Sunday, 28 August 2016

What Crawled Up From The Sewer...

Down along Brighton seafront, there are several arches that house shops, storage areas, and a tucked-out-of-the-way tarot reader.

But it wasn't for tarot that I wandered through this gateway yesterday. I had a far stinkier purpose...

The Brighton Sewer Tour!
This has been on my list for ages, ever since I saw it on TV (and discovered it's a Thing that people can Do...)
Southern Water run the tours between May and September, and they sell out pretty fast, so I was lucky to have snagged a last-minute place on Saturday's tour!

After a quick briefing outside - about footwear, switching off phones/putting them on airplane mode, suitable clothing, etc - we were led inside, picking up an all-important hard hat on the way!

Once inside, we were given disposable gloves and sat down for another brief talk and a video. Apparently this chamber flooded before, with the water reaching the beam across the top! Eek.
No worries about that on Saturday though--it was a hot, sunny day!

After the video, we were split into two groups and set off into the sewers, traversing low, narrow tunnels.
These sewers were built by the Victorians, and have stood ever since, with the occasional addition to cope with modern requirements and usage (such as a multi-million pound treatment works and a sewer tunnel big enough to drive a double-decker bus through!)

We were shown stuff like flushing chambers and catch tanks, and also saw a lot of things that shouldn't be down there--the ropey thing in the water in the above picture isn't rope, but Things That Shouldn't Be Flushed. Like baby wipes.
Also, the sheen on the water - highlighted by the torch - is cooking oil/fat. Washing it down the sink with hot soapy water does not stop it causing problems in the sewers--or your drains.

One of the guides told us that they used to be able to take tour groups down into different parts of the sewers, but they're no longer allowed to let people climb down ladders (they can, however, let people climb up ladders... That's Health & Safety for you!)

Our groups swapped over to see more of the sewers, and this is the one part where it got a bit stinky...

You see that water above? It stinks! (Though there were still worse smells out on the street...)
This channel was actually increased in height from the original Victorian structure, to reduce the number of times it overflows. Because it does. In all its stinky glory.

Despite that stinky chamber, a short staircase from there took us into another tunnel where the air was fresh and cool! There was clear water bubbling through it, and it was here that the guide explained that the Victorians found an underground river whilst building the sewers, and it's this that bubbles through.
This particular tunnel is round at one end, and egg-shaped at the other--the egg shaped tunnels were designed to improve the flow of sewage through the tunnels.

We returned through the Stinky Room and back along the corridors, then down a spiral staircase... more sewers!!!!!
Look at all that nasty stuff on that rail. Don't flush unflushables, people!
Opposite was this...

See that? "Storm Water Overflow Sewer" ? This place does overflow, and does flood. One of the guides pointed out to the place on another wall where the water has risen to. My picture was massively blurry, but the water level was above that sign.
You would not want to be down here during flash floods and torrential rain.

But of course that wasn't a concern on our tour, so off we went, ducking under a massive pipe, and up the sewer tunnel... emerge in a final chamber with another channel of sewage running alongside it.
There were tree roots coming in through the ceiling and crawling down the walls here; I tried to take a picture but it's too fuzzy and unclear!

After this final part of the tour, it was up the steps, up a staircase, and up a  ladder...

...out into the street, where some perplexed passers-by probably wondered what the hell was going on.

The exit was right beside Steyne Gardens, across from W. Pepper's Victoria Fountain, which I wrote about before.

After everyone was out of the sewers, we were led back to the start, where we were shown to facilities for washing our hands. Then we could go back to the first room to collect bags, return hard hats and lanyards, and get free stuff!

This is very handy free stuff! Fat traps - for collecting waste fat from cooking - and a funnel for syphoning cooled, used cooking oil into a bottle, in order to throw it away rather than wash it down the plughole.
The guides really emphasised enough how important it is to not wash that stuff away. Seeing it floating around on the surface of the water really does highlight the fact that using soap and boiling water doesn't do anything to help matters!

Overall, this tour was really informative, and totally appealed to my nosy nature. The guides were entertaining, so even though they were presenting serious information, they made the tour fun!

I'd totally recommend this tour to anyone who is looking for a more unusual activity in the Brighton area.

And now I can cross this one off The List!
038. Go on the Brighton Sewer Tour

You can find out about, and book, a sewer tour on the Brighton Sewer Tours website.


  1. This tour sounds really fascinating! I can imagine I would feel kind of freaked out, too, with a claustrophobic feeling and an aversion to the smell. I toured a waste treatment facility one time as part of a school field trip, and the smell in one room was so strong and gross I felt sick to my stomach.

    1. The smell wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, actually! I mean it was smelly, but the worst smell I experienced yesterday was an area where a bunch of people had peed up against a wall (ugh! So disgusting!)
      The tour was awesome though, and it was impressive to see such a feat of Victorian engineering!

  2. Seems like it was a really informative tour! It's great that they not only warned you about the problems caused by the oil etc. but then gave you the tools to prevent it back at home too. :)