GES092 - River F!eet CSO (In Progress)
GE077 was busy searching the South London undergrowth for a new home, so GE007 and I were joined by out-of-towner GE010. We Londoners are so privileged to have so many opportunities for exploring, it's only right that we should share these with the poor wretches that live in the sticks.
I turned up late as usual to find the chaps sitting outside a pub across from the postal theme park that is Mount Pleasant. Keen to get going, we were quickly changed into our rubber attire, and then down a lid i'd pre-selected. GE007 was down first, and called up that all was good. Careful planning and a good map, mean we usually always hit what we want first time. And thus, we were into the River F mainline tunnel. The smell was slightly stronger on the poop side than normal, but distinctly bearable. However the surface under the water was rather slippy. I felt pretty good in my pro chestie waders, but GE007 was taking baby steps until he felt more confident. We passed what looked like a white grotto. Normally I would relish exploring off-shoot tunnels, but I was lugging a lot of gear this time. Also, the River Fleet has a much larger number of offshoots then other CSO's, so they would need a separate trip.
Not long after we started, we came across an interceptor junction, where the River Fleet gets sucked away the current flow off down to Beckton, and the whole process starts again with side sewers pumping in the fresh. GE010 with GE007 behind him. The interceptor on the right.
I'd bought a 5m candle torch on the advice of another drainer, and it had sat in the living room for months collecting dust. When draining one ideally wants to carry as little as possible, so i'd always avoided it. But finally i got around to charging it up, and brought it along. Switching it on down there was amazing. The whole tunnel was lit up. The downside being a rather obvious white beam in your photos. This is looking from the interceptor junction back to where we'd entered the pipe.
GE010 demonstrates an attempt to disguise the white beam from the megatorch, but it's sadly not perfect. Looking down from the interceptor junction.
Another shot of the interceptor junction (Marked C on the Map Below) looking upstream. In times of heavy flow, the water would come over the weir gate and wall into the section we were in. The pipe on the left didn't really go anywhere.
Escape! Should the shit hit the fan, rather than just our rubber seclusion zones (aka waders), this is what we would be looking for rather anxiously. It's a lid exit to freedom. Although this one was rusted shut, not so useful.
A side pipe creates a nice mini waterfall.
Another split. We thought the side pipe might lead to some service tunnels in the area, however it lead to heavy manholes and rats, lots of rats. Luckily it was GE007 who was dispatched to check this out. I was laden down with too much crap. shame.
Further down the pipe, and we came to a wide set of stairs as the River bends sharply onto Farringdon road. Camera is looking upstream.
A few hundred metres further down, and we came to what is probably the 2nd most famous bit of the River Fleet's feature list, the Farringdon Split (Marked D on the Map Below) , where the river, well, i'm sure you can work it out. The main feature was yet to come, that being the tidal end chamber, 600m further down. Props to GE010 for lighting skills.
Time was running late, and we didn't know the situation with the tides, so this trip was ended. We backtracked to find a previous exit lid we'd found. A last play with the megatorch. Trying to lightpaint with a torch the size of a large cat isn't easy!
The same line up as Trip 1, We entered where we'd exited before, and trundled off down the pipe, past the split and eventually came to the large end chamber of the River F. As I descended into the chamber, I guess it sounds dumb now, but I didn't recognise it from photos i'd seen. So I descended and wandered off under the lower section at the back of this photo down towards the Thames.
I came to this section of the Fleet River. It's has a similar tunnel on the other side. Still thinking the huge chamber I was expecting and had seen was up ahead. I trudged off through the sludge, not really thinking too clearly. As I got to the section you can just make out with the silvery ring around the tunnel wall, my leg shot down up to my upper thigh and was sinking quickly. I shouted out probably the wrong thing to shout in a sewer seeking help "Shit!". I quickly flailed around and managed to get my fingers of one hand onto a broken brick, and was able to throw my body weight onto my other leg which still had some gripping on the previous height of the tunnel. I was no longer sinking now, but had to somehow retrieve my leg from the gloop. The fact this is a tidal chamber wasn't lost on me, as I frantically tried to pull my leg up from the mire. Throwing my full weight on to my other leg repeatedly like some mad rocking horse, I managed to start raising the leg, and eventually was back on the previous level. Sweating with a mixture of fear and effort, I quickly got the hell out of there. The metal flap at the end of this passage, has the Thames on the other side of it. If anyone reading this goes here, DO NOT go past the end of the yellow brick section in this photo! I was very lucky.
