Secret Underground Wiltshire
March 18, 2005 12:00 PM ‐ Underground
Wiltshire's secret warren of underground tunnels and chambers are a hot spot for urban explorers. I took BBC Wiltshire on a journey around the secrets under Wiltshire.
Wiltshire's secret warren of underground tunnels and chambers are a hot spot for urban explorers...
Crawling through a gap between two huge bath stone boulders, feet first, he gingerly lowers himself down on to a ladder and into the darkness…
Feeling his way down a narrow flight of stone steps, in a steep mine shaft, he clambers his way down into the strange, silent underground world of Wiltshire.
Steve Higgins is an Urban Explorer. For him the hidden, forbidden, the off-limits, the unsafe and the derelict are a secret addiction.
And for him North Wiltshire, with over 200 acres of air-conditioned tunnels and chambers to have a nose around, is the top hot spot for a bit of urban exploration.
In fact just 100 feet below the rolling Wiltshire countryside are miles upon miles of tunnels, an amazing labyrinth of long forgotten ammo depots, abandoned mines and caverns to infiltrate.
And to access them all you need to know is where the secret entrances are.
And Steve knows.
A small abandoned quarry on the outskirts of Corsham, for instance, is one such hidden place.
Abandoned and deserted for the last 40 years access to the quarry is, to say the least, not obviously encouraged.
The mine’s main lift shaft has been completely blocked-off, one of the slope shafts has been bulldozed closed and only one hidden entrance remains.
Despite attempts to wall it up, behind a couple of hefty looking quarry stones, some determined Urban explorer has managed to shift one of the stones to reveal a squeeze hole through a doorway.
It's from here that Steve is able to access the underground museum below.
Covering almost 12 acres, the quarry's warren of tunnels and chambers were carved out by generations of quarrymen after the honey coloured Bath stone.
For over 40 years the mine was worked until 1915 when the War Department stepped in and requisitioned it for the storage of ammo and TNT.
A part of a massive underground complex, extending for miles under the North Wiltshire countryside, it was abandoned at the end of the First World War only to be taken over again by the RAF, in 1936, under an air of secrecy.
With rumours flying that the old mine was to become an emergency food dump, for the Ministry of Food, unsuspecting locals had little idea that over the next 12 years up to 3,000 hand grenades, 31,000 tons of explosives and TNT would be stored literally under their feet.
And even to this day it’s doubtful whether locals have any idea of what still lies right beneath their feet.
But according to Steve the smooth, honey coloured walled tunnels and levelled floors give little away and other than a few short stretches of narrow gauge tracks, that once linked the quarry to the local main line railway, there is little visible history left to see.
That is except for the writing on the walls. Everywhere within the maze of tunnels can be seen pencil drawings. 60 year old graffiti of men in uniform, caricatures, regiment badges and even a few that would make a teenage tagger blush…
But other than a few blue drawings from a lost generation what is the attraction of clambering around Second World War underground bunkers and disused tunnels?
Well according to Steve, who seems to know his way around Wiltshire better underground than above it, a large part of the attraction is discovering and exploring obscure sites that are basically out of bounds and unknown.
And he's not alone in this. Across the country there are up to 900 hard core devotees crawling their way into the hidden places in the urban landscape. Armed with digital cameras they post up images of their latest expeditions and keep tabs on each other through dozens of UE websites.
On Steve's own website each of his missions, into some of Wiltshire’s best kept secret places, is logged and backed up by galleries of images.
And with lots of places still out there to be discovered… underground Wiltshire is beginning to resurface.
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