to whether we would be willing to offer out photographs for sale. After a quick discussion, and an afternoon googling how to set up a gallery payment system, we are pleased to be able to offer a number of limited edition fine art prints of our favourite landscape photos from around the South Downs, Surrey and the South Coast. New galleries with additional photographs will be added in the future, including a series of Wildlife photographs and if we decide to, a selection of our favourite photographs of abandoned spaces.

The plan is to offer each photograph to a strictly limited edition of 12 prints, all pieces are professionally printed and signed by the photographer. They will be available in A4, A3 or A2 sizes (measure along the longest edge) with prices starting from £40 for an A4 sized print. All artwork will be printed on Fine Art Photo Rag paper as this is our preferred paper.

To view the photographs we have available to purchase, please visit the gallery below:

Landscape Fine Art Prints for sale

 

RAF Wartling ROTOR bunker – a decade of progress

After nearly a decades worth of volunteering work at the R3 ROTOR bunker at RAF Wartling the summer of 2019 saw a key milestone reached;  English heritage deemed the site safe enough to run a series of Members Tours within the old bunker. Here on TheTimeChamber, we have been involved with the remedial works at the old RAF Wartling bunker pretty much from the start, where we have seen the bunker dried out, severe leaks repaired and access down into various spaces made safe.

A short history from Subbrit regarding the initial ‘big pump’ history.

When Wartling was sold by the MOD in 1976 it was still in excellent internal condition. When inspected in 1970 the power was still connected; the lights worked and although stripped of most of its equipment all the teak flooring was still in place on both levels. There was no water ingress anywhere. When visited by members of Subterranea Britannica in 1987 the bunker had deteriorated badly in the intervening years as it had been broken into on several occasions and badly damaged by vandals. All the glass windows looking into the two level operations room had been smashed as had all the toilet fittings. A lot of wiring had been stripped out and all the copper had been removed from the mains transformer. All the teak flooring on the upper level had been removed. The lower level was flooded to a depth of three feet in the corridor corresponding to a depth of five and a half feet in the AC plant room and operations room neither of which had raised false floors. As it was impossible to determine the state of the floorboards in other parts of the lower level no attempt was made to enter any of the rooms. A photographic survey of the lower level was made from the open doorways. It has subsequently come to light that the floorboards had not been removed from the lower level; when the bunker was eventually pumped out most of the floorboards had collapsed into the void below but in a few rooms they remain in place and in relatively sound condition. On the upper level, a brick wall had been built across the main access tunnel from the guardhouse to the bunker just beyond the cable shaft. The bunker and surrounding land was sold for the second time in 1989 but vandalism continued unabated and eventually a new secure steel door was fitted to the emergency exit to prevent further illegal entry.

When the bunker was again visited by members of Subterranea Britannica in 1996, the water level in the lower level had risen to seven and a half feet above the level of the lower corridor which was now almost completely submerged. There were plans to pump the bunker out in 1996 and the water was tested by the Environment Agency and was found to be sufficiently clean to pump directly onto the surrounding land. The water level was reduced by several feet but the pumps were insufficient to reduce the level to much below the 1987 level. The pump out was abandoned and the bunker was once again allowed to flood. In the later spring of 2004 the owner was approached by Subterranea Britannica and it was agreed that a further attempt should be made to pump the bunker dry. The water was once again tested by the Environment Agency who declared it fit to pump directly on to the land. It was decided to wait until later in the year when the ground would hopefully be at its driest and a start date of 11th of August was set for the ‘big pump’. By the time the pumps were turned off on the morning of Sunday 22nd August some 2.75 million litres of water and been pumped onto the surrounding farm land.

It was initially thought that the bunker would be left to flood again and was sealed accordingly, however the land owner is interested in preserving it for future generations. This was because the R3 Bunker at RAF Wartling is an interesting site as it is one of only a few accessible ROTOR bunkers that is still in its original configuration. Other R3 type bunkers around the country found subsequent uses and heavily altered internally. As a result of this a small contingent of volunteers from Subbrit and KURG undertook to perform some remedial works, not to restore the bunker, but rather to stop it deteriorating further

The following works have been completed, and the bunker is now dry with only the lower level sump having water in it (as of April 2020). Photos from the work days can be found here.

    • All water ingress points sealed by digging down externally,
    • Wall and sump and water storage bowsers installed at cable shaft end to manage water ingress from this point,
    • Pumps installed using original sewage ejector pipes and grey water tank to enable efficient pumping from lower levels (staged pumping),
    • New electricity meter, armoured cable under field, and electrical distribution board installed from Radar House,
    • IP66 lighting & electrical sockets throughout upper level,
    • LED floodlights to light up main ops room,
    • New vent shaft constructed on the demolished cable shaft,
    • Improved security with new locks and doors,
    • Re-rendering of blockhouse,
    • New galvanised grilles on blockhouse,
    • Metal flooring grilles over cable ways,
    • Metal hatches over voids & rotten access hatches,
    • Numerous upstairs rooms swept and mucked out,
    • Ops room swept, cleared and dry for the first time in decades,
    • asbestos survey carried out (negative result),
    • New entrance stairs constructed (a requirement of allowing EH visits),
    • Safe access steps provided down into various rooms on the upper floor,
    • Stabilisation of the Kelvin Hughes projector pit.

Future plans include continued cleaning and making good to enable access to all rooms, including plant room and installation of new flooring and walkways. A selection of photos showing the current condition of the bunker are displayed below:

 

Going Postal……

In the time honoured tradition of the British Worker during a warm summer, one half of TheTimeChamber took the opportunity to bunk off work early and catch the train to London.  Apart from a typical delay at East Croydon caused by the wrong type of sunshine on the tracks, the journey was standard Notwork Fail affair. Our destination? The Mount Pleasant Sorting Office. Not because we had a parcel to collect, but because we were coming to walk the rails of the Mail Rail as part of an organised Subbrit tour. For years, the exploring and underground communities have known of the existence of the Mail Rail, but up until a few years ago, it was under tight lock and key and only a handful of people outside of The Royal Mail managed a visit. In 2013, the British Postal Museum & Archive announced that it intended opening part of the network to the public as a Museum, eventually opening in 2017. Known for being proactive, we immediately decided to take a tour and finally got our act together some two years later and found ourselves descending underground.

