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London's newest visitor attraction is the Mail Rail, and it will be open to the public from early September. I got the chance to take a sneak peek this weekend, which was the first available chance to the public. Many visitors may not know the history of the Rail Mail and that there are currently over 6.5 miles of tunnels used by the former Mail Rail underneath London with sorting offices at Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, and Paddington. The mail tunnels were created in the 1920s to quickly get mail across the city; before the mail rail, post would be hauled overhead and stuck in traffic. At the time when these tunnels were constructed, the vision was to haul all goods through these underground tunnels. At its peak, the tunnels were used 22 hours a day, but the public never saw them. Royal Mail ceased to use the tunnels in 2003, citing that they were too costly.


The Postal Museum entrance and the Mail Rail are located between Chancery Lane and King's Cross station, and the buildings are almost opposite each other. Only about  1/4th of a mile of rail has been maintained and opened to the public for the exhibition. Mail Rail had a total of eight stops along it (as previously citing stops at Liverpool Street, Paddington, and Whitechapel). Another one of these stations is known as Moutn Pleasant, and it was the largest of the stations and it is the one that will be open to the public in the exhibition.


The first part of the tour was the ride along the rails in one of the new trains. Apparently, the train journey will take twenty minutes instead of the five minutes it took us to set off and loop back around the 1/4th of a mile of rails, and there will be an audio-visual area at the Mount Pleasant station platform.


I sat in the front of the train. Taking photographs along as the train was moving was impossible really due to the tunnels being narrow and the curved glass in the carriages. I do hope that the glass does not scratch or mark. 



After the train ride, we went through the musuem part of the tour, which was centred along a platform. One area was cordoned off, so I think that there will be more exhibitions about the Mail Rail. I saw examples of the nets, which were used to catch/hold onto the mail parcels. They needed to grab these at each station as the train would be moving.


I saw some of the old trains too.


The green train was the earliest mail train, dating from 1927. It's wheels actually damaged the track, so they replaced the trains.


An example of an engineer's tool box was also seen; I later saw some of these along the platform.


The lockers were left intact with their items on the last day that Rail Mail was open in 2003.



The final part of the tour consisted of the walk through the tunnels and to see the sponsor plaques. This was actually the highlight of the tour. I think that visitors will want to do this part of the tour, so I do hope that they plan walking tours in the future, in addition to the rail openings.




We walked to the Mount Pleasant station platforms and down the rails. We were shown where the tunnels continued, as opposed to those that just loop around. Of course, these tunnels were sealed up so no one could walk all the way to Liverpool Street station, for example.


I also found the plaque that I sponsored, which is located at Loop 2, just on the other side of Mount Pleasant station.


On the U-turn area back to the start of the walk, we saw a tunnel underneath the one we were walking on, and this actually has Royal Mail's rolling stock on it, which is just disused. (Royal Mail still have the ability to control the tunnels as The Postal Museum only leases the rails and is responsible for maintainance.)





That concludes the tour. As today was the first in a series of pre-public openings, the tour was not really well-organised, and we didn't hear any history about Rail Mail nor the tunnels, and the staff had been working in the museum across the road from very early in the morning, so it was a long day for them. I would have liked to have learned more about the tunnels and given a little more information during the walking tour.

Roman Town Verulamium, St. Albans

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Recently, I went to St. Albans and posted about my visit to the cathedral and the town itself. In this post, I discover the Celtic and Roman town of Verulamium. Mosaics and parts of the wall and buildings can be seen here, and a museum near also contains important information that is worth a visit. The town was escavated in the 1930s.


Verulamium was located just southwest from the current town centre of St. Albans, which is now in a park called Verulamium Park. It was surrounded by walls, and there were four gates connecting to major roads out of the town to other parts of England. London Gate was the name of the gate (pictured below) that was the entrance from London with the road from Dover to Chester. Colchester was linked via the gate on the east and Silchester via the southwestern gate. The four passageways (two for carriages and two for pedestrians) can clearly be seen in the footprint of the old London Gate.