As i walked back to be met by the others who'd come down to see what was up. I realised the chamber I was looking for, I was already in. I'd always assumed that the large steel flaps to the right of centre in this photo lead to the Thames. They merely enter the chamber from the Fleet River. This photo is looking upstream. D'oh! The lower arches and flaps behind them are for the F River Storm relief exit. Because I'd climbed down the ladder by the River Fleet flaps, and walked towards the mouth of the river. I hadn't realised the perspective of it all.
A group flashgun shot of the 3 of us. GE007 didn't want to be disturbed from licking the flaps clean. This point is marked E on the Map Below.
The end section of the River Fleet is rather fascinating, with lots of little passages, corridors and ladders going all over the place. This directs people to the River Fleet's Main Line, which sits on the upstream side of the 4 metal flaps above.
On the upstream side of what we'll call 'the 4 metal flaps', a ladder leads up to this set of rather nicely rusted cogs and prop shafts.
The Fleet Storm Relief be this away, and at the bottom of the stairs, hanging a left, you come out in the huge exit chamber and access to the Thames.
A corridor down to the fudgefest joys of the interceptor that runs along the north bank of the Thames.
A wide shot showing both passages, another passage behind the camera and off to the right light the interceptor passage, lead to a surface lid.
The top of a chamber that leads down into the Interceptor. Looking down the ladder, you could see the fudge filled interceptor river flowing past at the bottom.
More props to GE010 for the lighting, this is the end of the main F River tunnel. The 4 flaps in the end chamber, are for the 4 mini tunnels here. It's not something one likes to think about when there, but exactly how much water must be needed to call into use the upper flaps?!! An interceptor relief is just behind the camera, hence why there is no flow here.
A look down one of the upper mini-chambers to a flap that opens into the main exit chamber.
The huge River Fleet Main line tunnel, as it gets diverted down to the right into the low level interceptor.
I'd say it was about 6m high, maybe a tad more. The end of the cavernous River Fleet pipe.
Because we had to get to the exit chamber in-between the tides, we didn't stop from our entrance point until we got to the end. So we now started to explore the drain going upstream. Some exit holes from what appeared to be some sort of metal tank behind the wall. You can also see more modern bricks used to effect a repair of some kind next to the hole closest to camera.
A fast flowing local sewer enters the main line pipe.
A more sedate local sewer enters from the right a bit further up from the pic above.
A big wide shot of the main line tunnel, with the two local sewers pictured above. Also the beginning of the split section, looking upstream. See Trip 1 for pics looking downstream. The split section lasts for a 100m or so, and has if memory serves, two crossover sections through the middle that lead to manholes.
And with that we wandered back to our lid, and I was rather glad to see the surface world again. Thanks to GE010 for being a good replacement with lighting skills to GE077. And thanks to both chaps for good company.
A long period of time had passed, and my regular co-horts and I had been busy exploring London's metro system. The last time I had been in a drain was before the summer of 2011, and in the River Fleet. Now I had finished off the metro, it was time to get back in the drains, and the River Fleet. inparticular. We entered where we had last entered to go downstream, however this time we went upstream. I was joined by GE007 again, and newcomer to draining, GE063. As we kitted up, GE063 produced the most bizarre outfit for draining ever. Some sort of green spacesuit that enveloped his whole body, polished off with a pair of wellies. "It's all waterproof" he responded. Little knowing that it's warm and high in condensation in the drains, and one quickly gets hot and starts to dehydrate.
Popping down, we managed to all enter the flow and stand upright, and began the tough walking upstream. The flow was constant, but not punishing. However it was below my knee, and made walking against the flow hard work. It wasn't long before I was starting to feel tired. Luckily we found areas where gravel and unknown debris had collected under the surface, so we could walk higher and thus less resistance. We finally reached our first feature, a weir chamber (Marked B on the Map Below). A row of arches above the weir wall. Below was lower chamber that lead to a 8-10m drop into the Storm Relief below.
Another pipe fed into the weir chamber above the Storm Relief, however getting there would be suicide from this chamber. A side exit at the other end of the chamber led to a manhole cover. While we were look around this section, a roar started from somewhere. We looked at each other with mild concern, and tried to work out the source. It was then we located it as being from the Fleet Storm Relief below. Carefully looking over, we expected to see a torrent of water chugging down, but it turned out to be nothing more than a slight raising of the water line. After five minutes or so, it stopped.
