People have always been fascinated by what lies beneath their feet.
It was in 1864 that Jules Verne wrote about a Journey to the Centre of the Earth and that creative tale, which sees an explorer descending down an Icelandic volcano, is still popular today.
The equally fascinating and frightening Time Machine from the literary mind of HG Wells takes a voyage to the future and finds a whole sub species living underground – producers and slaves for those living a better life on the surface.
The Time Machine is a social commentary, written at a time when many of the UK’s poorest families survived on jobs underground, mining coal, tin and lead in extremely unhealthy occupations.
Today in the UK there are more people working underground in tourism than there are in mining – this an earthy fact I picked up on the road visiting a wide range of subterranean tourist attractions that used to be the work place for tens of thousands.
For my Underground Days Out project, I travelled from the tip of Cornwall to northern Scotland and dozens of places in between, searching for the best things people can do on a trip below the surface which, let’s be honest, is the best way to spend a rainy day.
The result was a wonderful trip through British history and the book, Underground Days Out is published by Conway, a division of Bloomsbury, in March 2019.
Exploring the rich mining heritage of our country is one aspect. There is a trip down a coal mine where you experience a descent down a shaft in the mining cage, while earlier bronze mines provide a fascinating glimpse into how early humans used to trade with settlements across the seas.
Going back even further, Out Underground spaces teach us how people lived in prehistoric times. Early remains found at Kents Cavern, Torquay, or Creswell Crags in the Midlands reveal secrets of the past and rare cave paintings in the case of the latter.
Further back still, cave formations made 350 million years ago make awesome viewing.
A journey beneath Edinburgh’s streets unveils the squalid conditions people lived in during the 18th Century.
And as I ventured beneath towns such as Ramsgate and Stockport I found huge areas that provided terrified townsfolk with shelter during Hitler’s bombing raids.
Churchill planned the D-Day from underneath London and pulled off the Dunkirk evacuations from beneath Dover’s White Cliffs.
Zoom forward forty years from World War Two and people were petrified of a more severe kind of bombing as the Cold War brought a terrifying chill.
Bunkers in Essex, York and Scotland were among a network of underground refuges should a nuclear attack have been launched, and these are the most disturbing destinations I found in a year of subterranean travel.
When I emerged into the sunlight to finish the 50 chapters in the book, I’d been on an epic voyage into Britain’s natural and social past.
The book is now ready to hit the shops in the spring and can be pre-ordered.
I’ll be highlighting some of the trips beneath the surface in future blogs, so get ready to explore Britain’s underground heritage.