Mail Rail at The Postal Museum gets my stamp of approval

On Friday 28th July The Postal Museum opened to visitors for the first time and from 4th September onwards you’ll be able to take a ride on London’s latest heritage attraction, the “Mail Rail”. Tickets for both are now on sale at postalmuseum.org.

Ready to board the 'Mail Rail'?

Ready to board the ‘Mail Rail’?

So what is ‘Mail Rail?

Mail Rail is the secret Post Office underground railway which lies 70ft below the streets of London, which at its peak, carried 4 million letters across London every day! Its full route used to run between Paddington in the west via the Mount Pleasant hub (where the museum is) to Whitechapel in the east with 7 stations in total.

When opened to the public in September for the first time in its 100 year history visitors will be able to enjoy a 20 minute subterranean ride through 1km of the original tunnels in modified carriages. The original trains were designed to carry post and not human beings! However presenter Dan Snow managed to squeeze into one and he’s’ 6’ 6” so most people should be OK. They can’t make them much bigger than they are due to the size of the tunnels!

Going through the Mail Rail tunnels

Going through the Mail Rail tunnels

An abandoned station still with its dartboard

An abandoned station still with its dartboard

The opening of the Postal Museum marks the end of an ambitious project to convert a disused Clerkenwell printing factory into the new museum site, and bring the disused ‘Mail Rail’ tunnels back to life. Once in their new Clerkenwell home somebody from the team enquired with the Royal Mail what they would do with the tunnels, which literally set the train wheels in motion.

Visitors will descend into the former engineering depot of the 100 year old Post Office railway and board a miniature train designed to transport them through its stalactite-filled tunnels. Mail Rail’s interactive train ride lasts approximately twenty minutes and will pass through the tunnels that run beneath the Mount Pleasant sorting office, stopping at the original and largely unchanged station platforms where an impressive audio visual display will give an insight into how the railway kept post coursing through London for 22 hours a day. Clever technology and projection mapping will transport people back in time to help them understand the impact of the railway on our ability to communicate with people across the world.

Mail Rail Mount Pleasant location

Mail Rail Mount Pleasant location

And if you’ve ever watched Bruce Willis’s film ‘Hudson Hawk’ you might not have realised that the underground station in The Vatican was actually filmed in London’s ‘Mail Rail’ tunnels.

Bruce Willis in the film Hudson Hawk

Bruce Willis in the film Hudson Hawk

After the ride visitors will be free to wander through the cavernous engineering depot, turned exhibition space. Stepping into a replica of a real-life Travelling Post Office, the floor will start shaking as visitors try and sort the mail just like a real-life traveling postal worker.

Mail Rail Exhibition with original yellow metalwork

Mail Rail Exhibition with original yellow metalwork

The Mail Rail exhibition shaking train mail room

The Mail Rail exhibition shaking train mail room

And the Postal museum?

Aside from the “Mail Rail” the museum gives visitors the chance to gain an insight into some of the quirky social history behind an incredible British invention – the post.

Celebrating the surprising and quirky history of Britain’s earliest social network, the post, The Postal Museum contains five zones, leading visitors through five centuries of world-class curiosities and providing a different view on some of the world’s most significant historical events.

Other items on display include:

  • My favourite, the sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II used to produce the iconic image replicated more than 220 billion times on stamps.
  • A gold Olympic post box.
  • A priceless sheet of the world’s first stamps, the Penny Black – one of just a few sheets left in the world (all held by The Postal Museum)
Postal Museum Queen plaster cast mould

Postal Museum Queen plaster cast mould

‘Mail Rail’ is something I wasn’t even aware of so it’s fantastic that it’s being opened for the public to experience. Who would have thought all these tunnels have been laying dormant below out feet as we stroll above on the pavements of central London.

Address:
The Postal Museum
Phoenix Place, Clerkenwell, London WC1X 0DA
postalmuseum.org

I was invited to attend The Postal Museum as part of a press trip.

mail-rail-looking-down-the-tracks

Looking down the Tunnels (c) The Postal Museum – Miles Willis

World Naked Bike Ride – London

What experiences are still on your “things to do” list? Ever wanted to cycle naked? Ever wanted to cycle naked around London? Ever wanted to cycle naked around London with lots of other naked people in front of thousands of tourists? Well on Saturday 10th June you have that chance as the ‘World Naked Bike Ride’ rolls into town!

I first heard about the naked bike ride when I arrived at King’s Cross station with the intention of meeting my travel blogger friend Sarah near Oxford Street. A tall chap outside the station entrance asked if I was here for the “naked bike ride”. Intrigued I said “yes” and proceeded to cycle up King’s Boulevard to Granary Square to see what was going on.

Some people were semi-naked while others covered up all their bits

Some people were semi-naked while others covered up all their bits

What was going on was hordes of cyclists congregating and one-by-one getting naked! Some reluctantly at first but others with gusto, revealing body paint, slogans and generally a lot of bare flesh. Certain faces and “bits” starred out in the photos below to protect peoples’ modesty.

Not wanting to look too interested in partaking I hung back, while not wanting to look too interested either, i.e. a pervert. However an organiser was keen to shepherd people into position so before I knew it I was stripped down down to my black Calvin Klein boxers (I stripped myself down and wasn’t aided in this process) and I was part of the gathered procession.

Unbeknown to me at the time my friend was just 50m ahead and had actually planned to take part. I only found he was there too later that week. So there I was, on my 1980s childhood BMX cycling along with lots and lots of naked people!

A light traffic jam as we head towards Piccadilly

A light traffic jam as we head towards Piccadilly

I’d arrived at King’s Cross alone so didn’t feel overly conspicuous but groups of mixed sex friends seemed slightly awkward, especially the groups you knew were doing his for the first time together.

Not everyone was naked I might add. Some were in their underwear, some were topless, and of course many were completely starkers. Bizarrely those who wore full underwear or bikinis looked more out of place and noticeable than everybody else. A case of naked safety in numbers I guess!

Naked bike ride London ambling along

Naked bike ride London ambling along

What lead to many cheers enroute was normal, clothed cyclists going about their business simply stopping, stripping and joining in with the ride! One student I met at Russell Square was early for a lunch appointment, asked me what was going on, and then promptly got me to hold her bike while she de-robed and then took part for half an hour or so. I wonder if she ever did tell her friends what she’d just been doing when she arrived at the restaurant?

Lots of people were fully naked

Lots of people were fully naked

I cycled all the way to County Hall by the London Eye before finally whipping off my boxers and … and nobody battered an eyelid! Although it wasn’t the warmest of days might I add! 😉 But it really was the case that being naked felt pretty normal within the gathered masses … and that’s the reason all these people were there in the first place … as well as supporting the ride’s cause against our dependency on oil of course.

Only when riding near Piccadilly did I feel a bit exposed and that was when a bus pulled out separating me from the pack and I became the “lead” lone cyclist as I reached a big group of tourists with no one else to share their initial gazing eyes. But as you’re cycling along at a certain pace any gawping group of bystanders are soon passed by.

You actually stood out more if you weren't naked!

You actually stood out more if you weren’t naked!

Any tips?

  • Take a backpack to put your clothes in
  • Maybe wear sunglasses to hide behind
  • Hope for a warm day!
  • Be weary of hiring ‘Boris Bikes’ the next day as many naked people were hiring them!
  • Ultimately just go for it!

What’s the worse that could happen? … other than possibly meeting a work colleague or a friend casually walking along the pavement enroute.

Anybody taking part this year? If so also check out the WNBR London Facebook page 🙂

There were lots of pauses along the way

There were lots of pauses along the way