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Patrington & Withernsea, Week 6: 20 November

What was the most unusual thing you did last week? In my case it involved a tour of an abandoned underground nuclear bunker which is, rather delightfully, up for sale.

I was down in Inverness for a meeting related to industrial archaeology, and the tour was arranged as part of that. The bunker lies unexpectedly in a housing estate, just a few blocks from Raigmore Hospital. It was built by the RAF during World War Two, and buried beneath a mound of sand and gravel to cushion the impact of any German bombs; afterwards repurposed as a command centre during the Cold War, the bunker ended its days as an emergency planning centre for civil disasters such as flooding.

It’s a weird, eerie, desolate place seen by flashlight, two storeys deep, all long corridors and low ceilings filled with dead air and a sense of abandonment. Here’s the operations centre, a large room with a massive table in the centre for pushing little markers across maps; there’s the fully fitted industrial kitchen and food store; and there’s the room with the safe, in which a man sat a man with a loaded weapon at all times—just in case, you understand; just in case. Walking through the musty, empty rooms it feels as though the disaster actually happened, and what’s left is a Pompeii without people.

The best room of all is the most unexpected: the one with the ancient generator. But it’s not the generator that makes you stop and stare. No, it’s the two pristine racing bicycles, each of them lacking a front wheel. And then you get it: if the fuel ran out, you could sit on the bikes and generate electricity by pedal power. (This of course adds a whole new meaning to, ahem, survival of the fittest…)

In gansey news, I have finished the back and and have almost finished the front. In keeping with the photos in Gladys Thompson I am continuing the pattern by way of shoulder straps (this is instead of my more usual rig ‘n fur shoulder strap). I’ll still join them with a three needle bind-off, so I will have a wee ridge running along the length of the shoulders at the join. But do I care? Never a bit: if it’s good enough for Gladys, it’s good enough for me!

Power Cycling

After the tour of the bunker we were all glad to get out, back to the cold, fresh November air. And I suddenly realised what had been in the back of my mind the whole time: with its duck-egg blue corridors of peeling paint, and its oppressive atmosphere or fear and catastrophe, it reminded me disturbingly of Northampton Grammar School for Boys, c.1971. And I suppose it would be some consolation to the last few surviving members of mankind, trapped deep underground as the radioactive winds howled across the surface of a dead planet, to know that they were excused double cross-country running on Thursdays, at least…

[By the way, the BBC did a couple of features on the bunker. You can see the main article here; and there are more photographs here.]

15 comments to Patrington & Withernsea, Week 6: 20 November

  • meg

    air B&B opportunity perhaps and a get well regime at the same time …cyling your energy need to produce boiled eggs..someone will think its s great idea surely for November break

    peace and quiet thrown in.out of the wind and rain, possibly no intrusion of the dreaded telephone.. its dark any way, most of the time ……

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, if I had to pedal for my breakfast I think I’d be pretty hungry by lunchtime!

      Today has been one of the most horrible I can remember up here – 40-50mph winds and driving rain. Just getting in to work from the car park I had wet socks, which is about a morale-sapping experience as I can think of just now…

  • Jane

    Wow, I saw the bunker on the news and wondered if it was anywhere near you. It would make a lovely little museum of some sort, if not, just think of the self sufficiency possibilities! Thank you for the report and the links, fascinating.

    The gansey looks great. Being a great admirer of Gladys Thompson, I do agree on the treatment of the shoulders, very nice and appropriate. Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, it looked like a set from a 1970s Doctor Who. The kind of place you expect to see something uncoiling just outside your line of vision, dropping from the ceiling half-seen in the shadows…

      As for knitting, I live my life by WWGD—What Would Gladys Do? (Except for the accosting fishermen to ask about their jumpers, of course… I’m much too shy.)

  • =Tamar

    It would be ideal for gamers – a huge table with room to move the game pieces around, no interruptions – or people who do jigsaw puzzles. One might build a model railroad, though that could involve extra laps on the bicycles. But how close is it to a stream? Flooding could be an issue.

    • Gordon

      I’m currently thinking of submitting a Hunger Games cum reality TV sort of idea—send a dozen people down there, lock the doors, start the cameras and make it plain that you only want to see one survivor come out in a month’s time. Honestly, the TV rights practically sell themselves…

  • Dave

    Hello Gordon, Curiously,last week Judith and I were at the QE2 centre, off Parliament Square, at the Historic Houses, Parks and Gardens conference -looking at stalls for people who restore paintings or stonework or historic rugs – all that sort of stuff.

    Looking at Tamar’s comment though takes me back to late summer and a visit to Pembrey gunnery dome – the WW2 equivalent of a playstation – interesting now but more so I think when fully restored.

    Hope things are going well with you Margaret.


    • Gordon

      Hi Dave! There are few things so powerful as the artefacts of the recent past, are there?—the things you can picture your parents or grandparents using, or buildings they might have lived and worked in. I’m an archivist, and love my documents, don’t get me wrong, but artefacts paint a thousand words…

  • Lois

    That’s fascinating. Our old house (well, old by North American standards) was previously owned by a German family, who emigrated here about the time that Hitler came to power. I’m told that all kinds of rumours swirled about the house, including that there was a secret tunnel from the basement out to the brook, to enable German spies to escape.

    The house is also supposed to be haunted. Since we have never encountered either the tunnel or ghosts, I’m not prepared to give an opinion. But when we first bought the house, it was quite common for wide-eyed little boys to knock at the door and want to tour the basement and attic. To their immense disappointment, I had to admit that I had never seen either tunnel or ghosts.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, that’s a great story. One of my favourite phrases from English law is “time whereof memory of man runneth not to the contrary”—which can be just a generation or two, or hundreds of years. History is like the earth’s crust, being generated anew from deep-sea vents every second of every day, and we lay down our own deposits of myth and memory every day of our lives. I think we should also make stuff up that’s just fun to imagine, and pretend it really happened—after all, reality isn’t really real, and only God knows the truth!

      Keep your eyes peeled for ghosts. I see them all the time. The optician says they’re just floaters, debris in my eye, but I know better: as I get older I’m starting to see spirits swirling like smoke in an empty room.

  • Sharon in Surrey

    You’d think such a well built structure would be recycled into SOMETHING useful. Clean, dry storage should make an Archivist’s heart beat faster. But seriously, it would make a terrific adventure playground for local kids with skate boarding & rollerblading maybe with a gym attached & concessions. Throw in a Pub for the parents . . . .

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, archivists are mistrustful of underground storage: water always flows downwards, and basements always get flooded. I think a hotel is one possibility, or a theme park is another (accommodation is rare as hens’ teeth in Inverness these days, and rather more expensive). Personally, I think it would make a great set for Doctor Who or an Alien movie, which thrive on claustrophobia.

      It occurred to me that since every one who goes down there tries the bikes, the Council could sneakily connect it to the National Grid and sell on the energy the visitors generate while they pedal…

  • Comments on the inverness bunker – the push bikes DO NOT generate electricity.
    The 2 6 cylinder perkins engines were for that – each onto 100amp 3 phase generators.
    The bikes were for when everything ran out. They circulated air – air only. The rear wheels were
    connected – via belts to the impellers of the air circulation system. It really was last ditch.

    Such systems can also be seen in older east-german stazi bunkers.

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