The Rail mail, also known as the Post Office Railway, is a narrow gauge, driverless, subterranean postal delivery system that opened in 1927 to enable speedy delivery of mail across London between sorting offices, as congestion on the roads was making delivery times unacceptably slow. The Mail Rail operated from 1927 to 2003, and ran for six and a half miles from Paddington sorting office in the West of London, to Whitechapel sorting office in the East. A total of eight stations were constructed that connected to sorting offices above ground, with Mount Pleasant being the largest as it included the engineering and maintenance departments required for the line. Who would not want to see this? We would highly recommend it.

https://www.postalmuseum.org/discover/attractions/mail-rail-ride/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Post_Office_Railway

What goes around, comes around – A Return to Pyestock, the Anechoic Chamber

Pyestock. A name that still echoes with many explorers. It was over ten years ago that we first visited and during our penultimate visit where we sat atop the Bramshott cooling towers at night looking towards the then still-in-use Noise Test facility, did we wonder whether we would ever be able to see inside it. This was probably our fourth or our fifth visit to the site and our next one turned out to be our final one after we were caught, detained, and photographed before being threatened with aggravated trespass if we returned. Thereafter we gave the site a wide berth and moved onto other things.

A few years later when the site was in the middle of demolition did we decide to have one last look; we were partly successful before we were spotted by a digger driver and then chased off by someone in a Land Rover (no, it wasn’t the tenacious ex-Gurka security guard in the blue Land Rover that had us laying in a ditch for 2 hours before he gave up).  We thought this was the end of Pyestock as demolition finished and a planning application for a new housing estate was submitted to the local authority. Since then, the site barely crossed our minds, other than occasionally popping up when we donned rose tinted glasses after a few beers have been consumed.

However, that was until we received a nudge from a fellow explorer that the Anechoic Chamber was now finally decommissioned and was scheduled for demolition. We couldn’t resist and final look and we wandered over one evening in order to sit on the roof at sunset like we did on the cooling towers all those years ago.

It felt like the old days. That long, impenetrable MoD spec fence. Dog Walkers. Time spent looking for a way in. The sight of ‘that blue pipework’ through the woods. Beeping PIRs. Security racing past whilst we buried ourselves into a nook. Senses heightened. Unlocked doors. Silence. – and then that feeling that only explorers really understand. It cannot be experienced from looking at any amount of pictures on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr.

Taking a punt. Getting in. Result.

We interrupt this tale for a short site history: Pyestock was built as a world class gas turbine test facility by the British Government that opened after World War 2 (the site was planned in 1941) and eventually closed in 2002 after privatisation. It subsequently became an urban exploring mecca a few years later once the world wide web had exposed exploring to the wider world. The Anechoic chamber was built in 1974, and finally closed in 2016, some 14 years after the rest of the site. At the time of building it was the largest Anechoic Chamber in the world and is the best part of 100ft wide, 85ft high and 85ft long. That’s 10,000 cubic metres of engine noise test space. All of the internal walls are covered with noise absorbing triangular wedges, 7000 on total that are constructed from glass fibre and covered in canvas type material. The walls are 14inch thick reinforced concrete and all surfaces under the wedges are covered in either 4 or 8 inches of rock wool sound deadening material. This made for a very quiet place. There is a great deal of extra info here if you’re interested.

During our visit, we managed to see the main chamber, the basement of the control room and the views from the roof top before we ran out of both time and nerves to see anymore (god damn security parked outside on a quad bike). Unlike the old Pyestock site, everything has been sanitised and cleared out completely, so there was little rummaging and reading to be had.

An excellent, final piece to the Pyestock enigma, undoubtedly one of our favourite explore sites ever and the one site we didn’t think I would see again.

The still in use Anechoic Chamber, photographed from the now-demolished Bramshott Cooling towers, summer 2007, way back when it seemed out of reach all those years ago.

For the love of Deep Shelters – UK Shelter Policy

We have a confession, we enjoy a good tunnel and have written about them before and spun tales of our ventures into the underground. There is a specific type of underground structure that has always fascinated us, World War 2 deep shelters. We started our journey into them way back when we found ourselves on the Medway climbing through a small grille and into the Shorts Tunnels that are burrowed into the chalk. Our interest was peaked further when an explorer appeared out of the blue and offered to show us some sites in Dover. From there we were hooked and have since covered a large number of shelters around our local area and further afield when possible, covering both civilian and military shelters.

Shorts Tunnels, Rochester

During the Great War the Germans bombed the civilian population of the United Kingdom by using their Zeppelins to drop bombs on Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. In total, 1,413 civilians were killed, and a further 3,407 were injured. This naturally led the population to seek refuge underground from the possibilities of aerial attack. During 1924 the government instructed the Committee of Imperial Defence to establish the Air Raid Precautions sub-committee, under Sir John Anderson, whose purpose was “to examine the question of protection of the civilian population against air attack.” Initially, their concerns were for the warning, prevention and repair of damage, maintenance of vital services, the movement of the seat of government and the continuation of its operation; there was only a brief mention as to the provision of public air raid shelters. Proposals were put forwards by the Ministry of Works to construct new tunnels as deep refuges beneath the new tube lines in London. However, this was determined to be prohibitively expensive at £2,000,000 per line (a HUGE sum at the time – about £124,000,000 in todays money!). However, it should be noted that a number of deep level shelters were constructed at a later date. The sub-committee explored the possibility of also constructing large shelters throughout the country, but no construction occurred. In 1935 it was decided by the new Home Office ARP department that dispersal was more suitable -cough- cheaper than large scale air raid shelter construction.

Clapham South Deep Shelter, London

In 1937 the responsibility was passed to the local authorities, yet it was not until the Munich Crisis of 1938 did they start to act and provide shelter provision throughout their boroughs. Numerous schemes were proposed , yet ultimately rejected due to cost or size. One successful scheme was the construction of a series of deep shelters beneath the Northern and Central Lines through London, however it was only decided to construct these tunnels during the height of the Blitz and they opened a little too late to be of any initial use. The Goodge Street Shelter was used as Eisenhower’s command centre for D-Day and Chancery Lane. It was proposed after the war to use these tunnels to construct a fast tube into central London, but this didn’t occur and most are used for various means nowadays such as archival storage, or a hydrophonic farm. At the same time, many local authorities throughout the country completed construction of tunnel shelters; either deep shelters buried within the local geology, or cut and cover shelters within local parks.

