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GES052 - Stamford Brook CSO

Trip 1 - August 2010

On a lovely autumnal evening, with commuters dashing willy nilly to get home to their domestic reside. I found myself parking up near Stamford Brook tube. I'd been keen to do it for awhile, and had it mapped out from the surface. I'd managed to convince my main exploring co-horts to cross the Metropolis to join me, MM & GE077. It was a short walk to Askew Road, where my target cover was. As we walked off past a few of the relatively new and shiny lids, I remembered I had left my drain key on the table. D'oh! So I whizzed back home, and met the others in a side street near the target lid. Between some cars away from the eagle eyed traffic cams, we changed into our waders, or in my case, giant rubber condom (I wear the same chest waders Thames Water do).

I'd chosen the target lid, as it was a nice old rusty one. The other lids in the area were all shiny new ones, we weren't sure we could open, and with commuters everywhere, it might look suspicious if we struggled. All dressed up in our credibility props, we headed across to the lid. MM dropped down first, and did a reccie. It was about 4'6-5ft high, and the water at knee height, but slow flowing. Having recently done the Paris Catas, I felt confident of doing it. The others concurred, and dropped down, and myself quickly after.

After stepping into the flow, which was barely noticeable, the first problem became apparent. There was something under that water, and it was NOT pleasant. In fact it was just vile, whatever it was. Probably some nasty concoction of shit, mud, cooking fat and drowned kittens. Either way it made the entire trip totally undulating. Very rarely one could touch the concrete bottom, normally where a side pipe entered. The second problem also became apparent not long after we started. Our backpacks. Naively believing as we set off from our respective homes we would find a nice sewer to leisurely take photos in, it turned out to very much not to be the case. My bag contains 10 zillion different things including a kitchen sink, so quickly became a real burden down there.

Part of the excitement and sense of adventure of doing a drain that hasn't been done before, or widely photographed is that you really have no idea what's coming. Could be great, could be crap. That's where the sense of adventure comes in. There are countless miles of CSOs, culverted rivers and Storm Reliefs, probably only half have been done.

We squelched off into the gloom, MM taking the lead and making various sounds and expressions that described what he was treading in. "Oh my gawddd" "ahhhh" etc. After awhile we came to our first rest point. All 3 of us squeezing into a square bricked area just to the edge of the drain, that lead up to a split manhole cover. It was...cosy! We were all keen to grab some fresh air and straighten our backs. We talked about going on, and were all agreed it would be a good idea. Again, I think we all naively hoped the drain would get higher. It was my turn to go in the lead, and the going was tough. I noticed bits of my bag were dragging in the water as I clutched the bag to my chest similar to a mother being asked to give up her newly born baby.

The undulations continued, and I made the odd "urrghh" remark as I ploughed on. I found what I thought was a path to the side of the centre, however I believe it was just solidified fat. After awhile, my torch picked up the site of the next manhole exit. I didn't remain hopeful it would lead to an easylift lid. Luckily my hopes were dashed, and it was another manhole lid, being run over sporadically by cars. We all squeezed into the square entrance flap, and caught our breaths. MM's headlight beam was on it's last legs, so he would go in between us. It was GE077's turn to go in front.

This time I was really struggling, and had to stop quite a few times. The main problem was the heavy bag I was lugging. Although to be fair, I had removed my fisheye from the bag! I was so glad to see MM & GE077 stood up at the next manhole. I squeezed in out of breath and exhausted. I had been close to experiencing real fear at certain points in the last stretch. We were all mostly shattered, and were at the point where we would have to turn back. I was dreading the walk back. GE077 still had some strength left in his younger body, so it was agreed he would go off about 20-30m and point his torch on full 200lumin beam down the sewer. If nothing of interest or signs of a side exit, he'd come back.


He slugged off down the pipe while I held his bag. I had my foot up on a small ledge behind the ladder up to the split manhole. Balanced on top was my bag, followed by GE077's. In the distance we could hear GE077 sloshing about and stopping now and again. At one point we heard an "oh great", and we chuckled to ourselves, before shouting down out of concern if he was alright. He was. MM & I chatted about what we had learned from the experience, and how to approach CSO's in the future. It seemed GE077 had been gone awhile and we couldn't hear any more splashing. We both shouted loudly down the sewer, and no response. "Shit" literally. GE007 prepared himself to go down and see what the problem was, when we heard a faint "i'm ok". Phew!