There are only small sections of the old Roman wall in Verulamium Park, and from parts of these walls, there are good views of the cathedral here. Of course, the cathedral did not exist at the time of the Romans. Now, it takes a good portion of the skyline here. The site of the cathedral and lake in front of it were actually the Roman cemetary, which was just outside the city walls. The necropolis was always outside of the walls by law.


One of the most important aspects of Verulamium Park that the Romans left behind, which can be seen today, are in-situ mosaics. This huge floor formed one of the largest town houses of Verulamium. It was 2-storeys high and had 33 ground floor rooms. A building has been constructed over the mosaic in order to protect it, and a part of the floor has been taken away to reveal the heating system. Under the floor were channels made using terracota bricks which would channel the air from a furnace room to heat the floor. This house dates from the 3rd century, when Verulamium was in its prime as a rich town that relied on trade. 


When the Romans came in 34AD, they were careful to gain the respect of the local Celtic tribe, known as Catuvellauni. They believed that the marshes (from which the town was given its name, "above the marsh") and bodies of water are sacred places, and the Romans allowed them to practice their ceremonies. However, Boudicca hated the Romans and managed to burn Verulamium, along with other Roman towns. Verulamium was rebuilt in 140AD, and a new theatre was put on the site of a temple.


I went to visit the theatre, which had a concert event taking place at some point where people had been set up and practicing. Unfortunately, this took away from the atmosphere, but the seating area and inner circle of the theatre could be seen. The theatre could hold 7,000 people. Most Roman towns had a theatre, but this is the best-preserved one; I remember seeing one at Silchester too. 


The other popular feature is the presence of the columns on the stage, which would have been painted. The columns were made of sandstone, and only one exists, replaced to its location, today. Bullfights, swordfights, and executions also would have been expected to take place here. Greek and Latin plays may have also been performed, but it was more likely that it in this part of the Roman Empire, pantaminus (where the word 'pantomimes' comes from), which was the word for a silly play with a lot of dancing and music.


The theatre was associated with paganism and probably declined when Christainity spread. Many temples were built near the theatre. Outside the theatre were shops that probably would have sold trinkets of gods and goddesses and other items. The shops were blacksmith and bronze shops. Oil lamps may have also been sold here as well as glass jars and any items that would have been put into them.

After visiting the theatre, I went to Verulamium Museum, which is an award-winning museum located across the road from the theatre. It was built on the site of the Roman Forum. The Roman town was one of the most important ones in England. It was escavated in the 1930s, and many of the foundations were re-buried. 


Many clay pots and coins were found at the location of Celtic Verulamium. It had its own mint. The Catuvellauni were known as experienced warriors. They would have settled the ground nearer Wheathampstead first as earthworks and pieces of pottery were found here. The Romans must have regarded them as important as they traded with them and there seems to be a sign of respect instead of completely conquering them.

Cremation became one of the burial practices (from France), and urns were filled with pieces of bone as well as pieces of prized possessions. On a hill not far from the town was a burial for a king, whose name has been lost. A temple was later constructed here, but it is clear that a large event took place on top of the pyre before the temple had been built. This also explains that Romans did respect the people and this king, who would have had the support of his people.


One of the temples in the town was called The Triangular Temple because it was in the shape of a triangle at the crossroads. It was for the goddess Cybele, who was the goddess of wealth and growth of cities. Another temple was located near the theatre. A church was constructed near the site afterwards, showing that the religion of the people changed over time. Near the temple, the small figures of gods, goddesses, and other figures were discovered and these would have been bought for the shrine that people had in their homes.


Little charms have also been found, and people would wear these or use them as offerings. Coins bearing symbols or phallic symbols were for fertility or to ward off evil. Others were symbols of feet or legs, which may have meant that they prayed for these body parts to be healed.


Inside the museum were items traded from across the Roman Empire. The above glass jug was found in a coffin with a skeleton with a couple of other glass jugs. Other items traded included wine, olive oil, and other liquids that were put into different types of amphorae from across the Roman Empire.