Carlshalton ARP Shelter

The civil defence provision was provided by each borough through a variety of means; Anderson Shelters and Morrision table shelters were provided to homes. Communal street shelters were provided for persons caught out in the open during an air raid warning – these were design to provide protection from shrapnel etc and had accommodation for around 60 persons. Trench shelters were excavated within parks throughout the country – these were simple cut and cover constructions formed of reinforced precast concrete, providing accommodation for a few hundred people. Finally, deep shelters were constructed by a handful of authorities around the country, some of these used pre-existing cave systems, such as Chiselhurst Caves. In other areas, such as Surrey, Stockport, Birkenhead or Portsmouth, specialist tunnels were excavated into the local bedrock; these tunnels provided shelter for up to 1000 persons.  Finally, many industrial buildings converted their basements into Air Raid shelters for their staff; the Shorts Brothers factory in Rochester constructed tunnels into the chalk cliffs for both staff and the general public and we have seen evidence of the basement conversion at the Wolverton Railway Works.

Hougham Dressing Station

Similar tunnel provision was constructed at military installations throughout the UK to provide protection from bombing raids, or the cross channel guns aimed at Dover. These were typically much smaller shelters constructed for the accommodation, storage and operation requirements of the  military personnel stationed at the installation. Some of these shelters were constructed for other operational purposes, such as protected radio transmission stations, dressing stations and plotting rooms.

HMS Forward

Below is a short selection of our photos from numerous years of disappearing down dark, dank holes in the ground!

Wartime Observer Corps Post Telephones

Recently, on the Cuckfield ROC Post page we posted photos of our Wartime Post Telephone after it had received a light restoration.  During this restoration, and the restoration of a friends Post Telephone (Al at Portadown Post) it was noticed that various marks and stamps were present on the wood and that 2 of the phones were numbered slightly differently. This peaked our curiosity, as we had just ‘assumed’ that a post phone was a post phone. There are clearly variations so we set about trying to work out what was going on….Now it is worth mentioning that We aren’t looking at these in strict chronological order, but rather with the most commonly recognised ones that are confirmed as Observer Corps issue first then, a couple of anomalies that we can’t quite work out….

First we will talk about the post telephone that we are going to refer to as the ‘early phone’ – model number AD163. We have seen several of these telephones now over the years and noticed that there are AD163, AD163B and AD163C variants – however the wiring diagrams were all the same so we didn’t know what the model number variation meant. We also noticed that there were marks stamped on them – we have seen FH38, FH39, FH40 and FB40 but had no idea what this meant. 

This model of phone has photographic evidence of use before the war – there is a photo of ‘Welwyn Garden City’ Post in which the Observers can be seen using the Heath Robinson (pre-Pullin) Pantograph Post Instrument and wearing civilian clothes with no insignia or armbands – this dates the photo to pre-war, or very early war, so proves that this model of phone was in use at that time. 

What does the B and C mean then? And what about the FH? Well some great research by Al at Portadown ROC Post Museum has cracked it!

It turns out that B and C (and any subsequent letters) refer to production runs. So AD163 was the first production run, AD163B was the second production run, AD163C the third production run etc. And the FH and FB markings refer to the location the Phone was made – in these cases FH is ‘GPO Factory, Holloway’ (GPO factory Holloway was in London) and FB is ‘GPO Factory, Birmingham’. The number that comes after is the year of manufacture.

So FH40 would mean this particular phone was made in the GPO Factory, Holloway in 1940. The Phonetic alphabet inside the phone corroborates this aswell, as it is of a specific type that was in use by the British during 1940 (again great fact finding by Al!)

ADD Welwyn garden city photo

Now, we are going to look at the ‘later’ post telephone – model AD1542 – which we will refer to from now on as the ‘wartime economy phone’. 

Wartime economy was a tactic of government during WW2 to simplify factory production to improve speed of output, and to save material by using cheaper /inferior woods and metals etc. in order to save material that was in short supply for the war effort. The wartime economy phone has a slightly simplified circuitry compared to the AD163, but it is essentially the same internally, just powered by different batteries. The construction is vastly different though. For a start it is smaller, and is made of pine that has then been painted light blue. The wood is not nicely finished, and has a rough texture. There are no nice joints, rather it is crudely constructed using butt joints and nails. The metal hardware is also far simplified, there is no nicely finished metal locking cover over the headphone jack point – just a simple metal disc screwed directly into the wood. The hinges and catch on the door are also crude (but effective). The internal mechanism is held in place by a screw rather than a machined sliding bolt and there is no stamped name plate, instead it is simply stencilled with the designations.

AD1542 in use in an underground post, probably around the mid 1960’s

We have found one phone with a date on it of ‘FB43/1’ which signifies it was made in 1943, during production run 1 at the GPO factory in Birmingham. The phonetic alphabet label inside was also a clue as it was of the format that was in use after 1942, whereas the AD163 ‘early’ phones have phonetic alphabet labels that were of the format used from 1921-1942.
There is also photographic evidence of the AD1542 ‘wartime economy’ phone being used in the underground protected posts – so it is safe to assume it was used after the war, and probably up to the introduction of the AD3460 ‘teletalk’ that was designed specifically for the underground monitoring posts in the nuclear age.

See the photos for details of the AD1542 ‘wartime economy model’ post telephone.

Now we move onto a couple of anomalies, first is the AD599 ‘DC Signalling’ telephone – photos of which were sent to us by Frank at Skelmorlie ROC Post Museum. This phone is of the era, and indeed this one has a date inside of 1940. It also looks externally the same as the AD163, but, and this is a big but, it is VERY different inside. So different infact that we can’t be certain it was ever ROC issue. For a start ‘DC Signalling’ would only be used over a short distance and direct from one phone to another phone. For example, an artillery forward observer would use a ‘DC signalling’ phone to communicate with the soldiers at the artillery gun a short distance away – basically a ‘2’ phone system. AC signalling, however, was used to communicate over much longer distances between multiple phones in multiple locations via a telephone exchange. The AD163 ‘early’ phone, and the AD1542 ‘wartime economy phone’ are AC signalling and were used via an exchange. Mike of Abernyte Post Museum has done some great research on ‘DC Signalling’ and field telephone systems and has helped us a lot with unpicking this anomaly of a phone.

Internals are very different to the AD163, note the single bell, the on/off switch and the ‘drop flag indicator’ (between the bell and switch)

Unless there was a specific Observer Corps post use for a DC signalling phone, that we are yet to discover, we can’t definitively say that this was an OC phone. That fact, coupled with the fact it has a very different wiring diagram labelled ‘Observer Telephone’, doesn’t mention ‘Observer Posts’ specifically, and has no RAF reference number (10G/125) all point to it being used as by another organisation other than the ROC – possibly the Army Observers (searchlight positions, Anti-Aircraft gun batteries etc.). It is also interesting to note that this phone has a ‘drop flag indicator’ function to enable a visual indication of the phone ringing – the wiring diagram shows that this operated with the bell when the phone is rung. This type of ‘drop flag indicator’ was used when a phone was in a noisy environment where the bell couldn’t easily be heard by the operator, for example during when a gun battery was firing. Due to the ‘DC Signalling’ aspect and the ‘drop flag indicator’ – we can’t actually say that this phone was ROC issue but if anyone has any further information or theories we would love to hear it, whether it proves an ROC connection or not. It is certainly an interesting item either way, and a potential part of the puzzle!