GE077 then communicated that he'd found an Easylift that opened. I immediately felt a sense of relief. Only one more section to go. The problem was that GE077's bag was up here, and GE007 & I could barely carry our own bags. So sadly, GE077 had to come back. On getting back, his forehead glowed probably similar to mine with sweat. I set off. I knew I would be slow, so set off in front of the others. The going didn't get any better, but due to the longer rest, I wasn't so bad. At one brief point the roof was high enough for me to almost stand tall, before returning to normal height, sigh! A small foot high side pipe came in. With my torch I could see the handle next to the side exit about 10m ahead. I summoned up the last of my resolve, and ploughed on. The sub-water substance became softer here, and thus a gloopy consistence that sucked harder on the legs. When I got to the side exit, I was so glad, I walked up the last few feet with relief, my back glad to be straight. I was in such a jubilant mood I fished out my camera for a couple of flash shots. This is the side exit looking into the sewer.

You can see around the top of the side exit pipe, and all the way up to the lid, that this baby get's real full on occasions. I could hear GE077 & GE007 getting closer, and went back down the side pipe to meet them, and record their efforts. (faces blurred due to shyness). GE007 on the right grips his bag tightly, it was only on exit that I realised he'd dragged a full bottle of rose wine all the way down there!

As we all gathered in the side pipe breathing sighs of relief, I packed away my camera. I then climbed the steps and tried to push up the lid. The lid, unlike other lids, had the hinge on the opposite side to the ladder, which meant things were pretty tricky. There was also some weird ****eye (forget first bit of name) hanging there, which added to the problems. After a couple of goes, I gave up, I had used all my strength in the sewer walk. GE077 stepped up to the plate, as he'd managed to lift it 10cms before. A bit of a struggle, and GE077 had fully earned himself hero of the night award. The fresh air was sucked down into the sewer as GE007 & I breathed a sigh of relief. We all scrambled up as a police car shot by, and dived off behind a housing estate. As I worked out where we were, I realised we were barely 50m from where things might of got interesting. But, for now, rest, recuperation and a very well deserved pint. We will return soon!

Things learnt from Trip 1

Don't take a large backpack down a drain that you or others haven't explored before. Or whenever you're not sure of what's down there. If you find the pipe is a backbreaker of around 5ft. Give it a go for the first 50m, and if it looks to be the same height. Give up, and go back to the surface. Find the next lid, and if it's higher, walk back. Endless crouch walking is tough and saps strength real quick. Try to get some sort of meat hook, that is in an 'S' shape, to hang bags off ladders etc. Bring clothes pegs or bulldog clips, and use them for holding your gloves while searching for things or your camera in your bag. I peg gloves to the top of my chest waders.

Trip 2 - September 2010

A few weeks after Trip 1, rain had stopped play a few times, we gathered at the normal spot. This time we were keen to avoid the crouching of the previous week. We had all learned to carry less stuff, and leave the dSLRs at home. I was carrying a point & shoot. We went down the drain lid quite literally where we met up. A quick lift and down we all shot, GE007, GE077 and myself. The first thing we all rejoiced at was the water level was much lower. The drain height was probably similar to what it had been on trip 1. We set off Southbound, and soon came to a side exit. Progress was much quicker than before.

A quick rest, and on we went, we soon came to our first feature, as a side drain once entered here, now bricked up.

The path o f the brook was turning to the left, and not heading South which I was expecting. Instead it appeared to be following the path of King St. We came to another side exit, and again, a brief rest.

Draining certainly isn't the most glamorous of activities, not least do you have to put up w ith what you're walking through, but you can spend a lot of time staring at the person's in front of you's bum!

We didn't have to go far, before we came across quite a cool feature, two side drains entering the main flow. GE077 & GE007 pose as Sewer Kings on their throne.

Trudging on, we came to a large junction, where the Eastern branch of the brook rejoins.

A few pictures were taken here, and then it was back to the trudging over squelchy and crunchy fresh down the pipe.

A side exit, and lots of tramping later, we came into a small room, with boards and brick forming a barrier from something on the other side. I thought it might be an interceptor from the layout, but it was actually something else.

On the other side was a flat dry area, and then an alcove with a ladder down to a lower level.

It was decided to keep on going and then come back for this area. Straight after the room, the brook was stolen by an unknown route as it was too small. It likely lead to the nearby Western interceptor. GE077 takes the precarious walk over the brook diversion.

GE077 stepped over the wooden barrier, and we were in deep water. It was threatening my knee. We all crossed and happily walked down the much larger pipe. It was probably only a 100m if that, and we came to the end for us in the Brook. On the other side was probably the Western Interceptor, running under the A4.

We shuffled back through the deep water, and back in the junction room, it was time to find out what was 'down there.'

We all trundled along, relieved it had a relatively high ceiling and no flow at all. We passed a few exits that went up to manholes and no easy lifts. Eventually it just came to a dead end after about 150m. It must be some sort of storm tank. Although i'm not sure where the water would go. In the storm tank.