Another important item discovered was found in the cellar of a metal-worker's shop. It must have an interesting story; perhaps it was going to be repaired or cleaned. Anyway, it would have probably had the pride of place in a private temple. It is a statue of Venus holding an apple. Mercury was the most popular diety on display in Verulamium because more of the god had been found than any other. 


Also, Celtic figures to represent fertility, wealth and livestock were also common.


One of the most important parts of the museum was seeing the mosaics, which were recovered from different houses at Verulamium.


A room decorated like a Roman house was also included in a part of the museum. This area demonstrated the different trades of the people of the Roman city. 


Another area showed how the people regarded animals. Several paw prints from animals were discovered in drying clay. People lived with cats to catch rodents and dogs. There was also information found on the types of tools used to harvest the land. Verulamium was popular because of its success at farming and agriculture.


The last part of the museum was an area about death. It included information about cremations and burials. Cremation took over as the most popular burial by 250AD. The best items were actually found in graves so that the dead could use them in the afterlife. Items included food, pottery or glass jars, shoes, clothing, and other trinkets.

One of the items on display was a child's coffin with tiny bones; a toy box was placed at the foot of the child decorated with seashells from the Mediterranean. A single coin was also included for the journey to the afterlife.


Another skeleton had a bronze bust above it, and it was created by examining the skull of the deceased. 


A couple of other skeletons were on display in their stone coffins, which were cased with lead. They are of a man and wife, and they must have been rich to have this type of burial. A couple of skeletons of babies were also on display. Babies could be buried inside the town's walls as long as they were younger than 40 days old.

That concludes the trip to Verulamium. I recommend a visit to see the mosaic floor and the museum, which was very good. If this interests you, may also be interested in my trip to Silchester, which you can read about here: Pub Lunch at Mattingley's 'Leather Bottle' and a Visit to Silchester.

Last weekend, I visited St. Albans, a town in England which is just north of London and one of the commuter towns. The purpose of the trip was to attend a tour of the cathedral, followed by cream tea and to see what the town has to offer. In fact, St. Albans does have a lot to offer. It has so much to offer that I will be writing two posts about it; the second one will be about the Roman settlement here, which was called Verulamium. Before the Romans, the settlement was known by the same name and inhabited by a Celtic tribe who minted many coins and traded openly with the Romans. More about the Roman settlement will be covered in another post. 


I arrived in town in time for lunch and went to Hatch, a local burger cafe. I ordered a chicken burger, and this came with fries. The food was delicious, and I loved the taste of the fries.


After eating, I walked back up the hill to the middle of St. Albans, where I discovered the clocktower. It was build in the early 1400s, and it was built at a time when clocks were rare in England. Near the clocktower was St. Eleanor's cross and other medieval structures, but these were later demolished. The clocktower also had bells, which were used by the market and as curfew.


The clocktower was also used as a shutter telegraph in the Napoleonic Wars (from 1808 to 1814) to communicate with the fleet at Great Yarmouth and Westminster, but it only worked in certain conditions and until electronic telegraphs came into use in the 1840s. The clocktower's lower floor was a shop, and the room and room directly above were rented out together. In the room above, there was just enough room for a garderobe (toilet) and bed. 

The three rooms above the shop and room were used for the clock. The second from the ground was the lodging for the family of the clock-keeper, and it would have smelled from the garderrobe below and had the weights from the clocks hanging down into the room.


The clocktower was open, and for £1.00, I could climb the narrow and winding stairs to the top. There is only one set of stairs, so I had to sometimes wait for a few minutes until everyone coming down had passed, but there are the rooms mentioned above to stop off at. 


The Victorian clock (which is on the lower level) was installed in 1866 when the tower was repaired. The larger clock is Market Clock, installed in 1729. Goods could not be sold before the bell rang, and dealers could not buy until a second bell so that the average people had the chance to buy first at better prices.