Mike of Abernyte Post Museum has done some great research on ‘DC Signalling’ and field telephone systems and has helped us a lot with unpicking this anomaly of a phone.

So, we thought we had the Post Telephone variants wrapped up, until Al realised that a Post telephone he had in storage at Ulster Aviation Society was different again. This phone was the same size and design as the ‘early’ post telephone, and had the same wiring diagram inside (marked AD163). However, it has a number of features of the ‘wartime economy’ telephone – primarily it was made of painted pine, but nicely finger jointed rather than crudely nailed together, yet it had the economy door catches and hardware. We haven’t yet found any marks on this phone to date it but we have surmised that it is possibly an AD163 to AD1542 transition phone, as part of the ‘economising’ for the war effort.

Hybrid phone headset jack – identical to the ‘early’ phone

It is possible it dates from after 1940 but pre-1943. We have decided to call it the ‘hybrid’ phone. Perhaps it was a prototype, or a trial telephone, perhaps it was a sample of how to economise, or perhaps it wasn’t ‘economised’ enough so the powers that be pushed the economising further in the shape of the AD1542? Or perhaps it was simply an unintentional variant! Unfortunately, this phone is lacking its internals and is fairly (ab)used on the outside so most of the marks are unreadable. The only mark we can find is ‘M’ 212 – but we have no idea what that means.

If you own a post telephone and have different markings to the ones we have discussed, please do send us details as it would be great to work out more about the manufacture, design and use of these niche telephones, that undoubtedly saw action in the Battle of Britain and beyond. Whether they were Corps issued or not!

Check out the Cuckfield, Portadown and Abernyte ROC Post pages here:

www.facebook.com/cuckfieldnuclearbunker

www.facebook.com/nibunker

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The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – 58 Hours

After a recent mention on Twitter by a fellow explorer (a few years ago now, mind, and our memories of the trip were jogged recently by a Channel 4 programme) that linked to our Chernobyl pages, we realised that we never told our the full story of our visit. Aside from a few rambling stories in the pub, we have only ever added photos on an interactive map and left it at that. Even when we posted the visit to various forums, we never went into too much detail as to what we remember from our trip. So here goes:

We went to Chernobyl, experienced the Ukraine and took some Photos. You can skip to the end to see a selection of our photos if you don’t fancy reading our rambling tale.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

It all started whilst visiting Germany in 2010 whilst we were standing in an underground ammunition dump, vague talk of visiting Chernobyl started and our ears pricked up. As an explorer the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is hard to ignore. There lays in the Ukraine the abandoned city of Pripyat, which can be your playground for a small fee, what more could you want? OK, add a train graveyard, a power station, other towns & villages, a huge military installation and the worlds second most radioactive tract of land and you have something! Chernobyl is somewhere that we have always wanted to explore, yet we have never been sold on the idea of flying 1,500 miles to be given a 4-Hour whirlwind tour of a few tourist spots and shooting off again. We felt that you would not see much, but our minds changed when one of our friends managed to organise for a group of us to spend 3 nights staying within the zone.  2011 was a milestone birthday for one of us (30 for those that care) and rather than sit in the pub over a pint of warm bitter(ness), we boarded a Hungarian budget airline and pointed ourselves to the East.

We had no idea what to expect and when we landed at Kyiv Zhuliany Airport we entered utter chaos. Zhuliany is an old domestic Soviet airport that had undergone a period of rapid expansion. As is the progress typically found with infrastructure, air flights had increased dramatically but the airport lagged far behind. So far behind it had yet to leave to drawing office. We spent an agitated few hours sweating in a marquee erected on the edge of the runway awaiting entry into the country. It was here that we nearly didn’t even make our trip. The checkpoints into the Exclusion Zone shut every night at 10pm sharp with a military enforced curfew blanketing the area. We didn’t fancy a trek through the undergrowth to make our visit(others have!). Having left the airport at 8:30pm we faced a two hour drive into the wilderness with a driver who was more concerned with exhibiting his knife collection than the road in front of him. After a high speed race out of Kiev, we made it just in time and feeling hungry, tired and slightly dehydrated and we slowly started to retire to bed. But first our English fixer produced a vast quantity, and we are talking about 16 litres, of Tenants super) from his checked-baggage for us to indulge ourselves with. No wonder he wasn’t too happy when the baggage handling system ejected his suitcase from the plane hold at lightspeed!

Chernobyl InterInform Agency

Our first real experience of the Ukraine, other than the shambles at the Airport, was the food. Food shows you exactly what a country is about. A few months after we visited another group took a very similar trip and dismissed the food instantly. It was good hearty food that kept us going for the majority of the day, which was an important factor as we had decided to forfeit lunch to allow more time exploring. We did make use of the local shops and smuggled snacks into the zone with us, against the advice of our guide. I liked the food, even if it was served by a stern looking women who looked as though she would not hesitate to clout you with a ladle if you made a fuss. I will happily eat a Ukranian Shepherds Pie again for breakfast again. Reminiscent of the old Soviet Era and the treatment of Westerners, our time ‘living’ within the Zone was an eye opening experience. We were subjected to a curfew each night, had to travel in the company of our guide at all times and our meals were pre-planned with zero choice in the matter on when or what we had. Large military style vehicles raced along the roads and camo clothing was the fashion of the day.

Workers Canteen

After an early start and a quick breakfast in a semi abandoned building, we loaded ourselves up into the minibus and raced our way deeper into the Zone. At least we thought we were. More accurately speaking, we were driven 100m down the street to stock up in the shop where we entered the world of befuddled communication. Abacuses were used to calculate the totals and modern calculators used to communicate the final price. We purchased the obligatory souvenir mugs and we also discovered Kvass (and if you know where to buy it in the London area, please drop us a line). Whilst wandering around outside the shop waiting for the others to finish their shopping spree, we noticed two odd things. None of the services pipes are buried, and the place is a lot busier than we expected. A few rattly coaches shot by, cyclists pedalled their way to wherever it is they are going and a handful of workers, presumably on down time, ambled past us in a cloud of tobacco smoke. Our guide explained to us that between three and four thousand people work in the zone at one time. A little further down the road from the shop was the monument to the fireman who perished in the disaster, and as was the way with this trip, we drove the 100m down the road to get to it. To be fair, Eastern Bloc countries know how to construct memorials.