We then wandered back up the Stamford Brook a few stops to an easy lift and exited. It had been a pretty good night, although sadly we hadn't got to the Thames.

Trip 3 - September 2010

This time we wanted to go from Stamford Brook Tube station, to Askew Road, and down to the lower branch of the Brook. Basically joining up the bits we'd missed. GE077 was sick, so just GE007 and I for this one. We dropped down and were pleased to be greated with low flow. Although the gravel in there is a bugger, as it steals those vital cms that give you more space. It wasn't long before we came across a side tunnel off the main tunnel.

Wisely, we opted to look at the pipe the same size as the one we were in. It had an interceptor chamber in it. It was GE007's first interceptor, and my second or third. They are always a bit scary I find, just the darkness and speed at which they operate.

A look at the interceptor going off to the left, and our entrance/exit on the right.

Knowing which way the Brook runs, I knew that we'd have to go up the small side tube we'd just passed. Oh Joy! We got into crouch mode and set off, it actually got a bit smaller as we ploughed on, and we developed a crouching style of walking that was neither pleasant or comfortable. The odd pair of rats in the side exits were another pain. We were desperate to stand up and stretch. We ploughed on and eventually came to a larger chamber. Off to one side was a junction room with the interceptor still flowing rapidly past. The entrance hole to this chamber comes up to my hip, and that is what we'd been crouching through for the last half hour.

Looking West up the interceptor in the direction we'd come, it now had a second pipe joining it here.

The other pipe we'd come into before the junction room, twisted south past this junction room. It also had concrete banked sides, making me think it was more of a culvert than a sewer.

All down the sides until the second side exit were little white fluff fungus clouds. It was quite cheering in the bleak gloom.

We trundled on a few more side exits, but none as I'd thought, were easy lifts, mostly manholes in the middle of the road. My thighs were starting to hurt, and I was beginning to experience dehydration and lack of energy to keep going. I knew from a GPS reference (holding iPhone to below a manhole) that we were only a third of the way down. GE007 was keen to keep going South, and in my head so was I, but I didn't know if I could make it. We knew the nearest easy lift was back at the interceptor junction.

Sod it, i trudged off south bound, but within 20m or so, I could barely see due to the amount of condensation. GE007 was a metre away from me, and his head torch wasn't blinding me at all. I felt this wasn't good, and we headed off back to the last Easylift. When working out where we were, I had calculated 2 side exits, but in a cruel twist it was 3. The end of the last section I was mostly shuffling along the concrete banks. Absolutely shattered. I took a needed rest for a few minutes, before finding the strength to pop the lid. And quite literally fall out onto the pavement. I was so totally fucked.

We walked off to Furnival Gardens, where I knew there were some lids and the outfall. However in our wasted state we walked over the lid I was after, and tried completely the wrong lid, that would have belonged to the Western Interceptor. We tried the lid above the outfall, but beneath some release handles were rusted tight.

It had been an interesting explore, but one I wouldn't want to contemplate doing again, or one of similar size. There was only one thing I wanted after all this...

Cheers to GE007 & GE077 in persevering with this. Top lads.

For reference, a map of what we did. It's in the Maps section (logged in users only).

Epilogue (Unfinished)

Following on from JD's (JonDoe_264) comments (when this was posted on a previous site), I knew there was unfinished business with the Brook, and being something of curious completest, I wanted to know. So I nipped up to the Upper Mall at low tide on Sunday, and went to the outfall of the Brook.

I wanted to solve the mystery of the 'last stretch' of the brook from the Town Hall under the A4 and then Furnival Gardens to the Thames. It's my contention that in the photo above where we are at the end of the brook, or as far as we could go. That the other side was of the wooden blocks was the Western Sewer (Low Level No. 1 Interceptor). The fact we could hear muffled water flow on the other side added kudos to this theory. JD's theory is that we had reached the Thames.

In the world of London draining, JD's reputation precedes him as the man who's been everywhere and knows the history of every nook and cranny, and when it was rebuilt. However I felt it didn't add up. So I had planned to shine a torch through the outfall. This was based on the fact that I thought it was a grill. However as the below pic shows, it's a hinged flap, similar to other drain exits. Bugger!

The debate left unanswered, I had something else to check. An easylift we'd stumbled over in the dark a few days previous. It sits next to the A4, and in a line between the town hall and the outfall. If my theory was correct, it would lead to a tunnel that comes from the interceptor under the A4, and flows down to the Outfall flap. After flipping up the lid, I was almost knocked out. The fumes were super nasty. After a brief recovery, I pointed my torch down to a stagnant looking grey soup. It looked like what I thought it would be, however without a gas meter and supporting chum, I didn't fancy going down.

So I guess for the time being, the mystery of the 'last stretch' will remain...