The pic below is looking North in the mainline tunnel, the weir chamber being off to the right. When the tunnel floods it goes over the grey wooden boards, and into the storm relief down the shaft.
The Fleet has countless side tunnels joining the main tunnel, this being one just North of the weir chamber mentioned above. The main tunnel constantly expands and shrinks as we trudge North upstream. All the while, one is constantly aware that the overall, the tunnel is getting smaller.
As we approached the Kings Cross area, there were various attempts at strengthening the sewer tunnel. Here you can see where an iron lining meets the bricks of the sewer.
Further north and another interesting feature. At first I thought it was a bridge that had been incorporated into the sewer from the 18th or 19th Century. Which as sewer exploration goes, is pretty cool. However, after reading Drainsmaster JD's write up, I discovered it was merely a tunnel strengthening point for a public foot subway in 1891.
As we pressed on up the drain, we were starting to get keen to exit. I've always found 2 hours is the best amount of time for a draining trip. We were approaching the 2 hour mark, but we had only passed one possible exit point, but it was heavily rusted. It was also an hours walk back. We opted to keep going in the hope of finding a suitable exit. Another side exit was here (pic below), but unusable. It also appeared to have had concrete poured down it, which had settled in the main flow.
As we trudged on, the tunnel size continued to shrink, and the flow became lower. I hoped we were approaching an interceptor where there's usually a usable exit. However we couldn't hear the distinctive roar off in the distance.
We came across a bricked off weir section, similar to the one we'd found earlier on. This was part of the sewer strengthening for the Eurostar service from St. Pancras nearby.
Upstream from the blocked off weir, was a more formidable concrete weir. Leading up to it was this slippery metal pipe. Thankfully none of our number took a slide.
Having survived the slippery pipe of slippiness, partially seen on the left at the entrance to the concrete chamber (A on the Map below). We briefly had a look around here. A tunnel of some kind went below where this photo was taken. The flow being carried off to wherever the bricked up weir back down the tunnel used to take it. Most likely the storm relief.
We pushed on up the tunnel, starting to get a little worried we'd find a suitable exit sometime soon. We dispatched GE007 up various side tunnels to seek out exits, but no joy. Emerging from a tiny tunnel, and brushing off various families of rats, GE007 shook his head despondently. Hot, tired, getting dehydrated (It's not a good idea to put anything to your mouth down here, although GE007 had a few roll-up fags), we trudged on. We passed under a 1.6m in height short section, and pressed on. I had packed my camera away at this point. And found a possible exit. However the lid was broken, and I could only half open it. Getting out here would be tricky. I noted it to the others, and said I'd have a quick look up the now much smaller main tunnel, and if I didn't find anything, we'd try to get out there.
I sped on ahead, the flow was getting to a trickle, with various vomit inducing items littering the tunnel floor. Poop, tampons, condoms, wet wipes etc. In the distance I heard the welcome roar of an interceptor. I checked the first side exit I came to, again, no joy. I pressed on, and saw the welcome sign of a white vertical bar on the tunnel wall, another side exit was ahead. This time it lead to some steps up. As i climbed holding the torch low and a hand in front of my face, (If there were rats present, they can jump at you in order to escape. By holding the lights low down, they would only hit my thick rubber encased thighs. By covering my face they I could deflect them.) thankfully there were no rats though. I felt confident this would lead to a useable exit as i climbed. When i saw a newish looking silver lid above me, I knew freedom awaited. And as I gave it a push, it moved up easily. Yes!
I informed the others. However as it was GE063's first time in the drains, I thought I'd show him the interceptor 20m ahead. It was a clear open one, and showed a dozen steps down to another tunnel, where the water frothed and bubbled. We then all piled out of the side exit and wobbled across the road to collapse on some housing estate steps. It had been a great wander, but the lack of side exits put an air of uncertainty over the ending. We emerged an hour later than we'd planned, but it was worth it.
The below is a map of the Fleet River, it contains innumerable branches that no explorer has ever come close to doing all of. Of the sewers in London, it's by far the biggest by length and volume of transported matter.Seeing the end of the CSO in full flood would be amazing, however you'd be very dead if you tried.