200 yards from Hack Green locks moorings on the Shropshire Union canal, halfway twixt Nantwich and Audlem. Entry as of 2017 £9.25 per adult survivor. Tours available, otherwise just wander around at will. I took a really good gander and spent two hours there. Allow time to watch a 45 minute film “The War Game” in one of the two cinemas – it will chill you to the classic Pathé bone, and will leave you nervous for weeks afterwards.
The structure is not what I had expected. Concrete walls six feet thick, certainly, and some hefty “blast” doors of steel, but the complex is hardly deep underground – at least, not the portion that we are allowed to know about. There may be lots more below that is just hidden from yonder public, or there may be not. It must be said that the bunker is situated about as far away as one can get in a country the size of a postage stamp from airports, air bases, major conurbations and industry. Perhaps that is why it seems to have less of the subterranean about it than I had expected? Two floors, albeit two floors separated from the world by what looked to be eight-foot thick concrete floors and ceilings.
There was only one room in which I began to develop claustrophobic fevers, and that was a small room used to demonstrate what it might have been like sheltering there from a noo-cue-lar explosion some miles away. The room was dark, dank and had one door. Much like the rest of the complex I had the whole place to myself, so I sat alone on an uncomfortable old office chair and awaited the promised “detonation every five minutes”. Somewhere in there they had buried sub-woofers, deep, guttural, belly-shaking sub-woofers. Sitting alone in a simulated global disaster for such a relatively long period waiting for another bomb to go off was an experience. Doubtless an experience that will feature in future dreams whether I want it to or not.
This one room managed to recreate for me a gut feeling that I experienced one summer morning in the early nineteen-eighties. I was driving to work through Lincolnshire on the A16 towards Louth to open up our office when a classic missile flew past, following the road, at what seemed almost tree-top height. It was white with red or orange sections, classic fins, and literally going like a rocket. I stopped my car and got out, as did the only other two car drivers on the road at that time. We all three of us just stood, watched it disappear and waited for the mushroom cloud, the flash and the blast. They never came, obviously, thankfully, but waiting for them was just about the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced – visceral, scarring and unforgettable. A missile in the air? What could it possibly mean except annihilation, the end?
Being English of course, we then just shrugged, doffed our caps to one another, got back into our cars and continued our journeys. I can only speculate that the missile was either a test firing or “one that had got away from” RAF Binbrook, not far distant and, during that era, a live base for such horrors.
The rest of the bunker has rooms set up as they might have been for the various functions that would, for some insane, unfathomable reason have been performed there after big boomy bang-bang.
The BBC has its suite for emergency broadcasts. I wonder if, being now a shadow of their former selves and totally bereft of journalistic talent or integrity, do they still have such suites or broadcast responsibilities in the real, operational shelters? I doubt it very much.
There are medical rooms, administration rooms, rooms kitted out to handle thousands of telephone calls from, well – whom? I may only assume to handle thousands of (utterly pointless) calls from folk in other official shelters, all doing similarly meaningless, post-apocalyptic nonsense before they all died in their burrows.
Two thirds or more of the rooms hold equipment to document and detail the minutiae of the human species’ demise. Machines to track incoming, to plot outgoing, to map hits on battleships and submarines and to measure the surely ever-increasing levels of Strontium Gadzooks and Uranium Urarsium spreading over the globe. There was everything but a ticker-tape machine to track the post-bomb falling prices on the LSE, the NASDAQ, the Ying-Tong Ying-Tong and the Piddle Hi Po money markets.
There was a room designated for the Fire Brigade, as they are still known by me and as they used to be called by everyone else before the Political-Correctness & Social Justice Warrior Plague took savage hold of the nation’s spinal columns, separating our brain-glands from our cojones. Presumably the county brigade brass would have been in there saying things such as “ooh, look – that’s a lively one” and “gosh, there goes our very last ladder unit”.
Let’s face it, once a Soviet MKIII Blojah-Titsov missile is within sight you’re not going to be able to do much worthwhile with a hosepipe and 15psi of chlorinated mains water, no matter that you have the new sprinkler nozzle attachment.
Some of the displays indicate that this bunker and others like it would be a safe sanctuary and refuge for those who regard themselves as the “high and the mighty” – government types and even local council wallahs.
If you ask me, and you surely ought to, these are exactly the people who should be excluded entirely from any prospect of salvation in the event of war, nuclear or otherwise. Why, why, why, Delilah, would Her Majesty’s public and taxpayer be expected to fund shelters for politicians who, in such circumstances, have utterly and manifestly failed entirely in their art, science and duties? War is surely the absolute failure of politics, so why save its architects? If bunkers we must have, and I suppose that while we are still savage beasts with barely two higher thoughts to rub together we must, then such bunkers ought to be the sole preserve of not politicians but of the real cream of the species – practical people, engineers, farmers, medical folk and wotnot – and even perhaps those who simply enrich rather than enable – the odd musician and artist*.
[*Anything except country & western or jazz. Any artist except Tracey Emin or any of those other prize pillocks who think that an unmade bed constitutes “high art”.]
In the event of war of any variety, were I to be in charge of arrangements at home, politicians would be given assistance in assuming the yoga position of “kissing their own arses” and be left outside to soak up the rays. While they were doing so they could discuss modern “art” with Tracey Emin et al, and listen to country & western or jazz “music”. They’d have, what, four minutes to enjoy themselves? They’ve unmade their beds, they could lie in them, artistically.
Is this a good place to visit? It’s a brilliant place to visit. The price is, as everywhere decides to be these days, seemingly steep, but you can stay there all day if the whim takes you. If the news on the wireless that morning was full of North Korea, Uncle Sam-land’s woes and Mr Putin’s posturing with a backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s many minions et al then it’s really not a bad price to pay for a day’s protection.
Is it easy to get to from the canal? Stupidly so. There are signposts under Burrow’s Bridge (85), and all you needs must do is to take your life in your hands on the lane for two hundred yards towards the towering new mobile phone and microwave-repeater that stands by the bunker.
Catering? We’re talking nuclear holocaust and you’re worried about your stomach? Yes, there’s a cafe, and it’s the first room you step into. In fact, you can’t step into it until you’ve paid your full entrance fee because, as I was told, “it’s part of the attraction”. Is the food good? I don’t know. I visited in March, and they only do food in “summer”. There was very good coffee though, and what must have been the heaviest, most solid, surely bomb-proof chocolate brownie that I have ever stretched my gob around. What will give you a giggle though is the crockery. Look out for the little “radiation” logo and the “Nuclear Bunker” branding!
On a par with the experience of the bunker itself is the experience of then stepping back out into fresh air and sunlight after your visit. Never before have I walked through a door and experienced such a feeling of relief that in spite of the best efforts of politicians and religious nut-jobs, the tree-breezy water-sparkly bird-twittery planet was largely where I’d left it.
One oddity I didn’t understand though was the cat that came and found me as I wandered around the deserted corridors and rooms (the silly tourist season has yet to begin). I’m reasonable with a camera, and yet try as I might I couldn’t catch a decent photo of “Bunker Kitty”. He found me, demanded a fuss and a cuddle and then disappeared again down the Cold War bunker corridors. I mean, I know he’s safe, as safe as houses, but is he happy? Has he seen the parts that H.M. Public are not allowed to reach? Was he even real?
Look out for Bunker-Kitty when you visit. He probably knows more than either you or I do.