Anybody living through the 1980s will vouch for what a scary time it was.
The Cold War constantly raised the threat of nuclear Armageddon as Russia and the USA faced off, in a real-life and potentially deadlier version of Rocky IV.
While western cinema audiences were rooting for Balboa to overcome the beast from the east, political leaders had contingency plans for dealing with the four-minute warning.
They’d head underground.
My new book, Days Out Underground, is available to buy now and features 50 subterranean adventures beneath the surface of Britain.
I’ve written a couple of other blogs detailing some of the things there are to do deep beneath the Earth, and this week it’s all about how you can take the route that Margaret Thatcher would have taken if it had all kicked off in the 1980s.
In the heart of Essex, you’ll see one of the most ironic road signs in the world. It’s a big, brown tourist sign pointing you towards the “Secret Nuclear Bunker.”
Not very secret now, the underground facility at Kelvedon Hatch contains three subterranean storeys beneath an innocent enough looking hill.
From the surface, all you can see is a bungalow that would be at home on any suburban estate so any spying satellites would not suspect a thing.
Hidden within the house, though, is a lengthy tunnel which slowly slopes into the hillside. At the end of this there are a huge set of thick blast doors, and beyond this a safe haven where officials would have been able to survive for up to three months.
It’s an eerie, captivating place to visit and the self-guided audio tour keeps you well informed about what the many rooms were used for and how life underground would have been for those selected to be in here.
Nobody on the outside knew it was here at the time, of course. The only reason to suspect anything is the location of a mast on the hillside; when it was being built, even the drivers delivering materials had to leave their load a mile from the site and have it transferred to the building by those who had signed the Official Secrets Act.
And if the worst had come to the worst, this hide-out in Essex was to be the home of the UK government. From here they would try their level best to keep some kind of order in the land above their heads.
Radio announcements could be made from here and contact could be maintained with the network of bunkers elsewhere in the country. Air filters, pumps and energy generators were in place to ensure life could continue underground.
Eventually, though, the makeshift government would have to leave and discover what kind of a state the country had been left in.
In doesn’t bear thinking about what those coming out of Kelvedon Hatch would have discovered had the Cold War turned hot.
But visiting this – one of the 50 underground days out in my new book – is helpful to open a window on what life was like before Gorbachev and Reagan met and the thaw began.