Just when you think you know what’s what.
Go back many years … The place: Highdown School in Emmer Green. The old building. The cellars. A passage – I think, more or less south facing. What lurks in the cellars? A bricked-up wall. What’s happened to the bricked-up wall? It’s been damaged. Some upper bricks are missing. Beyond them, torchlight shows a space and then a tunnel entrance. Yes, a tunnel.
Well, that’s what we thought at the time. We? I mean me and some other Highdown School pupils. When? This was the late 70s. With good reason? Well, as I recall it, there certainly was a tunnel entrance down there. A tunnel? Well, at least an opening into what looked a lot like a tunnel. Could we have investigated further? No. The gap in the bricked-up wall wasn’t large enough to get over, and what’s more we weren’t supposed to be there anyway.
Where did the tunnel go? Ah, well. At this point things get even more interesting. Bear with me.
Head down into Caversham and head for the River Thames – go down Promenade Road, by The Crown on Bridge Street. Walk a short way along the footpath by the river. Just beyond the war memorial, if you can, get down on the ground and look under the made-up edge of the path where it meets the river. Yes, the river is running underneath the path. Why? It links up with the tunnel that’s now long-flooded.
This is roughly where the red straight line crosses over the blue line on Open Street Map.
This isn’t the only local(ish) tunnel.
A relatively short way away along the river – heading upstream from Caversham – there’s Mapledurham House. And that’s famous for, among other things, its ‘priest holes’ (for hiding Catholics). What do fugitives need? Ways to avoid the eyes of anyone looking for them. Priest holes are one option – and a secret escape tunnel is another. A tunnel to where? Some think to as far away as Chazey Wood and I remember speculation back in the 70s about another tunnel from Highdown going there too. Others say the Mapledurham one goes to Park Wood, considerably nearer to the house. What else would the statue of ‘Old Palm’, half-hidden in Park Wood, be marking but the entrance?
Recently, I’ve found that Mapledurham House’s tunnels are covered on the ‘Dark Oxfordshire’ website but I can find no mention anywhere of any Highdown tunnel(s).* And I’ve no idea how I first heard about any of them.
Now, I have to say that I have no other knowledge to pass on about tunnels, whether under Highdown or Mapledurham. And trusting either distant memories or hearsay evidence is nearly always a mistake.
But I’d also say that that doesn’t matter. While tunnels are nothing that strange in their own right, if you add in a dash of mystery then the imagination can get to work. Why? Who? When? Those three ingredients are perfect for firing up, exercising and entertaining the little grey cells. And that’s rarely a bad thing.
Related items on this site:
While tunnels aren’t inherently ghostly they can be pretty spooky, and as well as its tunnels the ‘Dark Oxfordshire’ site talks of Mapledurham House being haunted. And if spooky things interest you, elsewhere on this site I’ve also talked about local ghosts.
Related item(s) elsewhere on Unstated:
‘Caversham’ is part of the ‘Unstated Name’ group and on one of ‘Caversham’s’ sister sites, ‘Getting Directions’, there’s an item about the pleasure and value in exercising your grey cells.
* By the way, don’t get confused – there’s a Caversham in New Zealand that comes with its own hidden tunnel.