The Firefighters Memorial

We didn’t immediately head towards the Reactors, or Pripyat. Instead, we drove off into the undergrowth and towards the partially completed cooling towers. The first 4 reactors at Chernobyl use river water cooling channels as their primary cooling medium, but the newer reactors were to have cooling towers. Reactors 5&6, and their cooling towers, were never completed due to the accident and lay in a state of semi-completeness. Scaffolding still clung to the rim of the cooling towers and the construction cranes hang dormant over the reactor buildings. Cooling towers have some fantastic acoustics and some unusually high radiation levels due to the dust accumulation inside. We didn’t stay long here and moved off in the direction of the Reactors and to enjoy a spot of fish feeding.

Cooling Tower
Fishes

You never realise how big a power station is until you stand up close and have it tower over you. Reactor 4 blew up in 1986 and the Russians set about burying it below a mix of sand, boric acid and cement. There is only one problem, the Russians were never very good at concrete and the sarcophagus that shrouds the reactor is crumbling. To make matters worse, the ground slab that was built after the explosion was never sealed properly and rain water leaks through the structure and into the ground, picking up radiation as it goes. Since we visited, the EU has tented it under a specially constructed steel structure in an attempt to confine it if it collapses. Of course, we didn’t know this much detail when we left and happily wandered around the memorial site at the foot of the reactor. The group at this time was a buzz of excitement, we all stood about for posed photos and cracked jokes.

Reactor 4 and memorial

From here, we headed to Pripyat and had to pass through yet another checkpoint nestled between tumbledown barbed wire fences and lush green vegetation. It is hard to described driving into an abandoned city as it is not something we do everyday. Phrases such as post-apocalyptic, worlds end, nature reclaims all, and desertion come to mind. And as much as it is a cliché, it was exactly that. Sometimes a cliche works and we found ourselves driving down a post-apocalyptic road that was originally a 4-lane high way that bisected the city (sorry, we had to say it). The minibus could barely squeeze past the undergrowth as we zig-zagged around many obstacles that potentially blocked our paths. It was impressive as well as slow going. Buildings would reveal themselves in a passing glimpse, only to then be swallowed up by a green mass; side roads resembled footpaths and lamp posts were easily mistaken for trees. Pripyat wasn’t immediately abandoned, it took a few days for the Soviets to issue an evacuation order and parts of the city were still in use for workers of the power plants as late as 1998. The swimming pool and sports hall was fully function up until 1996.

Pripyat Town Sign
Overgrown Road

After making our way slowly through the undergrowth, we ventured upon part of the city administration the fire, police and city workers buildings. A small part of the group detached themselves and started crawling all over the derelict vehicles that were strewn around the yard. We found ourselves surrounded by enthusiasts, whilst overlooked by vehicles perched on roof tops, and we joked that their current state was how they had left the factory. Our guide quickly ushered us back into the minibus in an attempt to stop us scattering like kittens. He had a point, the curious will wander. And wander we did.

Car

Whenever we have told someone that we spent three days touring ‘The Zone’ we get asked the question “weren’t you worried about radiation?” Not constantly, no. We had Geiger Counters and our own experiments showed that we received more radiation on the 4 hours flight to the Ukraine than we did during our 58 hours in the zone. Upon entering the zone we received strict instructions from the Chernobyl Inter-Inform Agency regarding dangers we faced, radiation was near the bottom of the list; the only caveat was that we did not venture into the undergrowth as the radiation levels are noticeably higher, as are the dangers of tics, bears and wolves. During our tour we did trek to see one of the mechanical grabbers that was used by the helicopters to lift radioactive debris back into the reactor hall; the radiation levels were incredibly high and we didn’t hang around for too long.

Radioactive Mechanical Sand Grabber

It is here that we originally got to when we started writing the original post five years ago and the final line was “bugger this, this is long” and we left it abandoned – so here goes, lets finish attempt to this. 


One of the lasting memories from our trip was the time spent in the minibus with Armin van Bureen blasting at max volume. Our driver had one specific taste in music and nothing could sway him – not everyone agreed with it – but with the sunshine beaming it eventually grew on us and seemed to fit our moods. We still now, 7 years on, have some of the mixes on our phones as it brings back some great memories. For anyone that has played the first Call of Duty Modern Warfare, our next stop was somewhere familiar. The swimming pool and fitness centre. A huge empty, tiled hole in the ground that inspired some great photographs.

Gym
Swimming Pool

As we have described earlier, Pripyat is densely overgrown place. Across the street from the leisure centre was one of Pripyat’s middle schools (1 of 19), but we couldn’t see it until we were right on top of it. Typically we drove there! This was the first place that the abandonment really hit home. Everyone can remember what school was like. The noises. The strict teachers. The playground. It was a huge sprawling complex, littered with old books, posters, furniture and gas masks. Everything an explorer wants; nothing had been removed and subsequently thrown about the place by looters and other visitors. One of the numerous undertakings by the The Soviet Union was to stockpile gas masks in every public building, for fear of an attack on the Motherland. Only now they lay scattered through an old kitchen gathering dust after the metal poachers had removed anything of value. A striking realisation of the paranoia that gripped, and still grips, Russia. The only other time that we were acutely aware of the preparations of the Soviet Union were when we travelled the Metro in Kiev, where huge blast doors that would turn the station into a shelter were still evident. Our final stop for the day before a dinner of Ukranian spicy sausages and pasta was to the Greenhouses; Pripyat was furnished with a huge set of greenhouses (now smashed) to provide the town with the needed provisions during the winter months. The small scale seed laboratory attached to the side was used after the accident as a soil sampling laboratory to track the spread of radiation throughout the exclusion zone.

Gas Masks
Education
Pripyat Greenhouses
Radioactive Soil Samples

After a night of sitting about chatting a whole heap of breeze whilst drinking cheap Ukranian Beer we had picked up after another confused trip to a shop, we settled down for bed in a very warm workers barracks. Day two started in the same manner as our first day – an early rise, breakfast in the workers canteen (pancakes), a trip to the shop for supplies, Kvass and another round of confusing communication followed by a race to the next checkpoint with Armen Van Bureen jarring our eardrums.