The big town bell is called Gabriel, and it was cast in Aldgate by William and Robert Burford in the 1700s. The bell was used to wake the town and signal curfews; it was also used to warn about fires, bad weather, and wars.


Finally, I reached the top and had it to myself for a few seconds. I caught a nice glimpse of the cathedral, where I would be visiting later for a tour and cream tea.


A couple of the gargoyles on the top of the tower were still intact, but others were worn away and had broken off.


I also saw the market from the top of the clocktower, so I went to have a wander after descending the clocktower.


The market had a variety of food and craft items. Fish, meat, olives, baked goods, pies, and cooked meats were on offer. I also saw crafts, soaps, chutneys, sewn products, and jams. The market was relatively empty, suggesting that it operates earlier and does a good business.


After walking back to the clocktower, I noted the old pub. St. Albans was a stop on the coach service to London, so it has many inns. This one was the Fleur-de-Lys. King John of France was captured at this site in 1356. The inn was built in the mid 1400s.


I then walked around and walked to the cathedral. Beautiful gardens filled with holly hocks and lavender were lovely...



The cathedral is another attraction in St. Albans, and it is currently under renovation. The town of St. Albans and the cathedral was named after British saint Alban. In Roman times, Christianity was forbidden, and those who practiced were put to death. Alban met a priest and turned to Christianity; the priest became his guest and he protected him by wearing the priest's robes when the Romans called in. Alban was executed for this (saving the priest's life), so he became a saint. The cathedral is built where he was executed.



The voucher implied that tours were held at certain times, so the idea was to have the cream tea first and then go to the tour. However, the voucher was misprinted. The last tour started at 2:30, so we were half an hour late. We did manage to find the tour and the guide inside the cathedral, so we did get to hear half of the tour. 


The ceilings are beautiful in this part of the cathedral, and we learned about the building and how it suffered due to collapsing. It was originally a Norman building. Part of the cathedral is older than the other side, which had to be rebuilt in a different style. Apparently this land was one of the first places where Christianity was worshipped in England. 



This rose window is a modern one, and it was unveiled by Princess Diana in the 1980s. It was designed to look like coins and is sometimes known as the bank window.



The statues here signified Alban and other popular religious people. The cathedral was the monastary before they were dissolved.


This is the Lady Chapel, which dates to the 14th century and dedicated to Mary. It became a school for boys at one point.


Lastly, we looked at the shrine that holds the relics. It was damaged in Victorian times when they attempted to restore it. It has been corrected with a metal frame in more recent times and is meant to hold some of the bones of St. Alban.


After the tour, we went to Abbot's Kitchen to have the cream tea. This is the cathedral's cafe, but it's currently held outside in a tent as the building is under renovation. The cream tea consisted of a choice of plain or fruit scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. We were also given tea, but it was really too hot for tea, and the temperatures were not the best inside the tent. I ended up drinking as much tea as possible and then getting a fruit ice and cold drink to take away.




I had lovely weather in St. Albans. I took one last photograph of the cathedral after the tour and tea.


Have you ever visited the cathedral or town of St. Albans?

A Day Out Sailing to the Isle of Wight

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Earlier this month, I got to go on a sailing trip from Hamble in Hampshire (England) to the Isle of Wight. The bloke's brother placed second in raising the most money for charity at his workplace, so he and the winner got the chance to go on a one-day sailing trip and invite along a few friends/family. We met in Hamble in Hampshire at the harbour in the morning yo get the sailboat, and we had perfect weather throughout the day. We were shown how to operate the sail boat, including lowering the sails, tying the boat to the dock, and how to navigate. This area is perfect for sailing because of well-marked waters and other boats using the area, including the ferries to the Isle of Wight and cargo ships.


The ship we sailed on is "Solent Hero", which is a boat that is used to help teach people how to sail.


There is a wheel on both sides of the end of the boat to control the boat's direction. A compass, depth of the water, and navigation system is provided. The water is not too deep around the land with an average depth of about 5-6 meters. The middle of the solent gets deeper with 20 or 30 meters in depth.


