15 August 2010 (Sunday) - Going Underground

Regular readers of this drivel may recall an entry a few weeks ago where we walked across the White Cliffs between Folkestone and Dover and found some tunnels left over from the war. Totally neglected and having been left to decay, we felt the need to spend some time giving them the attention they deserved. Not having enough time on our walk a few weeks ago, today we staged a return visit to the White Cliffs.

After quite a bit of faffing about in B&Q this morning, we set off to Folkestone to meet up with the rest of the archaeological expedition. Four of our party proceeded in the Batmobile, whilst Stevey and me got the bus. We’d arranged where to meet, but something about the bus journey left us rather disorientated, and the bus stop was by a pub, so we popped in for a swift half whilst we checked the map.

Map checked, routes planned, pints downed, me and Stevey then set off in entirely the wrong direction. I was sure I knew where we were going. But eventually we met up with the rest of our party. We had hoped we’d got away with our crafty pint, but “Daddies Little Angel TMhad asked the man in the pub if people answering our description had been in, and we got blabbed on.

Suitably chastised we found our way to the cliff top and to the first set of holes. The first hole led to a very long corridor in which we found evidence of previous explorers – the boxes of binoculars and torches were left lying around. And then panic set in. We had a role call, and couldn’t locate the Rear Admiral. Having visions of his falling in the darkness an d laying unconscious somewhere, we went through the tunnel time and again trying to locate him. Only to eventually find he was sitting outside the hole waiting his turn to go in once he’d helped others get out. In retrospect this was a sensible thing to do. Generally these tunnels are far easier to get into than they are to escape from.

The second hole was rather tight to get into, but with a little judicious scrubbling I got into the hole. In fact there was only one hole all day that I couldn’t get into. Provided you were prepared to get mucky, and didn’t mind scrabbling on hands, knees, bums, and various sundry bits of your anatomy, practical archaeology was easy. Having scrubbled the skin off my elbows I got into the second hole, which was a disappointment. A rather small room. Scrubbling back out of the hole was fun, but not as much fun as watching others scrubble out of that hole.

“Daddies Little Angel TMthen engaged “egg-laying mode”, and with good cause. There was a feeling that some tunnels were accessible from the cliff face, and we clambered around the tops of the cliffs looking for candidate burrows. The closest we came was an old railway vent and a set of overgrown concrete steps leading from the top of the cliffs. I must admit that this was perhaps the scariest part of the day – the drop down the White Cliffs is quite a way down. And then we found the hole we’d visited last time. In the last few weeks that hole has got rather damp and muddy, but we had a good root around anyway.

The third tunnel was amazing. Next to a disused cowshed we found what looked like a rusty manhole cover. Stevey and I managed to heave the cover off, and we found a vertical shaft with an old metal ladder going down. Now it’s pretty obvious that the sensible thing to do would have been to put the cover back on the hole. But we didn’t – we climbed down the ladder and found a small tunnel going off horizontally some ten metres underground. Having clouted my head on the ceiling a few times we found another ladder leading down into a larger room, and in here was something amazing. In the total darkness we found there was a shrine to those who’d served in these tunnels during the war. On the wall of this room so far underground there were photographs from the period, letters from servicemen, and even a couple of recent poppies. And at the bottom of this wall was a visitor’s book for anyone finding it to leave a message. And whoever had set up this shrine had even left two biros for the visitors book. Truly amazing – so many people would walk past this every day and have no idea it was there. And what was also amazing was that there were recent entries in the visitors book. We weren’t the only people to have been down the hole. A future mission to this hole may well involve taking power tools to put up a shelf for the visitors book.

The last tunnel we explored had a rather tricky entrance. Rather narrow at the top, but wide and deep further down. Getting in was somewhat tricky, but once in, this was the longest tunnel of the lot. Having explored the tunnel I had a problem – I couldn’t get back out again. I tried various angles and scrubbles, but it wasn’t happening. In the end the Bat and the Rear Admiral grabbed each of my arms and physically hoiked me out.

Such an exertion was traumatic for all; hoikers, hoikee and audience, so we adjourned to the pub for a crafty half before getting the bus back to civilisation. Or Folkestone, at any rate. We will be returning. If any of my loyal readers are up for it, check the “Dates for the Diary” section to find out when….

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