If you’ve read our city guide of Exeter in England, then you might have read that during this trip, I had the chance to visit the secret underground passages in the city.
Today, I’d like to show you a bit more of this incredible network of medieval tunnels that are partly open to the public. Join me on this interesting archaeological tour!
What we'll cover in this article
- EXETER UNDERGROUND PASSAGES REVIEW
- Products from Amazon.com
EXETER UNDERGROUND PASSAGES REVIEW
What are the Exeter Underground Passages?
The tunnels under the city of Exeter were built in Medieval times to transport clean drinking water into the city. They are the only underground passageways of their kind in the United Kingdom!
What can you see in the museum?
Along with the tunnels, there is a small visitor center you can visit as well. Here you can learn more about the reason the passages were built, how the city of Exeter grew and the archaeology of the area. There is also a water pump model where you can see how the water was passing through the tunnels.
What can you see during the guided tour?
The guided tour is really why you come to visit the tunnels as it’s such a unique experience that you can’t do anywhere else in the UK. We’re all leaving our bags, valuables and other things we don’t need in the lockers, watch an instructional video and get our hard hats before we enter the tunnels.
Our tour guide explains how we communicate during the tour, which is important, because we can only move in single file and when she explain things in the confined spaces, we have to be super quiet and stand back as much as we can for the sound to travel.
As I’m bringing my camera (it seems I’m the only one, as usual), I decide to go last (I usually don’t enjoy it when people walk right behind me either, so that’s perfect) and the guide needs my name to check in with me to see if everyone has arrived at the places where we stop. Again as usual, my name is too difficult, so we settle on “Susan” instead, under much laughter of the group.
I’m a bit nervous and I’m not the only one, as one big guy in our group calls it a day and goes back. I am not normally great with small spaces, but my excitement and the fact that on most places you can stand and there is still a bit of room around you, made me push on, and I’m happy I did!
The part of the tunnels that we walk through are lit by this long cable with lights, so you can see pretty well everywhere. If there is something to point out, the guide uses her flashlight.
At the end of the tour (in a part with no light cable) , she asks us if we mind to turn off the flashlight for a few moments, so we can experience the tunnels completely in the dark. It’s incredible to experience what that is like, just how dark the darkness actually is and it reminded me of when I was in this small miners town in Australia called “Coober Pedy”, where people also lived underground and it got dark just like this!
Towards the end, we turn around and that makes me the leader of the group for a little. Then we get to a section where we had the option to either take the wider tunnel, or to go for the real adventure and kneel down into a small section. Myself and just one other person dared to do it, but in the end it wasn’t too bad at all.
We made it back safely! That was AWESOME!
I am scared of small spaces… is this for me?
I have to be honest and say that I’m not a big fan of cramped spaces myself, especially if there is no quick way out. But over the years, I think most of my claustrophobia has faded a bit. I’ve spend a lot of time on planes, climbing church towers, going into lighthouses and even hang around in a few caves here and there.
Personally, I found visiting the Exeter Passages comparable to climbing to the top of a church tower (except with the fresh air at the end, haha). In both places, your movement is limited and you have to walk one after the other person, until you reach a point you have to all turn around and walk back in opposite order.
The walls are close to you and at some points, the ceiling will be low to, so wearing a helmet is the smart thing to do. The space is dark, but in these tunnels, they have attached string lighting along the entire route, so you can actually see pretty well.
So to answer the question… I personally wasn’t feeling any anxiety at all during the tour and the guide made it pretty clear that if at any point we wanted out, she would radio someone and you could go back. There was one man on our tour that didn’t end up going in right at the start, but he was a massive guy and probably just thought he would get stuck or something, haha.
I really think that the tour is interesting enough to be excited rather than scared, so I would say to go for it, unless perhaps you really suffer of paralyzing claustrophobia and can’t even enter a toilet without leaving the door open or something like that. Otherwise, I’m sure you’ll be fine.
I really enjoyed this tour and didn’t feel scared at all, so if you’re really interested in history, you should definitely give it a go!
How can I visit the underground passages?
To get tickets, you have to book ahead because only small groups can go in. When arriving at the time of your tour, you get a hard hat, a little instruction video and then a guide with a flashlight will lead the way and tell you all about the tunnels.
What should I wear when visiting the tunnels?
I advice you to wear closed shoes and a jacket you won’t mind getting a bit dirty (overall you’re fine, but you might touch the walls here and there, I didn’t get any stains). There is a section in the tunnel where you can choose to take the narrow(er) route, there you will touch the floor with your knees as well (I got a bit dirty, but could just wipe it off, they also give you wet wipes at the end if you need them).
How much are tickets to see the tunnels and museum?
Tickets are just 6 pounds for adults and you have to book ahead online to get onto the tour. It’s only possible to have fairly small groups in the tunnels at the same time, so places are limited. We had about 10-15 people on our tour.
Book your tickets here: www.visitexeter.com/things-to-do/exeters-underground-passages
For a more comprehensive review regarding the archaeological significance of the tunnels, I can highly recommend clicking to our blogger friend’s Thomas’ website “Archaeology Travel”. You can find a review of his visit, written by travel partner Jason Summers that will give you a bit more insight:
Planning a trip to Exeter? Make sure to check out our handy city guide:
Planning a trip to Exmouth? Make sure to check out our handy city guide:
Disclaimer: I was invited to Exeter by Visit Exeter and Visit Britain as part of the #STSBelfast conference. I asked if I could also visit the tunnels to review (outside of our trip program) and was kindly sponsored with a ticket to do so! All photos and opinion in this article are 100% my own, as always.