Actually, the most comfortable seat (before we put up the sails) was the front of the ship.



We could sit below deck, but none of us did. There is a kitchen, seating, and three rooms with double bunks.


After the sails went down, we sped up.





I caught glimpses of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth.



Finally, we arrived at the northern shores of the Isle of Wight. We caught glimpses of Osborn House, which is where Queen Victoria often visited.


A little way further, we came to Old Castle Point.


Then, we came to the opening of the river into the harbour of Cowes on the Isle of Wight.



We saw the car ferry, which I've used in the past when I've visited the Isle of Wight by car (or used the pedestrian service).


Then we sailed down the River Medina. We attempted to get close to the Isle of Wight Festival, but we actually could not go all the way down as the water was getting more shallow, but we did make our way down quite a bit.







We then stopped and had food (sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and biscuits) and wine/beer on the deck, which was the perfect weather with full sunshine. After we finished, we headed back. The weather clouded up in a couple of places on the way back, but it was still lovely.



We then "parked" the sailboat back in Hamble docks.


We had a lovely trip, and it was a lovely day to sail around Port Solent and the Isle of Wight.

Bournemouth & Poole, 17 Years Ago

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Seventeen years ago, I visited Bournemouth in Dorset, England for the first time. I visited it with my ex-boyfriend who lives in the New Forest and would visit Bournemouth often. Before this, I had never been to a "beach", so this trip to Bournemouth to see the sea and a sandy beach was a first for me. Overall, this was a lovely (and summery) day out in Bournmouth and one of my favourite days of 2000 and my short visit to England as I was only staying for six months on a work exchange visa. A few years later, I would move to Bournemouth for a short time to go to university. 



The visit to Bournemouth was by bus connection from Ringwood. We stopped to see the beach and the pier. At the time, there was an IMAX cinema and restaurants on the seafront. We had a quick visit there, and we did see a show in the IMAX. (Later, I would visit a couple of the restaurants in this seafront area, but they have since been taken down.)


We also had a really lovely walk and chat around the gardens in the centre of Bournemouth, admiring the beautiful flower beds and the little stream that winds its way down and through the lower gardens. In the gardens, there is a lantern festival that takes places in the summer months, which I covered here. Balloon flights also launch from the gardens and provide great views over Bournemouth. I never did get a trip up in the balloon, but the balloon can be seen towering above from miles away. The design has changed a bit now, but below is what it looked like seventeen years ago.


I loved walking around the flower gardens. They were really pretty in 2000. A couple of years later, they did not get decorated as beautifully or even compare to the way they were during my first visit. I think a lot of cuts were made after 2001. The world changed then.


We also had a trip to Poole, although I never realised that I had visited there until I was looking through my old photo albums. I suppose that my ex-boyfriend and I had just got the bus further down and then spent a very short time here. Perhaps we were just waiting for a new bus connection. I thought that I would have remembered visiting, but it completely escaped me, so it must have been a quick stop-off. I have a photograph of the high street with the Poole Aquarium.


I also saw the marina and got a photograph of one of the pubs on the seafront. I have visited Poole probably half a dozen times now as they host car shows here in the summer months on Friday evenings. (Visit my post to see pictures of MINIs in Poole.)



Lucky Cats in London's China Town

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Four years ago on this day, I was hanging out with some of my good friends from the USA. I had taken off a week so that we could hang out, and one of the places that I took them was to Chinatown in central London. The "lucky cats" were a hit, and I am sure that most readers recognise the "lucky cat", which has a paw that moves up and down. I snapped a nice photograph of the "lucky cats" that we found in one of the shops in Chinatown. (The shop in question is being renovated currently, and I am unsure as to what they will be building in its place, but these cats can be purchased in other shops around Chinatown.)


The Chinese "Fortune Cat" (Maneki Neko, translated as "beckoning cat") is used as a charm in order to attract good fortune. The cat's paw is raised on the left or the right to attrack customers or good fortune.

