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Bath’s tunnel to a secret underground

It looks like your everyday railway, but there’s a lot more to the Box Tunnel, in western England, than meets the eye.SAM_0382

The tunnel is a popular attraction for visitors to the nearby city of Bath.

But what’s so special about this innocuous-looking passageway beneath Box Hill?

A transportation marvel

For a start, it was part of the Great Western Railway, one of the engineering and transportation marvels of Victorian Britain.

As such, the Box Tunnel was designed by the builder of the railway, famous mechanical and civil engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

From a famous engineerSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This is the same man who, among other achievements in a remarkable career, also helped put a tunnel under the River Thames, built the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship and designed some of Britain’s iconic bridges.

But there’s more ….. much more.

They said it wasn’t possible

When it opened in 1841, the Box Tunnel – which runs for almost two miles at a gradient of 1 to 100 – was the longest railway tunnel in the world.Inside_Box_Tunnel_-_geograph.org.uk_-_325048

Many thought it could never be built because of the difficulty of using explosives to burrow by candlelight at a steep angle for such a distance.

In fact, 100 men lost their lives during the two-and-a-half years of construction.

It’s said that workers used one ton of gun powder and a ton of candles each week.

Brunel’s birthday story

However, Brunel not only succeeded in completing the Box Tunnel, there’s also a local story that he designed it so the rising sun shines all the way through the tunnel on Brunel’s birthday, April 9.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Whether there’s any truth to the story of not, Box Tunnel certainly has some other extraordinary aspects – many of them said to be ‘hush hush’ to this day.

Underground military factory

For example, a secondary tunnel to an adjoining quarry producing Bath’s distinctive limestone (shown) is said to have been used in World War 11 to service a 40 acre air-conditioned underground ammunition store on the north side of the Box Tunnel.

Quarries in the hills are said to have also concealed an underground aircraft engine factory and even museum pieces stored for same keeping.

Cold War city800px-Gpo_exchange_burlington

The intrigue surrounding the area only increased when it was revealed that a top secret 35 acre subterranean Cold War City – code-named ‘Burlington’ – was built there in the 1950’s to house up to 4,000 government employees in case of a nuclear strike.

The huge, unused and abandoned bunker – which is apparently off limits to the general public – is said to have been fully equipped with roads, hospitals, houses and even an underground lake for drinking water.

No mere curiosity

All this means that the Box Tunnel is a lot more than just a 170 year old railway curiosity.

To the contrary, it is an icon of Britain’s industrial revolution; a working reminder of the genius of one of the world’s greatest engineers; a direct link with a world war and the nuclear threat of the 1950’s; and an unlikely tourist attraction.

The Box Tunnel is about three miles from Bath in the English county of Wiltshire.

How to see the tunnel

Box Tunnel can be reached by taking a popular walking trail from central Bath. However, the best view of the tunnel entrance is obtained from the side of the busy A4 in the area.  Take care with traffic – both road and rail.

Photo attribution: ‘Inside Box Tunnel’ by Derek Hawkins [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

GPO Burlinton. By NJ (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

About Ian Roberts (254 Articles)
Ian Roberts is a veteran Australian journalist, PR man and writer/reviewer on accommodation and travel. Over many decades, Ian has travelled widely reporting and recording his experiences. His newsy columns - including Memorable Destination - have gained a big following among people seeking suggestions and objective information about accommodation, travel and destinations world-wide. Along with wife, Sue and her camera, Ian has taken up a particular challenge to help budget conscious seniors 50 and upward with travel and accommodation ideas - including suggestions for holding family reunions. Readers in Ian's home city of Newcastle Australia may also be aware of his travel and accommodation column in a local newspaper.

3 Comments on Bath’s tunnel to a secret underground

  1. The heading says “Visit Bath’s Famous Tunnel…” and yet nowhere in the article is any reference to how one can visit the Tunnel – not least because of the trains !

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