I’m writing an article about a secret adventure that must remain a secret. It’s proving tricky.
I’m going to push on, but bear this in mind – a few key details have been changed to throw the keenest of Londoners off the scent. Believe me when I say, if others knew the specifics of my clandestine journey there’d soon be a glut of imitation tours that would ruin the integrity of the original forever.
Madoc (the ONLY name I’ve not made up, honest) founded Secret Adventures a year ago, eager to fill a void in the adventure space. Our guide for the evening, he’d been in touch by email to outline a few details about what we could expect, what supplies we’d need and where to meet. We finally set eyes on each other at a small community of narrow boats near Baker Street.
By the time we turned up, my partner Kelly and I were already a bit frazzled – the result of a frantic trolley dash for supplies that yielded a random selection of picnic items, glow sticks and a bottle of Prosecco (it was a Friday night after all!). I’d also dashed from the other side of London in a Puffa coat on an unseasonably warm evening; the resulting sweat a suitable punishment for my idiocy in the wardrobe department. On the plus side, we both had open minds about the evening ahead.
Madoc greeted us sporting waterproof trousers (I knew we’d forgotten something) and a naughty grin. Dotted around us were eight, shabby-looking wannabe adventurers. We fit right in. With a meaty clap of Madoc’s hands the briefest of briefs was outlined:
"Thank you all for coming on tonight's secret adventure. We'll hop in these boats and head east (he points west). Once we get to our destination we'll slip unseen under a building that rests over the waterways and there we'll find a door, suspended about a foot over the water. We'll tie up the boats enter into the tunnels and see what we can see, then pop down a few rugs and settle in for a midnight feast. The door might now be locked, there might be people there - who knows - that's the fun part of having an adventure. Any questions?”
Oddly there weren’t. Evidently we were all out of our depth.
Photo Ana Bourceanu
Glow sticks all firmly cracked we clambered into our respective boats. Four vessels made up our ramshackle flotilla in total and they were so odd-looking you couldn’t help but wonder if Madoc had just charmed a few locals into lending whatever they had available for the evening. One of the boats was as shallow as a soup bowl and not much bigger – it resembled more of a toy boat really. Somehow two grown men and a photographer obediently fit snugly aboard. A more rugged looking craft, fit with a put-put engine, took up the lead and towed the smaller one. Two inflatable two-person kayaks brought up the rear, one of which was powered by this humble writer and her partner.
After a solid 500 metres zigzagging the waterway like a drunken bumper car enthusiast, we were tossed a charitable rope from the lead boat and towed in truly decadent style. Motoring along at a solid two knots we decided it was the perfect moment to pop open the Prosecco and indulge in the sights. We didn’t regret it! London by night, in a boat lit by glow sticks, on a waterway, weaving through parks, slipping under bridges, scraping under weeping willow tree branches and with bubbly in hand, wow…it’s a privilege I suspect only a few have enjoyed.
A sharp (two knot) turn eventually took us under a mysterious building where we discovered the legendary door, just as described - suspended above the water. And I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time…that childish sense of anticipation and excitement. That and the wetness seeping through my trousers. The group was positively giddy as we bound out of the boats and headed into the tunnels.
Photo Nat Ward
Without wanting to detract from the dream-like memory of the tunnels – or catacombs as they were more romantically (albeit incorrectly) labeled – they were, quite frankly, a bit grubby. In essence they were exactly what you’d imagine a tunnel under a cobbled London street might look like…except they were vast.
The longer we explored, the deeper we delved. The vaulted ceilings became ever shallower and the air felt so still. It was like a vacuum, a dead space. The eerie atmosphere made you acutely aware of what these walls had witnessed over the centuries. So stale was the air, so sinister the feeling of being so isolated that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
Naturally Madoc thought this the perfect spot for our feast. We chucked down a couple of rugs and a tablecloth for the goodies to be shared amongstus. It was like being a kid camping in the garden, albeit with a dash more Parma ham and Malbec than I remember.
More candles were lit, a couple more glow sticks were cracked (never underestimate the potential of a rushed trip around Poundland) and we settled in for what was surely the most unique dinner party taking place in London. Maybe in the whole of the UK? Who knows, maybe even the whole world?! Eight strangers tucked in, chatting like a group of old friends, sharing stories and bonding over a shared secret adventure.
Photo Ana Bourceanu
Appetites satiated, we embarked on the return leg of our journey. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were all filled with a sense of satisfaction that only comes from an evening well spent. The contrast with the bright lights of the London Underground only served to heighten how surreal the whole adventure had been.
What did we learn from our evening? Well in no particular order I’d say…
- It’s really hard to take a good picture with your phone when enveloped by pitch black.
- There isn’t a place in London that graffiti artists haven’t reached. No matter how deep the hole.
- London really does have the loveliest and most fun strangers, of whom several we met that night.
- Oh…and when someone suggests you need waterproof trousers on an adventure. Take waterproof trousers!
You can come on your own Secret Adventure by visiting www.secretadventures.org or the Facebook group. Secret Adventures organise all sorts, from night kayaking under Tower Bridge, Wild camping on Secret Islands and Artic Wilderness Adventures.
By Emma Falkner