Reigate Castle and Barons's Cave

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Last weekend, I went to Reigate to visit the caves. The caves are only open for a few days a year over the summer months, and last weekend was the first day of the year that they were open. You can read my post here: A Visit to Reigate Caves. Reigate is built on sandstone, and it has three caves to visit. Tunnel Caves is in two parts, and it is a former sand mine. Part of the tunnels can be accessed by guided tour only, and another section is kitted out as a museum and was used as air raid shelters. The other cave (Barons's Cave) is the oldest, and it was built at the same time as the castle.


I went to Tunnel Caves before heading to Barons's Caves via the castle. Tunnels for both caves go underneath the castle. The castle was built in the late 1000s and was captured by the French in the early 1200s and was used in teh Civil War, where it was destroyed.


Today, all that remains of the castle is the earth mound where it was built and Barons's Caves, which are under the mound where the castle stood. The former entrance to the caves was in the castle grounds, and this is marked by a stone pyramid structure (seen through the doorway in the image below). All of the castle's stones were taken and used for other building. 


Today, a castle gatehouse was constructed in 1777 as a tribute to the castle that used to occupy the grounds and in memory of those who built it. 



The castle grounds are now public gardens. In one place, the caves have collapsed and the ground is lowered.


Footpaths can be used to walk up and around the castle and down to the modern day's entrance to the caves.



Barons' Cave got its name from the barons who drew up the Magna Carta; it was rumoured to have been drawn up in the caves, but that probably is not true. Tours of this cave are guided only. Unfortunately, the queue was very long, and we were rushed through. Apparently it was the busiest day that the guides have ever seen, and a lot of people had apparently seen the open day on Facebook. This meant that we were rushed through and did not get long in the caves and had to share it with several other groups of about thirty people each.


The below picture is the best I got to take of the original carved archway tunnels. The other areas have been damaged by people who stole the sand to sell on.


One of the tunnels is larger and probably used as storage for the castle. At the end of the tunnel is the oldest grafitti, which dates to the 1600s. We were also shown the echo made if throwing a large stone at a sand-filled hole on the floor at the end of the passage.


The other interesting feature in the caves are carved animals, such as horses and carved faces/heads.



Have you ever visited Reigate Caves or the castle? The next tour is on June 10, and there are ones every month through to September. The cost to see all the caves is 4.50 per adult, and all caves can be visited easily in a day. Several town centre car parks can be used in order to access the caves. Arrive early in order to get the most of the caves. It is probably wise to do the Tunnel Cave tour first and then walk across to the tour of Barons' Caves before walking the museum tunnels at your own pace. (We wished we had more of an opportunity to see the older Barons' Caves.) For more information, see

The village of Imber is situated in the middle of the Salisbury Plains in Wiltshire, England. The village was evacuated and abandoned in 1943 so that it could be used as a military exercise area for American troops before invading Europe during the second World War. The residents of the village were not allowed to return home to Imber after the war, and the town and area around it is currently used by the military. The village has a church, and this church is open for a few days each year. Each year, visitors can visit the church (St. Giles Parish Church) and village as the military ceases to use it for a few days. One of the weekends that it is open to the public is on Easter weekend. Other than that, the village is abandoned and is used by the military.


I visited Imber on the Saturday before Easter. The St. Giles Parish Church was open at this weekend and held a special Sunday Easter service. I was curious to see this abandoned village that the villagers could not return to after the war. There are a few times out of the year where you are permitted to drive to the village of Imber, which is seven miles down a dirt track. Before entering, you are given warnings not to enter the live firing range. I believe that (and hope) that people who try to are turned back on days when it is in use. Along the dirt road, we were warned constantly not to get out of the car or leave the carriageway. Following these instructions is very important, even though going off to get photographs can be tempting.


Especially when you drive past several of these rusting tanks along the road....


...and a whole graveyard of burnt-out and rusting tanks along the hillsides.


