The Winchester

"Not all those who wander are lost" – Tolkien

Quest for the Westbourne. May 2010

with 6 comments


Having got accustomed to the ways of the drains, we prepped for the Westbourne as best we thought possible, with a handful of maps printed from google. With a rough route highlighted along the roads the underground river allegedly followed, we trekked through Knightsbridge in our civvies, heading south towards Chelsea through mews and terraces.

Lids were identified and noted, and when we felt we had enough to work with, we returned dressed to the nines, happy to lift lids in all manner of areas, be they quiet little side streets or main London throughfares.

The first lid we popped led straight down into particularly pooey chamber. A 4 foot square topped stoop led 20 metres to a narrow brick tunnel which led upstream to a tunnel shorter still, and a tiny infeed that wasn’t accessible. Downstream led to a junction where another feed came, gushing towards a slope providing a very fast flow. Having exhausted this lid, we ventured back up and tried another close by.

The second lid we tried dropped down no more than six feet, and again a square topped tunnel led to a brick tunnel just wide enough to walk in while crouching. Upstream yielded nothing, and downstream soon fed into a modern concrete pipe. We followed this upsteam and downstream, the latter ended at top of the aforementionned slope, the former at nothing.

The next lid would not shift. It wasn’t locked from the top, but either years of inactivity or another factor had caused it to jam.

We had the feeling we were close. On arriving home the maps were looked at with closer detail and we were no more then 20 metres away from the main channel, the map provided showing a loose run of the river. We went home empty handed, but happy in the knowledge that we’d made a fair attempt at getting in with the information we had. More info is needed, but this is sometimes the way.


Accompanied by Marc and Brad, we met earlier in the afternoon and headed for a set of lids identified during a short walk prior to meeting. First one failed, second one bingo. In the Westbourne we were.

We trudged downstream, finding out that Marc had been in the day prior, but in a different section of the drain. Without any clues, we headed downstream to what was ultimately a grill and a slope – nothing to get excited about, except a walk back against the flow. The Westbourne had more rats than any other buried river I’d been in, one even daring to climb over my waders at one point.

We trudged on and on, arriving at a flap that was ajar enough to climb past; our eagerness to find an exit lid should the unthinkable happen and the flap close caused us to splash on the slippery brick. We pushed on, arriving at a junction with two separate levels of sewer.

To the left is the steps to the higher channel, to the right is downstream, assumedly to the outfall. We chose to push on behind us, back through the tunnel the photo is taken from in front of. The tunnel was initially egg shaped, then opened out wider, the flow getting shallower until we arrived at the point it flowed into the low level sewer that feeds towards the pumping stations in the east.

We eventually reached a flap that roared at us as cars and lorries drove over the concrete lids over it. A roaring crack, the thought the flap was closing and the only exit would be a split square into the middle of the street caused us to scurry like the rats we were regularly encountering to the point we found a closed flap.

Back along the tunnel and to the junction, we climbed back to the higher channel and walked upstream again, landing at another three way junction that needs investigating with more time. By this time Chris and Marc had departed and it was just the two of us.

We walked back down to our original entrance, choosing to play it safe with what we knew, and exited back into the crisp night air. The drains are musty, humid places where the moisture sticks to you and the light from your torch fades into dullness on the straights. Fresh air was welcome.

We must return.

Written by Winch

May 18th, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Drains

Tagged with , , , ,

6 Responses to 'Quest for the Westbourne. May 2010'

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  1. The Win(ch)

    Bradley Garrett

    19 May 10 at 8:46 am

  2. I enjoyed reading this, in a large part as it very much reminded me of the same trial and error methods we too had to employ to turn up such things. There’s a lot to see down there!


    2 Jun 10 at 10:38 pm

  3. Thanks, we seem to be following a similar path to that which you’ve followed in the past.


    3 Jun 10 at 5:07 pm

  4. To a degree this is true yes.

    The fact that you’re tracking down things with limited resources is reminiscent of our early days. There’s a nice sense of achievement in having put in some leg work to find what you’re after. Having greater resources available is a bit of a double edged sword. While you are guaranteed success in finding what you’re after you lose the anticipation of whether this cover will be ‘it’, When you know with 99.99% accuracy that it is ‘it’ before lifting the lid.

    Glad to read that you’re kitting yourselves out in the full hi-vis get up, keeping things credible.

    Stay safe!



    4 Jun 10 at 7:30 am

  5. We do know about and see online certain things that we want to see for ourselves, but on the other hand there’s a lot of going down into the trunk lines and not finding what we were after. We know the sorts of lid that are suitable but still seem only to be scratching the surface. Last night we had plans to meet another party in a certain section of the westbourne but due to a flap being closed, couldn’t get to where we wanted. A fairly long walk in waders which yielded nothing didn’t put us off, but we’re nursing some pretty nasty blisters.

    Off to Berlin in 6 weeks, sadly most of the searching for info on Berlin Sewers only gives out people complaining that that’s what their hotel room smelt off!


    4 Jun 10 at 9:00 am

  6. Seven years on for me since first dipping a toe in London’s cloacal waters and still there’s so much to see . . . admittedly that’s partly due to my laziness.


    4 Jun 10 at 2:13 pm

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