Monday, 16 August 2010

Oh happy days

Sunday last saw me and a group of my very close friends return to Lydden Spout to further explore the area. We all met at the bottom of Folkestone Hill, I’m a Dover lad so it’s always been the hill into Folkestone rather than up to Dover. Two of us got the bus up, as there wasn’t room in the car. Dave and I got a bit lost so we called into a local tavern to ask for directions, the barman, for some unknown reason served us to pints of ale whilst we studied the map. Once we had our bearings we set off in search of the rest of our party. They were lost too, well, I say lost, they’d parked the other side of the pub. They’d also sent one of their number in the pub to ask if anyone fitting our description had been in, we’d been rumbled. Having regrouped we set off for our destination. The walk wasn’t as pleasant as the last time we were there. We had a force 10 gale blowing and no sun. However, we didn’t let that deter us, and we made headway to the holes. I was confident that the entrance to the deep shelter was somewhere down the cliff face, so myself and the rear admiral had a bit of a scramble down the cliff in an endeavour to locate it. We had no luck and realizing that we were in the wrong place we scrambled back up. I’m not as fit as I use to be, after that ascent I was quite knackered. We moved on to hole #1. A bit of a tight squeeze but I managed to get in and the exploring commenced. These holes have been there for over 60 years, they show many signs of neglect and abandonment, but they’re still impressive. They were excavated by the royal engineer corps to accommodate the crews for the large guns that defended that section of the coast. This battery, along with two others in Dover and another three between Guston and St Margaret’s were pivotal to defending the channel from the German war machine. Sadly history hasn’t been kind to these amazing places. In fact none of the fortifications have survived well, except for the installation beneath Dover castle. It seems to me that rather than preserving these places, it’s quite the opposite, and they are being allowed to fade away in the hope that what they stood for, and against, will eventually be forgotten. This is a great shame as both the wars are an important part of history, not just ours, but the whole of Europe’s. Anyway, I digress, after the first hole, or to give it its correct designation, Magazine store #1, we headed back to the cliff face in another attempt to find the deep shelter. This was the equivalent of an air raid shelter for the gun crews. We found some steps heading down the cliff and, again two of us climbed down. A third body went down a path that was slightly to the west of the steps where he stood on top of a well constructed wall. We didn’t find the entrance, but I have since learnt that body three was very close, it’s at the base of the wall just to the left of where he was stood. I also have it on good authority that the entrance is very close to total collapse, so maybe it was a good thing we didn’t find it. I just hope that when nature does finally have its way and seals the entrance permanently, no one is in there. Returning to the top we headed over to the hole we first explored on the walk a few weeks ago. Not much had changed, apart from a few more spider egg sacks. As we started to walk back I noticed what appeared to be a large, rusted, hatch lid. It was too heavy for me to lift it on my own, but it was clear that it could be lifted. So Dave and I took the initiative and lifted the hatch. Beneath it was a shaft with a ladder going down one of the side walls. After a brief discussion it was agreed that some of us were prepared to climb down the ladder and see what was down there. We had found the emergency escape shaft to the plotting rooms; this was the control room for the guns and also housed the Battery Command Post. The larger room was the plotting room itself and doors lead off it into smaller rooms which housed the ventilation plant and probably mess rooms. Something that we all thought was a very touching tribute to the men that manned these positions was a visitors book that someone had left there, along with some photos and letters from, I think, former servicemen and women. Again the area is well preserved, to the point where some of the light switches and power outlet switches work as well as they would have sixty years ago. Flicking the switches made a resounding click. I’m certain that if there was still power to the facility, some time and effort could easily restore this place to its former glory. We were about to head home when we found centre battery point and more holes. The magazine tunnel was the hardest to enter, there was virtually no foot purchase and the access hole was quite deep. We managed to get in and explore what may be the longest of the three tunnels. Getting out was even more difficult than getting in. Dave had to be yanked out, sheer bloody mindedness made me determined to get out unaided, if only to prove to myself that I could. Finally we ended our day’s adventure and walked back to the pub. As we sat, partaking of our refreshments, Dave and I started thinking about the visitor’s book. It’s been left on the floor and is likely to get damage through moisture. Initially we thought about installing a shelf for it to rest on, but that would involve drilling into the walls. The more I think about it the more I feel that it would be better to put a table of sorts in there, that way the book would be off the floor and may last a little longer. The annoying thing is the idiots who have nothing better to write than offensive comments. Which is ridiculous when you consider the efforts they went through to get down there in the first place? I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that these places are being allowed to decay, or the idiots who have no respect for the history they are helping to destroy.

For our next adventure I’m hoping we can visit some of the fortifications on the western heights, if the guys were impressed with Lydden Spout, the Detached Bastion will certainly have the same effect at the least.

Some pictures from the day can be found on my facebook page.