We then passed by some of the old buildings of Imber and buildings that are now used and constructed by the military for urban warfare training. There are warnings not to go into many of these buildings.


Many of the old village homes and buildings have been demolished, but the church is still in very good condition. Below is a photograph of the St. Giles Parish Church from near where the High Street used to be. The road leading up to the church is now named "American Road".


Inside the church, people were selling refreshments and information about the village and its history.




I also had a walk around the church, which is on the top of a hill overlooking the village of Imber.



A war memorial is located at the base of the hill where the church is.


Also at the bottom of the hill is the old farmhouse (Seagram's Farm), and this building was constructed in 1870. Most people in the remote village were in the agriculture business and would have primarily raised sheep. I checked out a couple of the old buildings here, and you can step inside and look through the windows of the old homes and buildings. There are a couple of old farm buildings next to the one pictured below.




This borders "Church Street", which leads to the church but has been renamed "American Road".


All along the road here, the signs warn about unexploded bombs and warn visitors to keep to the main road and not walk around.


One of the abandoned buildings was the village pub, known as The Bell Inn. The landlord kept renewing the license into the 1960s in the hope that the villagers would be allowed back. 

On the exit, I looked at the tanks again and wished that we could have stopped for some better photographs, but too many others were driving slow and deciding to do the same.


I do feel sorry for all of the villagers that were given only a few weeks to leave the village and then were never allowed to return after the war. The village of Imber is an interesting place to visit.

A couple of years ago at Easter, the bloke and I had a long weekend away in Yorkshire. One of the attractions that we went to visit was Ripley Castle, located near the town of Ripley near Harrogate. The town and castle were constructed by the Ingleby family, and the castle is privately-owned by the family who live in part of the castle. The castle was built as a stately home and is currently used as one today. The castle is open to the public for private tours at selected times/dates, and the grounds can also be explored. 


When we arrived at the castle, we parked in the village area, which is quite small. The gatehouse was the first part of the castle, and I am pretty sure that there was a shop located here where items and tickets could be purchased.


Inside the gate, we saw the grand house (or castle) in front of us. The courtyard is only small.


We had a little bit of time before our tour began, so we had a wander around the grounds. We walked down to the lake and across a bridge above a small dam. The daffodils were in full bloom, and we had such a lovely warm day for our visit.


I would love to have this view and these walks every day. I saw some of the family who lived in the castle out walking their dogs.








When our tour was about ready to begin, we headed to the castle and waited. The tour groups are quite packed, and I believe that there were thirty of us on the tour. We learned about the history of the castle and the family, including the more colourful ancestors and how the village came to be built. We were also shown a stained-glass window of importance with the family crests of marriages added to it; this was damaged in a storm but pieced together. 


After our guided tour, we wandered out to the gardens to see the spring flowers in bloom, and we also had a wander into the Victorian greenhouse (palm house) where we saw plants that like tropical weather and cacti.




One of the floral displays in the garden area has the Ripley symbol and the year 2000.




The village of Ripley is also known for its ice cream. This is across the road from the castle, and we walked over to get an ice cream. It proves to be very popular in this area, and we also noticed a couple of other outlets (one in Harrogate) that sell this ice cream. 


Have you ever visited Ripley Castle?

Exploring Down Street Abandoned Tube Station

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A couple of weeks ago, I went to explore the disused Down Street tube station in Mayfair. Down Street is on a side road between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner, and the Piccadilly Line served this station. The station was not open for very long. It was opened in 1907 and shut its doors in 1932 due to lack of use. Its placement here was controversial because many people that lived in the area did not use public transport. Although it was closed in 1932, it had a new lease of life in 1939 as a secret headquarters for the railway board executivies during World War II. It is often referred to as "Churchill's Secret Bunker". The staff at TFL (Transport for London) are continuously researching and discovering how the station was used during the war times, but most of the government secrets are off limits currently and won't be accessibly by the public until 2040.


