Sailing beneath the city

[Image: An otherwise unrelated engraving of ships in London by William Miller (1832)].

Last week, we looked at the new book London Under by Peter Ackroyd, a very readable, if not quite path-breaking, introduction to the world beneath the streets of London. Roughly halfway through, while describing the Islington tunnel, Ackroyd makes a brief comment that seems worth repeating here.

The Islington tunnel, which is open to tours, is explorable, Ackroyd explains, by means of a very long boat that takes you beneath the sidewalks, heading up-river into darkness. “The voyage takes approximately twenty minutes,” he specifies, “during which the voyager, on a barge or a small boat, has the uncanny sensation of sailing beneath the city.”

Sailing beneath the city! With the sense of an urban legend, someone lost on a skiff amidst the roots of churches and skyscrapers, passing through the domes and arches of an inland sea, fishing in cisterns, forever unable to dock, forgotten, ageless, and afloat on buried rivers.

7 thoughts on “Sailing beneath the city”

  1. Yet another BLDGBLOG article that would make for the start of a beautiful setting for a story. You could write an entire collection based on the posts here, and I would read every single story.

  2. Would make a lot of sense when you think about it as an alternative to the underground railway. A network of canal systems and locks.
    And perhaps give some practical commercial use to submarine design in the future for more tricky routes.
    The Tube of the future finally living up to it's name.

  3. I've been through the Islington Tunnel many times. The most extraordinary thing about the journey is that once you're sufficiently inside the tunnel, the water reflecting the arched roof in front of the boat becomes a near-perfect mirror of the arch, so that the boat feels like its floating through the centre of a more or less circular tunnel.

  4. sounds fantastic. I'd love to do this while I'm over there shooting next Feb.

    Great article..the 'roots of church's and buildings' quote reminds me of the book of Jonah when he is thrown overboard. The bible describes him as being at the 'roots of the mountains'

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