Elvis Presley’s ‘It’s now or never’ belted out from the car stereo as we roared down the A21 into Hastings, swigging cans of Monster in anticipation of the challenge ahead. A drive coming on three hours had seen us arrive at the entrance to the Hastings Storm Relief Sewer with local boys Patch and Davey greeting us at our arranged meeting point. Previous recce’s had resulted in the knowledge that an entrance chamber led down three sets of poo and condom encrusted ladders into a short infeed to the main tunnel, but time was needed to explore the main tunnel itself. That time was today.
The ‘Stinger is a mile long, 6.5 metre tall tunnel that can hold 52 million litres of water. You could drive a double decker bus up it if you could get it in, and it’s easily the tallest sewer that I’ve been in. It cost £50 million to build and was completed on the eve of the millennium.
We kitted up quickly with paper protective work-suits, waders, hard hats and hi-vis and descended into the tunnel, Davey honourably choosing to stay on top with the open manhole, on the fairly justifiable basis that he would be wading in his and his friends own sewage. The weather had been good over the last few days, and although light showers were predicted for the early hours of the morning, we were confident we’d be in and out without these affecting us.
As the first man down, I gingerly made my way into the tunnel, the water standing so still it was almost impossible to tell which way was upstream and down. Our knowledge of which direction the sea was made us correctly select the upstream direction, and we oh so slowly made our way up the central channel while the stale waters lapped an inch from the top of our waders. Within a minute we realised that walkways might exist at the edges of the tunnel and as we walked upstream the waters reduced from shin high, to ankle high, to the fairly dry and spacious space we found at the top of the channel.
Two infeeds led diagonally into a 2 foot wide channel, and the circular chamber opened up into the sky, with a similar height as our entrance chamber.
We set to taking pictures on the slippery surface, lighting of the tunnel being difficult even with a flouro-lamp, a diffused search-blaster, an LED panel light and several directional beam torches. Take a good look at the image below. See the level of flow and the space available to move in.
We’d been here for perhaps 40 minutes, and with a roar coming from the infeed on the right, the waters suddenly speeded up. First they sloped up and over the edge of the walkway, then within 30 seconds they were flowing over the top and running down the walkways. With haste we packed up and the others joined me from the platform on the right as the flow reached our calves, and eventually our knees. We’d had two choices. Either sit it out up high or aim to head down the 300m or so we’d come up the tunnel and away.
Neb’s bag was carried away and we crossed the flow using slings wrapped round our wrists, the combined body weight of the group giving stability to the person deepest in the water. We shuffled down towards the exit with haste, the distance seeming far greater than on the journey up. Shadows and colours on the walls tricked us several times as we thought we had reached the exit, but only reaching stained marks on the concrete wall. Eventually we reached the infeed tunnel and had to wade up through a waist high flow, using an extended tripod to pull ourselves through to the ladders. We clambered up and out, grateful to be out of the sewer, as the thunder and lighting crashed around us. This hadn’t been in the weather forecast, and certainly not in our script.
As we dried off we considered our luck. If both infeeds had hit with the same intensity of flow, or the height or pitch of the tunnel was different, or if we hadn’t responded so quickly, or if we couldn’t get up the infeed to the exit, or if the rains hadn’t subsided, we could have been in a lot of trouble. Hence the drain was named The ‘Stinger.
The only thing left to do was to arrange our accommodation. The pier in Hastings had closed 5 years prior and a rooftop climb led us to a warm and room with sofas to sleep on, just the end needed to our eventful night.