So we began blowing up an inflatable canoe on the side of Regents Canal footpath much to the confusion and amazement of passers by. When it was finally ready, we hopped in and nearly got crushed by a large tourist boat why proceeded to tell us ‘we were on the wrong side’, despite having seen boats such as his doing the very same. Suddenly, we slipped out of view into a sudden transition of environments. Emerging into this felt like entering the grim world of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Victorian London complete with rubbish-filled barges, still hidden underfoot probably along with some rare surviving breed of Cholera. From within these old stable tunnels connecting various railway tracks; including the evocatively-named Rat ‘Ole, the sounds of the outside world could be heard within reach as cars drove overhead and families continued their days out. We didn’t have too long as the parking only lasted 2hrs, but it took us the first hour to get set and get in. Floating around in the stinking stagnant dark felt like forever, trying to avoid detection by a restaurant worker launching rubbish into a barge wasn’t easy, in fact we think he clocked us but didn’t care. It was a surprise we even clocked the access. At one point I hopped onto a floating platform, which suddenly started tilting sideways into the water. Quickly jumping back into our craft, we pushed through sludge to finally reach our rather small but good-enough boarding point.
After roping-up the boat and hoping it didn’t get squashed by the floating hulk next to it, we slipped into the network. We first headed for Horse Tunnel, which didn’t go particularly far but looked truly ancient. At one end we heard pedestrians and even a train pass, sounding a lot closer than they were. Up above, the vents provided a futile glimpse into the world outside, and the sounds of cars driving overhead could be heard. After struggling with the autofocus on my new ultrawide lens (which as I soon realised was incompatible), I managed to scrape together some free-hand shots before we crossed an area of electrical boxes near to our boarding point. This is when we realised how vast the vaulted cellar was – you could’ve spent ages down there. But this was no time for light painting, our only transport back out of the hell hole looked precariously close to being punctured or stuck – plus heaven forbid, a potential parking fine. We got some snaps, had a quick walk, and decided to GTFO. Despite being long-time explorers this was our first illicit adventure within Central London – just as blatant as we’d assumed, and just as worth it. When coming back out we were greeted by cheers of prosecco and craft beer drinkers as we re-emerged down the canal. They thought us amateurs had gone for a 30-minute paddle In a new canoe and found it too much. They had no idea.
Built in the mid 19th century this wasn’t for storage of the deceased but a stable for horses used to shunt railway wagons. It connects up (historically) to several railway tunnels including the old Rat ‘Ole tunnel in the western section which we didn’t reach. I love that name – back then they said it how it was! The vaulted areas were later used for storage, and parts of Horse Tunnel houses some form of wiring or pipes old and new as well as what might’ve been a generator functioning behind a locked door. Large sections of basements and vaults were demolished in the 80s and 90s hence the separation of the tunnels which seem to lead to nowhere today.