It’s not every day that someone asks if you want to join them on an adventure. A month ago however, just that happened.
Madoc Threipland, founder of Secret Adventures, sent me an email reading:
‘Concert in some catacombs in central London. Access only available by boat, bring food, drinks and candles, unplugged singing in the catacombs. Fancy it?‘
As you might have guessed, I immediately agreed.
So who are these guys? What’s their deal? Let me explain.
Secret Adventures is a meet-up group for people looking to experience the wild side of London. When I say wild side, I don’t mean Hackney Wick on a Saturday night, I mean the real wild: untouched nature spots, undisclosed locations and forgotten passageways.
You might well have heard of this unique meet-up group from their last summertime escapade, a cycle ride out of London followed by a swim to a secret island and a night of wild camping under the stars.
Of course, every meet up is different, with previous exploits including a midnight skinny dip in some hidden lakes, kayaking under London Bridge and night swimming in London Field’s Lido. With no precedent to prepare myself with, I excitedly waited for what turn of events the evening would bring.
The group met at a nearby pub (I am not at liberty to disclose the location) and after a drink our group was taken down to the canal way, where three boats were gently bobbing on the luminescent water.
Feeling like an anxious Bilbo Baggins, I stepped onto the boat, unsure of where I would find myself in the next 10 minutes. As the motor roared into power we began to tow the boat behind us, while the third paddled along under man-power. Giddy with excitement, we soared along the water and into the unknown.
I instantly appreciated the appeal of this group.
Shortly arriving at our (also undisclosed) location, we exited our boats with ease. Or, if you prefer honesty, we grabbed for the entrance and then desperately wobbled our way off the boats, thanking various deities for not allowing us to fall into the icy water.
Standing before a dark entrance, we had reached the catacombs.
Tentatively, we stepped inside. It was damp, dark and with low brick ceilings. According to our resident history guide, the Londonist’s Matt Brown, the area once served as a place for keeping animals.
With the help of a few flaming torches we began to explore. The damp conditions had created crystalline deposits on the walls, and a few people noted that the bricks underneath would sometimes give under pressure.
It was fascinating to explore this low cavernous area, knowing just above us the rest of London was none the wiser. However, we certainly wern’t the first to find this area. There was evidence of previous visitors: a purple monkey spray painted on the wall, discarded cans and used candles arranged in a circle. Who knows what satanic rituals may have occurred in this secret place?
After thoroughly exploring the catacombs, the rest of the party arrived and we threw down blankets, shared food and lit candles, eagerly awaiting the start of the concert.
Once everyone had enjoyed some food and drink, the first of the performers took to the makeshift stage at the far side of the tunnel. The two brothers, Cosmo and Merlin Sheldrake graced the crowd with a hypnotic harmony, rolling lines and fast-paced lyrics. If you’ve never heard of them, I strongly advise you check them out.
After a brief interval, our final act of the evening, Strangefruit, took to the stage. Accompanied by Jamie on the acoustic guitar, the haunting vocals of Jenny Maxwell filled the entire underground chamber. Under the soft glow of the flickering candles, her powerful, emotive voice brought the evening’s unplugged session to a powerful end. If only all music was performed in such an intimate way.
As the evening’s festivities drew to the close, I had a chance to catch up with a few of the meet-up members and gain their perspective. A number of the group were die hard Secret Adventurers’ having come a number of times, others were first timers. One common trait drew them all together, a thirst for something unique, a thirst for adventure.
Soon we were packed up and on the water again, leaving no trace, save perhaps some lingering echoes in the dark recesses.
If you want to escape the hum-drum London lifestyle of all work and no play, join a Secret Adventure tour and experience something truly unique. Tours depart from across London with events priced individually, and much of the proceeds donated to children’s charities.