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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Not very, but ever so slightly.... "I"

Started catching up with some of our recorded telly last night and in particular QI. This is clearly one of the more impotant pieces of television that the BBC produce. Not only is it hosted by national treasure and king of Twitter, Mr Stephen Fry but it also employs a bunch of elves who compile all the "Quite Interesting" bits and bobs that it covers. One of these elves lives in the western part of the UK (I like him already - excellent taste in geography) and at the tail end of last year wrote a book which I'm lucky enough to have a copy of. Secret Britain by (the elf that is) Justin Pollard. He's written at least 5 other history related books but this one is clearly the British bits they left out of the show plus lots of bits they left in. Either way, it's great fun.

A couple of highlights for me include The city of Burlington in Wiltshire, a place I've been lucky enough to visit, the Allen brothers book, Vestiarium Scoticum and the lost church of St Laurence in Bradford-on-Avon which is a town close to my heart.

All three of these are deserving of a blog entry each of their own, but I'll leave that to the hard work of others who have gone before me. You don't have a blog and dlark yourself (dlark is used here in it's truest sense meaning 'a made up word to make a well known phrase fit around the word blog').

However, of these three I feel it's only right that I regale you with my tale of the visit to the city of Burlington because it really is a 'special' place in our countries history.

In 1990 or thereabouts, I moved to Corsham in Wiltshire. It's about a dozen or so miles to the East of Bath. A small town with a pretty little high street which has appeared in many a Sunday night period drama on the BBC dressed as a non-descript 18th or 19th century village. All appears normal about the town save for the wild peacocks (which can be a bit disconcerting the first time you find one in your garden screeching at 3am) and the military base just to the South of the town. Rumours abound over the purpose of the site. Some say it's where the British UFO collection is kept, others that it's an inland Naval store (which it probably was) but the truth is far more interesting and there is a beautiful rumor attached to the facts to.

If you've ever been to London and walked along the Mall from Buckingham Palace down to Trafalgar square you almost certainly won't have noticed the ivy clad square buliding on the right of the Mall just before you reach Admiralty Arch. Those of you with a keen eye will have seen the complex set of radio masts on the roof of the building behind this odd block. Clearly this is where Whitehall keep their global communications for managing James Bond and the other double O's. Probably.

Well the story goes that this block houses the lift gear at the top of a shaft that leads to a 'forgotten' tube station (there are many, of which Aldwych is one). This tube station services HRH and the (self) important people from Whitehall in the event of Global Thermo Neuclear War. The line runs out towards Paddington where it joins the main East/West M4 corridor line that happens to run through (you guessed it) Corsham. The next village along is Box, home of Peter Gabriel and Brunel's masterpiece that is Box Tunnel. Inside Box tunel there's a siding for trains to leave the main line and pull into Burlington city Station.

Bath is built from local stone (for local people - nothing for you here) which was quarried out underneath Melksham, Atworth, Corsham and Box. This has left a huge network of underground caverns which the MoD have made much use of over the years. So from the tunnel in box it's a short underground ride through Burlington to (and this is the bit that has only recently become public) "The Royal Bunker" which is really what's at the military base.

I haven't seen inside the bunker (there's picture online I expect) and I've not seen the pub in Burlington (yes there really is a pub down there) but I have seen some of the stores and other old parts of Burlington that were sold off in the later 90's. It's not cold and damp as you might suspect, but dry and well lit. It's also enormous and when I say enormous I don't mean huge, I mean massive in a mind boggling sort of way. There are streets (you have to have a method to find your way around) which look like long corridors, paved like small roads for the electric trucks to get around. Monster air conditioning units stand rusting at a couple of points, which would have been used to recycle the noxious gassed from above.

Chances are you've either drank wine or eaten mushrooms from down there as it's the home of the largest wine cellar in europe (Octavium) housing 650,000 crates of wine worth an estimated £1bn and a mushroom farm that I believe services many of our national supermarkets. It is an amazing thing to see and should you ever get the opportunity, I recommend it.

So that's my QI for today most of which is fact, I'm off to sample the vino. Toodle-pip!
 

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