Last summer I was invited by some friends to join them on one of their week-end explorations of the Huddersfield sewers. Not very enthusiastic at first, I came back convinced that here is the ideal way to fill those dull days after Cowes, for it is in late August – especially after a dry summer – that many municipal sewers are at their best and offer the most exciting possibilities.
I am told by experienced égoutistes that even the greatest of English drainage systems cannot compare in charm and variety with those to be found on the Continent, particularly in Bulgaria and Northern France. Be that as it may, much excellent sport is to be had within fifty miles of London at such places as Slough and Hitchin, though these popular centres are usually very crowded in the season and one may have to wait one’s turn at the manhole.
If you can go further afield it is worth trying one of the towns on the Adriatic coast, where many of the best hotels have private manholes and some even rent interesting routes for the exclusive use of their guests. Personally, I would prefer to stay in one of the modest pensions which cater for students with limited resources, where in the evenings there is much good talk of sluices and grease-traps.
Beginners should join one of the organisations affiliated to the Fédération Internationale des Amis d’Ecoulement Souterraine, the sport’s governing body. Membership of a recognised club will get you a discount on the tolls which many astute local authorities are now charging and which can make even a simple underground trip quite expensive.
Several travel agents offer inclusive tours at around £600 per person for ten days, visiting two or three of the outstanding Continental systems, with guides and equipment provided. One particularly enterprising trip being offered this year at £625 takes you along nearly 130 miles of sewers in Rouen, Le Havre and Dieppe, much of the way through pipes only eighteen inches in diameter.