Beneath the Dragon's Mound

I've just stumbled blinking into the light of October, having shut myself away all summer to finish the next book for Titan ('The Bone Harvest', out next May, kiddies!), and I've been able to enjoy a day out - which in my case means wandering about in some underground tunnels. Of course.

About half an hour's drive from my place is a village called Drakelow, which is an Anglo Saxon name meaning the Hill of the Dragon. It's called that because, well, there's a hill there, and like a lot of the old hills around Worcestershire it carries the remains of an Iron Age settlement. I haven't been able to gather a lot about the local folklore, but the remains of the settlement walls are a long curving mound, so maybe the Anglo Saxon newcomers thought there was a dragon buried under it or something.

I don't know about dragons, but there are a hell of a lot of tunnels. Three and a half miles of them.

With the outbreak of World War 2 a series of underground 'Shadow' factories was built, and the complex at Drakelow was designated Rover 1D, the idea being that parts made there would be dispersed to other sites for assembly. The tunnels were dug into the soft sandstone underneath Drakelow hill - sandstone which had already provided natural caves in which people had been living for centuries already. After the war turned Cold it was re-tasked as Regional Seat of Government 9 in the event of a nuclear attack; the workshops were turned into dormitories, armed forces C&C, a hospital, a GPO exchange, and even a BBC broadcasting studio. It was mothballed in '79 and eventually sold off in '94, and in recent years a small group of quintessentially mad English enthusiasts have been volunteering their time and energy to renovate it into a Cold War museum. For this they need money, and for that they sell guided tours. Which is where I come in - my and my mate Dan, a fellow searcher of things under hedgerows and strange lumps in the landscape.

Naturally there are all sorts of stories about paranormal phenomena in the tunnels - ghostly music, spectral monks and whatnot - and to be fair there were some pretty gruesome deaths involved in the construction, including three in a ceiling collapse and two factory workers who were killed when they decided to hitch a ride out of the tunnels on a conveyor belt but couldn't jump off in time and were dragged into the machinery and mangled. I'll be honest, I didn't see anything supernatural. The remnants of the complex's past lives were spooky enough for me. I'm just going to leave a bunch of photos here to speak for themselves.