Monday, 29 March 2010

Forgotten Places...

In the corner of this field lies a secret...

You could walk past it without noticing, and that's the idea.

Look on the other side of this grassy knoll and all is revealed. A 'blast wall' only recently toppled, partly obscures the entrance.

Clamber through the brambles, under the leaning edge of the wall and a dark corridor awaits you.

At the end of the passage, turn right, into a small windowless room. The only light pours through the escape hatch above.

The metal rungs of the ladder have long since gone.

In the corner is a plinth where once a stove sat.

This was the hide of the Elite Auxiliary Unit in world war two. These units were a subversive underground force formed to operate behind enemy lines if we were invaded. Trained in guerrilla tactics and armed with rifles, grenades, incendiary bombs, plastic high explosives, time delay fuses and other devices, these men were expected to target tanks, convoys, enemy camps, and ammunition dumps. Sworn to secrecy and forced to sign the Official Secrets Act, they operated outside of the Geneva Convention and if caught could be shot as spies.

The adjoining room was pitch black. Torchlight revealed a ceiling inhabited by hibernating butterflies and moths exercising an uneasy truce with the large spiders.

This room was slightly smaller, the floor dominated by two large concrete slabs. Inset to these were the remnants of metal mounting points. This was probably the location of the battery generators which would have been used to power a radio transceiver.

Three wide ventilation pipes bridged the walls. Two at floor level and one 5ft up the wall so ensuring a natural flow of air through convection. Two smaller metal pipes were probably exhaust outlets for the engines of the generators.

The hatch from the escape route was missing. This bunker doesn't appear on any civilian maps, and this is the only feature to be seen on any ariel photographs.
These bunkers were built all over the country, many were entirely underground with only a manhole cover to give away their existence. This bunker is only a couple of miles from where I live. There's probably one near you too. You could have walked over it without noticing. Is that a normal manhole cover beneath your feet, or something else?...

Saturday, 27 March 2010

An Aqueduct too Far...

I was suffering badly from idle-itus, an untreatable condition that was causing my kayak paddles to go slower than normal. Luckily there was no rush, and soon enough I was at Fazeley Junction. Decisions, decisions, do I go north to Whittington, or south towards Coventry? The 10 miles to Whittington and back suddenly seemed a long way, so I instead opted to go the short distance to where the canal passes over the River Tame on a high aqueduct.

A Second World War 'pillbox' stands guard over the water here. These war relics fascinate me. This one is particularly interesting. It's a FW3 Type 26. There were less than 200 of this type built. The more common hexagonal Type 22's are dotted in their thousands across the country. This Type 26 is unusual in that it only has embrasures/ loopholes on one side rather than all four. The angle of the loophole slots would have allowed full gun coverage of both the canal and the river below all the way towards Tamworth. There are horizontal slots along the sides, with remnants of wood still in them. Many of these structures where either 'merged', or disguised, and I wonder if these wooden batons were left from some sort of cladding in an attempt to make it look more civilian in nature. For many miles this stretch of the River Tame was used as a natural 'stop line' during the war. There are pillboxes dotted all along its length as well as brick lined cutouts in the bank where patrol boats lurked ever ready under tree cover. The waterway here is only a narrowboats width, which is... narrow. The railings on the towpath side are always a worry to pedestrians with dogs or small children as there is a sheer drop down to the river.

The river looked inviting, but the thought of carrying a 20 kilo kayak laden with another 10 kilo of luggage left me feeling exhausted. It would have to wait for another day, maybe in summer when those trees are in leaf and I can tie a hammock up over the water from an overhanging branch.

Over the other side of the aqueduct was an intriguing doorway that begged to be investigated. Leaving my kayak under the protection of the pillbox, I scrambled through the undergrowth until I reached the sandstone steps.

It was a little disappointing. It was just a small storage room, fire blackened and litter strewn by local scallywags.

Back at my kayak I drank my obligatory flask of Camp coffee while contemplating the paddle home.

The Drayton footbridge was a welcome sight, although the din of the traffic wasn't. My rumbling tummy helped drown out the noise as a bacon sandwich beckoned me homeward...

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Terrorist, terrorists, everywhere!!!!...

I like to listen to TalkSport Radio while I'm driving in the car. Not so much during the day because they just chat about sport, but at night it becomes a 'phone-in' station. The subjects are widely varied, current news, lively debate, and light hearted banter etc. It's the UKs largest commercial station, and as you would expect there are advert breaks. It was during one of these breaks that I heard what I thought was a tongue in cheek promotion of a future program. It sounded so ridiculous that I assumed it was over the top in order to provoke discussion. It wasn't until it reached the end, announcing a free hotline number to report your neighbours as terrorists that I realised that it was for real. I'm astounded!...

This is one of a series of like minded adverts. These broadcasts set a dangerous precedent, turning neighbour against neighbour and leading people to believe that there are 'terrorists everywhere'. There was never this level of paranoia during the height of the IRA attacks.
I'm particularly concerned because I fall into this new terrorist category. I keep myself to myself, close curtains and use cash... I'm expecting the door to be broken down by police any moment now.
You just can't win. Leave the curtains open while you're vacuuming in the nude and you get reported, close them and you get reported for being a terrorist!
I've already reported all my neighbours, as many of them have been going out after dark, one of them was holding a bag and wearing glasses... is he a terrorist in disguise? The bus stop across the road worries me too. I often see people just standing there (sometimes for ages), not talking to anyone and looking around a bit. Are they going to blow themselves up? I'm turning myself in at the end of the week because I've always thought I looked a bit suspicious anyway!...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Deer Friends are new Neighbours

As the towns sprawl ever further into the countryside, I've noticed that the wildlife is beginning to adapt, seeking refuge in the suburbs. The foxes have accustomed well to this environment often living right under our noses unnoticed. More and more I come across signs that deer too are our new neighbours. You might be unaware of their presence but the evidence is there. Food missing from bird tables, choice plants or blooms nibbled away, or the minute little hoofs marks in a soily border. The culprit? The tiny Muntjac deer. The ability to breed all year round, remain hidden in the undergrowth of the most modest garden, and to exist a solitary lifestyle causing little impact to its environment, has meant that it's spread across the country has been inconspicuous.

Although I've come across them during the day in the countryside, in the suburbs they wisely use the cover of darkness. Usually I only spot them in the distance as they cross the roads between parkland and gardens. Their eyes reflect the car headlights, and combined with the pale part of their ears, they can take on the appearance of a Hyena when viewed head on!
Fruitless attempts to film them in an urban setting have left me frustrated, so it was ironic that, after many hours of searching I managed to video this chap just a few hundred yards away from my house.

Their call is very similar to a fox and easily confused (hear it here), but it is slightly harsher, more metallic and less 'musical'. So if you hear what you think are foxes calling in the night, the roses aren't flowering too well this year, and the garden birds are looking hungry... then maybe you have a deer friend too!