The tube station is easy to notice because of its glossy tiles that identify it; in Down Street's case, the tiles are dark red. The large arched windows and wide doorways also identify it as a tube station, although one of the doorways has been bricked over while the other is home to a small shop.


Upon arriving on the train/platform level, we were told about the station's use during World War II. The first bit of tunnel was sectioned off and became the area for typists. The walls were painted a mustard yellow colour, and we could see where the floor was levelled and the partition wall was added on one side. The side with the partition wall formed a room with an aisle down one side. The aisle was just large enough for a tea trolley (or a person to walk single-file). On this wall, there are directions to the Enquries and Committee Room, and there's "Way Out" signs in the same style on other walls. Before the room was a gas seal-off door, and there were several of these throughout the station. The rooms were all purpose-made, and the public was not aware of the secret bunker here.



We were also shown the glow-in-the-dark strips along the lower part of the tunnel walls, which enable visitors to find their way in case the electricity is off.


The next tunnel was also divided into rooms: offices and the committee room. One of the rooms here was where Churchill stayed during bombing raids. Throughout our tour, we were shown photographs on the wall of people inside these rooms, and we could identify where walls, lights, and clocks had been attached. In the photograph above, the placement of the table in the photograph is outlined on the floor. The aisleway would have been to the left, and the flooring also demonstrates how the rooms were broken up.


Off of the meeting room, we were shown the toilets and bath facilities, which were located through a door that went up a staircase. These separate rooms were divided up with the facilities. Apparently the women had to kick up a fuss to have separate facilities. The furnishings were also top of the range. The next few photographs shows some of these rooms and what remains.






Further down the hallway, we came to the section where we could see the tube train passing between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner on the Piccadilly Line. There were sections throughout the remainder of the tour where we could see the trains, separated by just a thin wall. We continued until we branched off into a separate tunnel where the exchange and switch board are located. These were located in two separate rooms. 


The switch board has fine wooden panel, which we could see by shining a light to it.


Opposite the switchboard is old-style tiling forming a very Art-Deco "Way Out" sign.


We arrived at further rooms that were used by the executives. Some of these included the original lighting. Many of these rooms were painted grey over the mustard yellow. Someone suggested they may have been painted for preparations on tube evacuation teams or filming a submarine movie.


A map of the layout of the rooms is also present.


We were shown the executive rooms and the bedrooms, and we could see which rooms were fancier because they had wallpaper. After this, we were shown the kitchen and dining area.


The new development and research suggests that the last part of the tour is exciting because it's the area at the back (by the air flow) that Churchill had asked to be purposed into his area. Rooms were created here with a toilet near the top of the step and a room on the left. The room had a phone line that went direct to the USA. They're not exactly sure who used these rooms, but it is clear that they are used by VIPs. A picture of the room is below, but there's actually another similar bricked-up wall a few steps down the tunnel. It's completely bricked up, but it probably has some significance. 


On the other side of this area, we saw more yellow paint, and this is covering the original signage. "To The Trains" can be seen beneath the layer of paint.


Also, the original signage showing the platform directions can also be seen here. Finsbury Park points to the left, and Hammersmith points to the right. Unfortunately, someone ruined the wall and lettering when they installed some ladders and pipework over the top of it.


Next, we saw the lift shaft. My photographs did not come out because there was not enough room to see, and the lighting was not bright enough. On the other side of the lift shaft was the tile manufacturer name Simpson & Sons, who created the tiles. This is a rare find.


Out of the lifts, the commuters would have been directed to the trains via this "To the Trains" sign.


On street level, we received a booklet with more information about Down Street station.


I would love to know more about this station and the history of it as it seems that there's still so much more to know that cannot become the public domain until 100 years are up. Unfortunately, by that time, the people who did work in the tunnels would no longer be able to talk about them.

For readers who have enjoyed this post, I have also visited additional disused and abandoned underground stations in London. I also have a couple of more trips to visit other ones coming up, so be sure to keep following me. Below are previous posts:

Paddock World War 2 Bunker
Aldwych Station
Euston Station Tunnels


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