Chernobyl Cat

Having long held the belief that climbing to the highest point whilst exploring is the best way to understand the scale of somewhere, it was a perfect day to find ourselves 15 storeys up overlooking the abandoned city of Pripyat from a precarious balcony. Decaying buildings sprouted up from the forest canopy like a long forgotten Mayan city in the middle of jungle, and the decaying hulk of the ruined power station loomed in the distance. It really did put into perspective the damage human actions can have. After enjoying the views, the discipline of the group descended into chaos; we had strictly been told not to climb out onto the roof as there was a temporary ban in place after someone injured themselves a few weeks earlier. This was quickly ignored and half the group disappeared up a small ladder and out into the roof in the morning sun. The other half stood on various balconies and decided to see who could frisbee plates the furthest. Our guide wasn’t overly impressed with our behaviour and hastily ushered us out of the flats after various items discovered the effects of gravity inside a lift shaft.

Pripyat
Apartment Block 12 Mural

Following our descent into what resembled a mob of teenagers, our next stop was a far more sombre affair and the bravado and rowdiness ceased. Pripyat had 75 kindergartens dotted throughout the city to serve the population of 50,000 residents and our next stop was the Kindergarten Cheburashka. As we climbed into the building did it dawn on us that the children who would have attended the Kindergarten at the time of the accident would now be about the same age as us. We silently moved through the building in a somewhat solemn mood as children’s toys, miniature abacus, clothing and cots scattered about the place left us in a contemplative mood. A small mount of Trance music picked up the mood was we travelled onto the next place!

Children’s Toys
Children’s Shoes

Over the years, Pripyat has become famous for one thing; the Ferris Wheel and Funfair. Our guide had given us a choice of where to go next and the group decided that for the benefit of the few who hadn’t seen it we should pay the wheel a visit. We pulled into the square that was home to the funfair only to discover that a “photo shoot” was in progress and our guide ushered us off around the corner. The photoshoot was something to do with being “young and radioactive” and involved removal of clothes….. ahem. We spent a short time wandering around the funfair as there isn’t actually a great deal to see once you have taken a wide angle shot of a bumper car etc etc. As is the way with touring the Exclusion Zone, we loaded ourselves into the minibus and drove the 50 metres to the Culture Palace. OK then. Not much to say from here other than we all disappeared into the woodwork and crawled over every single corner of the building. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a way down into the basement where we had hoped to find a Soviet shelter. Our guide swerved our questions on what was down there and took us over to the riverside cafe instead.

Pripyat Ferris Wheel
Culture Palace Energetik
Culture Palace Energetik
Cafe Pripyat Stained Glass
Stained

The final stop of our two day tour before we checked out with the InterInform Agency was the old railway station that served the city and power station. Occasionally it is still used to bring in supplies for the decommissioning of the plant. We spent a good hour climbing about the forest of trains that had been abandoned after the explosion; nothing special to report until the station master (I think) approached us and in very broken English asked us

“Want drive?” 

“…!!…”

$200?”

I don’t think our guide Maxim was quite prepared for this offer and quickly bundled us all into the minibus murmuring that we  needed to leave now to make our exit time at the checkpoint. We had time, we should have taken the train. Nevermind, it was time for a few more beers!

Yanow

Permission

Permission. Sometimes it is the only way to see a place unless you are willing to take huge, and in our mind, unnecessary risk. We have to admit that there is a lot of jittery fun sneaking in and exploring somewhere that is hidden from public. We love it and it is what has kept us going for so long. However, there are a number of places that we would never have been able to visit unless we asked, or waited another five years for it to become a possible explore.

USAF Upper Heyford QRA

Unfortunately, there are some explorers who do not agree with this statement and think it goes against some sort of exploring ethos, what ever that is? Answers on a postcard please. Each to their own, but we have seen quite a few places by simply asking can we have a look round, or knowing the right people who hold the right keys! We understand why some people would be put off by a permission visit as they’ll feel that the freedom of exploring is lost as areas will be inaccessible and big groups will mean that photography becomes difficult (it frustratingly does). Whilst some of this is true, more often that not, we have come across a facilities manager who is happy to turn a blind eye on the odd occasion. Thus allowing us to see a few things we didn’t expect to see. Such as the view of the QRA at RAF Upper Heyford from the top of the control tower, the long disused ward area in Springfield Hospital, an unexpected cinema, the top of the RADAR at Neatishead, and many more.

Recently, we were on one such organised visit to Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea for a photographic tour organised by the NHS heritage team in the area. We were also fortunate enough to see a few extra bits once the tour had finished, which got us thinking about how lucky we have been with some of places we have been allowed to see and decided to put together a rundown of some of our favourite ‘permission visits’.

RAF Upper Heyford

Before the heritage project got underway at USAF / RAF Upper Heyford, you used to be able to contact the one of the old maintenance guys and ask to be shown around. Armed with a bundle of keys, stories stretching back 30+ years (including one involving a personal letter from Reagan) and a hundreds of acres of a Cold War Air Base led to a fascinating day. Highlights included hearing those hallowed words “i’ll be over here if you need me, don’t be long” and a quick run up some sketchy stairs.

USAF Upper Heyford QRA

Springfield Hospital, London

We took a punt years ago and fired an email off the Springfield Hospital requesting permission to photograph the buildings for our then fledgling Asylum section (now superseded by the County Asylums Website). Not expecting to hear anything other than a straight No, we were surprised when a member of their staff reached out and informed us they’d be happy for us to look around. It was even better when we met them and they started out by saying that the exterior of the building could wait, but access to the old Wards couldn’t!

Springfield Hospital Wards

Goodmayes Hospital, London

Another ‘what happens if I send off an email and ask’ visit that succeeded! We spent the morning being shown around the internals by the communications manager and a very reserved facilities manager, only to then be shown around in the afternoon by the old caretaker who happily lead us all over the shop and regaled us with stories from the last 30 years!

Goodmayes Projector Room

Cefn Coed Hospital, Swansea

The Heritage Team at Cefn Coed Hospital have recently held a series of open days to show people around the old hospital buildings before they are decommissioned. Through our work with the County Asylums website and the hard work of a friend, we managed to attend and spent the day being touring (tourbexing) with a group. At the end of the day, once the rest of the group had left, the organiser happily turned to us and said “do you want to see more?”

Errr, ok!

Cefn Coed Hospital

German Bunkers

Why walk when you can drive? Germany is littered with Cold War bunkers from both sides of the Iron Curtain and whilst some of these remain derelict and hidden in the middle of absolutely nowhere, others are held under caretakership for one reason or another. It is hard to pin down which was the most memorable, but driving into an underground ammunition dump and parking up at the platforms that could take a full length train was rather surreal!

Entrance Blast Doors

RAF Neatishead

Fancy climbing to the top of a cold war radar? Go on then!

RAF Neatishead

There are many others, but for the sake of the guys that showed us around, those stories will only ever be shared in the pub!

Doing it all wrong

There is a certain madness to our exploring. We find ourselves surrounded by stunning scenery, only to ignore it and stalk off into a rotten building, or disappearing for hours underground and coming out at dusk. Something isn’t right with that! We often talk about how beautiful some of our surroundings are, and how it would be fantastic to spend some time in them with the cameras, only to ignore this and do something derpy.

Idiots. Best get planning.

Weymouth – we spent more time underground!

 

Cuckfield ROC Post Open Days 2018

Fancy coming and seeing a fully restored Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post? Well come down on one of our open days this year and learn about the vast difference between the WW2 and Cold War role of the ROC. See original equipment, uniforms and other items.

No need to book, but it can get busy waiting to get into the underground post so bring a picnic and browse the surface displays! the meadow field is lovely to sit in!

Dates are:

Saturday 16th June 11am – 4pm
Saturday 7th July 11am – 4pm
Sunday 8th July 10am – 2pm
Sunday 5th Aug 10am – 2pm

Subject to weather conditions, we reserve right to refuse entry. No toilets on site, amenities and parking in village nearby.

l’impressionnant éléphant blanc de la ligne Maginot 2017

It started on a cold December morning at 6am, the car was loaded and the destination programmed into the navigation system. All being well, we were ready to head off to Europe for a weekend of blasting around the French country side looking at defunct military buildings.

“Which way do we go?”

“First exit. No, wait, second exit. Shit. GoogleMaps just crashed”

At least, that was the excuse. Having barely got a mile down the road something had gone wrong. It was in the mind-fog of our early start did we discover the ineptitude of the navigator (ahem, me), and found ourselves heading into London and around the M25, and not down the M20 towards Le Chunnel. Bugger. Put me in a drivers seat and I can get you to within an inch of where you need to go; put me in a passenger seat and ask me to navigate and people realise I was lurking behind the door when the navigational skills and attention spans were handed out. Our trip to France had not started well, hopes of making an earlier train unfortunately dashed by a fucking halfwit. Things didn’t improve on the other side either when the Sat-Nav decided it was more efficient to route us through Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany before finally arriving back in France just outside of Metz. We didn’t need to go through Germany, but it is always nice to unexpectedly clock up five snowy countries in a couple of hours and avoid the militant French police whilst hammering along at a reasonable pace. The one thing we did learn on this detour is that the Ardennes area is rather pretty and a visit in the future is required. After my brain fart at 5am, the proceeding car journeys saw me consigned to the back seat and navigation duties being passed on to a far more responsible and attentive person.

Le Chunnel

On a normal day, a plan can come together extraordinarily fast for us and concludes before it has barely even started. Other times, a fleeting chat over a beer can lead us down a winding path that ends a year later, exploring the French Maginot Line and Germanic fortifications around Metz. Being British, we could not possibly have appreciated the scale of the border fortifications built by the French along the Maginot Line, or the German fortifications around Metz, without visiting them. Our Country sits in ‘splendid isolation’ just across the English Channel nee Moat, which has kept out invading land armies for as long as our history books can remember, except for that time the French and Dutch got lucky! All in all, this has negated the need for hugely complex line of defensive installations that sprawl across hundreds of miles of shared border – we spent our money on vast Naval project instead (It was easier to harass The Empire with a fleet of ships). However, the United Kingdom doesn’t entirely lack in large scale fortifications, areas such as Dover and Portsmouth were heavily fortified by the Victorians over fears of a French invasion. But, these structures are toys compared to those on the continent. For starters they are not big enough to include their own internal railway, or underground accommodation for one thousands fighting troops, or have popup gun turrets (cool!!).

For those of you that weren’t paying attention in history at school, or haven’t already opened a new tab for some quick wiki research, the Maginot Line was an enormous defensive system built by the French in the 1930’s to defend against possible invasion by the German Army. France had seen the world bloodiest and deadliest war fought along this same border some two decades earlier and did not want to experience it again. The Maginot Line was intended to stall the German Army for long enough to allow the French Army to mobilise and rush to the border and mount a strong defense. Complicated politics meant that they did not fortify the Belgium border,  which unfortunately left the side gate open for German flanking maneuvers and the rest is history. Metz was annexed and fortified by the Germans after the Franco-Prussian war in the late 19th century to prevent the French retaking it, only to have it, and the forts they built,  handed back to the French after World War 1. World War 2 saw the forts back in German hands after their invasion of France and they proved their worth by stalling the Allied Armies on their advance into Germany.

Gros Ouvrage Michelsberg

What explorer would not want to pay these forts a visit?  The reason for their construction might be on the grim side of the scale, but everyone likes a bit of James Bond and the fanciful bunkers that he swanned about in. Unless you are prepared to risk it all for exploring some high profile sites in the UK, we currently lack large all day explores and road trips covering numerous sites are now the norm. We were looking forward to having a one to two sites a day to wander in. Our plan involved exploring a mix of the French Maginot Line Gros Ouvrages of the Thionville Fortified Sector and the German fortifications encircling Metz. The area has rich pickings (we’ll go back at some point), but our weekend saw us visit the following sites:

  • Gros Ouvrages
    • Rochonvillers
    • Brehain
    • Michelsberg
  • Groupe Fortifie
    • L’Yser
    • Verdun
    • Francois-de-Guise / Leipzig

France also taught us one other thing – the British really do fail when it comes to winter. Give us 0.5 inches of snow and the entire country seems to grind to a halt; the rest of Europe seems wrap up a little more, shrugs and carries on regardless. We adopted the European approach, which isn’t very much as the local authorities are very efficient in clearing and gritting the roads. Besides we were in a Quattro. Not much stopped us…..

The snow had the added bonus of making the area superbly photogenic.

Gros Ouvrage Rochonvillers

Rochenvillers. Gros Ouvrage Rochenvillers. Gros Ouvrage ‘I am bloody bored of walking this really long burnt out tunnel’ Rochenvillers. Nothing had prepared us for the scale of this place. It was huge. Someone should open up a bar halfway between the accommodation block and the fighting blocks to serve refreshments to the intrepid explorer or metal thief. We exaggerate, but Rochenvillers is one of the largest Gros Ouvrages along the Maginot Line and boasts a near 2 mile long tunnel and nine underground fighting blocks. Unfortunately, miscreants found there way into the tunnel network a number of years ago to steal valuable metals and caused untold amounts of smoke damage in the process. Soot lined tunnels suck up torch light to no end. Some surface photographs can be found here.

Gros Ouvrage Rochenvilliers – Machine Gun Nest

Gros Ouvrage Brehain

Brehain. Another Gros Ouvrage. The tunnel wasn’t so long in this one, thank god, or it would have gotten very boring. Brehain was another one that was refurbished during the Cold War, along with Rochonvillers, Molvange and later Immerhof, to form a defensive strongpoint against rampaging Soviet hordes. There is also evidence inside of German use in the Second World War. We went in the snow, which added to the atmosphere. It was bitingly cold though.

Gros Ouvrage Brehain – Entrance Block

Gros Ouvrage du Michelsberg

Billed as “the smaller one” of the trip, but still went on for a mile underground. We were lucky to visit Gros Ouvrage Michelsberg at this time of year as it is normally closed to the public. Thankfully the owners very kindly agreed to open it up out of season for us fellow bunker perverts to snoop about their fantastic restoration – they even provided us with a breakfast. If you are in the area, do try and drop by and have a look, it is a brilliant tunnel complex with restored parts and to-be-restored parts filled with equipment from the 1930s. Lovely. Why can’t there be more places like this?

Gros Ouvrage du Michelsberg – Electrical generators

Feste Luitpold/Groupe Fortifie L’yser

Murals. Nearly every military installation we have visited has had some sort of painted mural, drawing or carved graffiti from bored soldiers on a wall somewhere and we doubt we will ever get tired of finding them. L’Yser had some of the best and most intricate ones that we have come across in our years of exploring; incredibly they have thus far been unmolested by idiots with spray cans. Unfortunately, some had had there faces scratched out, but this was only in one or two places, odd! Whilst L’Ysers did not cover the same length underground, the site was extensive and was made up of multiple fighting blocks interconnected by tunnels, ditches, barbed wire entanglements and dense undergrowth that made for a lot of walking.

Groupe Fortifie L’yser – Mural

Feste Graf Von Haesseler/Groupe Fortifie Verdun

Our second German fortification of the day; Verdun consists of two forts that are situated close enough together to be considered a single fortification that guards the area. Both forts suffered extensive battle damage when the Americans bombed the crap out of it in 1944 during Patton’s attempted to dislodge an entrenched German Army. The extent of the damage was obvious, fractured concrete, tumble down bricks and gaping holes littered both forts. Marvellous.

Groupe Fortifie Verdun – Battle damage

Feste Leipzig/Group Fortifie Francois-de-Guise

This one we knew nothing about, not even if it was ‘visitable.  We rocked up, chanced our arm and found a slightly awkward way in. Group Fortifie Francois-de-Guise was re-purposed during the Cold War into an aircraft control centre for the French Air Force. Nicely decayed inside and untouched. However, it smelt of dead rabbits.

Group Fortifications Francois-de-Guise

We must go back, Europe was fun! And now for some photos:

The Accidental Explore Episode 2 – Bobsled Track, Romania

We had not visited to Romania with the intention for exploring, we were there for the wedding of two good friends. The thought of sloping off and exploring never crossed our mind. Not once. Honest. It is well known in the exploring community that Eastern European countries are ripe for picking. Since the fall of communism and the subsequent rise in the free markets, life has been turbulent for every country of the defunct Warsaw Pact and the remains of vast industries and military installations litter their countrysides .  On our drive up into the mountains of Prahova, it became apparent that Romania was no different and we passed numerous places that would provide a happy few hours exploring.

But, we didn’t come for this. We came for a wedding and a break in the mountains – it is a breathtakingly stunning country and we would highly recommend it to anyone looking for somewhere to go that is a little of the beaten track and quiet. It was only after driving back down from the cable car – an awesome 70s retro thing aside a modern Swiss machine – in Sinaia did we notice a large reinforced concrete Berm as we hurtled around a corner. I don’t think the car had pulled to a stop before I was running into the bushes, forgetting about the warnings of black bears, like an oblivious child. This isn’t the first time we have been abroad and stumbled across something that has piqued our interest. We spent a good hour driving up and down the mountain trying to track the moss covered concrete through the dense forest. 

From what I can make out (information is limited for obvious reasons), but the track was built between 1974 & 1976 and used through until approximately 2009. The course was constructed primarily of concrete, with wood side bars and consisted of 11-14 turns, a bridge across the main access road and a total length of 1500m. More photos can be found here.

 

Our favourite photos from 2017

Done some exploring last year. Visited a few places. Here’s are some highlights and our favourite photos:

West Ham Magistrates’ and Coroners’ Court, Stratford.

West Ham Courts

Bron Y Garth Hospital Casual Ward,

Leri Tweed Mills, Mid-Wales

Ystrad Einon Copper Mine

Tower Colliery, Hirwaun, Wales

Railway Sidings, Sussex

London Road Deep Shelter, Portsmouth

AEI / WT Henley’s Cable Works Deep Shelter, Gravesend

Siniai Bobsled Track

Group Fortification Verdun

Gros Ouvrage Michelsberg

Post Script: We had started to write some gumph to go with the photos, but we wouldn’t normally do this sort of post and didn’t know what to write without it screaming ‘look at me’. So we deleted it and decided to let the pictures do the talking. It has been a fun year with many miles travelled. Lets see what 2018 brings, we expect it’ll be a bit quieter.

A new look to TheTimeChamber

Since switching over to WordPress many years ago we have never taken the effort to update the layout and look of the website. During the original switch, we made the conscious effort to preserve the look of the website. You can also blame it on laziness, a stubbornness against customising a WordPress theme and the past layout serving our needs perfectly well. However, in the last seven years the internet and mobile phones have progressed at an incredible rate, which has resulted in our website lacking in a few key features.  Namely, responsiveness. To get round this problem there a few WordPress plugins that exist that allow the website to serve both mobile and PC platforms with ease. These plugins come at a cost and add unseen overhead to the data that the server handles and this route has resulted in us have quite a high number of plugins installed. Not the best practice.

We must admit that a visual update was not entirely planned, but we manically clicked a few buttons and eventually broke something. This caused us to decide to look into the website as a whole and identify where we could make improvements. What is it with the dark winter nights and fiddling with things? A few key areas were identified and we set to work butchering the latest WordPress Theme to meet our demands. All this has resulted in the following improvements:

  1. A new front page,
  2. A dynamic menu that you cannot escape,
  3. A reduction in the plugin count by 1/3, hopefully speeding the site up,
  4. Responsiveness to mobile/desktop browsing,
  5. Full width pages being applied to the site as a whole,
  6. Some flashy design gimmicks we quite like – hello parallax scroll!
  7. Some other things we may not be remembering right now.

Hopefully you find the new look satisfying, best get back to some exploring now! Next up, the Maginot Line.