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UK Faverdale Black Path, Darlington - December 2016

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History

Faverdale is a northern suburb of Darlington in County Durham, and is well known for being the site of a large industrial estate. Although the area was rural until the twentieth century, when a large wagon works was established in the 1920s, there is evidence of prehistoric, iron age and medieval activity at Faverdale. Nevertheless, as hinted above, the area owes its expansion in the interwar period to the wagon works as wooden freight wagons were in high demand for the North Eastern Railway (NER) company. The first residential housing estate, consisting of two hundred homes, was built to the west of the growing industrial estate, to house the workforce located there. 

As for the culvert, there is evidence from 1939 of a bridge having been constructed of stone and brick at its current location, which was part of the Darlington to Barnard Castle Railway Line (LNER). The bridge allowed passenger and goods trains to pass over West Beck, a small stream that eventually flows into the River Skerne. The same evidence also points to the fact that Faverdale Black Path, a track running adjacent to the train line, existed around the same time as the bridge. Although the Darlington to Barnard Castle Line stopped operating in 1964, as part of the Breeching cuts (a largescale restructuring of the railways in Great Britain) which saw to it that the track was lifted almost immediately afterwards, Black Path still exists today.

By the time it came to the removal of the railway, much of the original surrounding industrial estate had already been demolished, as it had slowly begun to shift to its current location following newer and larger developments. The Faverdale Wagon Works was one of those casualties, as the factory closed in 1963 with 366 jobs lost; steel framed and bodied wagons became more popular and, subsequently, left little place for wooden bodied wagons. The nearby residential area, however, continued to expand. It is this expansion that called for a larger culverted section of West Beck, to allow more houses to be built over the top. The exact date of this construction is unknown, but based on its concrete box-like design it is likely to have been sometime the late 1960s/early 1970s. Modern day culverts tend to be circular to avoid becoming clogged with sediment and debris, especially during periods of heavy rainfall. 

Our Version of Events

Recently, we’ve been working our way through a book. It’s all about experiences underground inside the ‘unknown worlds of the urban subterrane’. In that book, there are several sections (it’s essentially a collection of short stories) that talk about things such as descending into ‘dark and winding tentacles’ which ‘extend far into the subconscious’, and the allure of mystery and curiosity which has the power to encapsulate our imaginations. Others talk about the palimpsest nature of underground places, and how they allow us, if we look close enough, to peel back the layers of history. And then there’s the stuff on the dead and ghosts of the past. Apparently, the metaphoric juxtaposition between the warm surface and the dark underworld is capable of inciting powerful feelings that are steeped in questions about our mortality. It does get a bit weird in places, though, as one guy gets onto the topic of ‘infrastructural fetishism’, where he discusses being awash with satisfaction as a result of experiencing vibrational tremors of machines and brake dust. 

Anyway, after reading this book we found ourselves in the mood to find something underground to explore. As it would turn out, we had a nice culvert we’d been meaning to explore ready for the picking. Our aim was to go out and see if there was any truth in the book’s tales. So, excited by the prospect that we might find ourselves, or a skeleton, deep in the underworld, we wasted no time in gathering our equipment and getting to the car. 

Access was a little tricky to begin with, as we had to navigate our way down an overgrown beck. There were brambles and other spikey plants everywhere, so we took our time to prevent the waders from suffering several punctures. At one point we debated whether we should have brought along a machete, as a wall of barbed branches prevented us from moving any further downstream. Perhaps these were the ‘winding tentacles’ in the dark that one of the writers had been on about? It was night-time after all. Very confused about their meaning, and its effect on our subconscious, we continued on by moving the tentacles with our bare hands. The only thing going through my subconscious was panic about getting a puncture, and the pain of being prickled on every finger. 

Sometime later, we found ourselves stood before what we assumed was the former railway bridge, or at least what looked like it had been a part of it. We stared into the abyss ahead, preparing ourselves for the encounter that was about to ensue. We were going to step inside and look for the peeling layers of history. Apparently, the whole experience is not unlike an onion, where layer after layer reveals more and more. One by one we stepped inside the great arched structure, taking care not to disturb the dangling cobwebs too much. After taking several steps forward we all stopped and took a moment to properly take in the full sense of the underworld. I stared long and hard at the wall in front of me. But, after two and a half long minutes, nothing happened. I couldn’t quite fathom how we were supposed to see into all the so-called layers the book had described, especially when the bricks were caked in years of shit and dirt. What about the cobwebs for a start? How are you meant to see past those? Were we supposed to scrub a bit off? We didn’t have time for that, and nor did we have a bucket and sponge with us, so we were forced to abandon our search for the secret layers of history. 

We pressed on, a little disappointed with our lack of success. It was OK, though, because we had a few more things to try out. Next, we wanted to try and get a feel for the dark, ghostly, underworld, to see if we could be at one with mortality and all that other morbid shit. Further down the tunnel, in a section that was less stoopy than the rest of the tunnel, we decided that the best way to feel a sense of the proper underworld would be to turn our torches off. Surely, if we stood in the dark and listened for it for a wee bit, we’d sense something. So, that’s exactly what we did. One by one we turned off our torches. A moment later darkness shrouded us, and it was as if we’d entered into the arcane shadows of a nun’s knickers. Its veil closed tightly around us and an eerie silence followed. We stood motionless for a while, just listening. Listening hard for any sign of the darkness – the very void that is the underworld. Nothing. Only the dull ache of my back, as it screamed at me for being in a place too small to be comfortable. Until, suddenly, a low fffffffffffffff sound rose from the depths, almost as if someone was blowing on hot soup. One of the lads mumbled something of an apology, and told us it would probably be best if we evacuated this section of the tunnel. These were wise words indeed, for we’d stumbled across the darkest thing possible to find in the underworld. It was the incarnation of death itself: the raw, sticky, stench of cabbage. For a brief moment, as the whiff floated gently past the tips of my nostrils, I felt a true sense of what it’s like to be mortal. 

It hadn’t been what we were expecting, but we continued feeling as though we’d gained a real insight into our mortality. There was only one thing left to do now, and that was to develop a fetish for infrastructure. This was a tricky one. Looking around, one of the lads pointed out a small portal in the side of the wall, enclosed by a ‘hydraulic’ (or so it said on the side) metal cover. “Perhaps if two of us lift the flap, and you pop something in and have a good jiggle around, we’ll understand what all this fetishism is all about”, one of the lads suggested. We thought about it for a moment, and it seemed to make sense, in a weird sort of way. So, as two of us set about lifting the flap, the third among us set about finding a long rod which he could poke into the hole and have a jiggle. He found a stick that was protruding slightly from the water and prodding uncomfortably into his waders, and decided that it would have to do. Getting down into a bit of a crouched position in front of the portal, the third among us signalled to the others to lift. As they did, he was quick to insert his stick. A bit of back and forth pump action was required to clear much of the old stagnant debris, but once he was through he was able to have a good jiggle, as we’d discussed. 

And then he stopped. There was a pause, as everyone waited for something to happen. Perhaps an alluring drain aroma would overcome us, or we would suddenly feel at one with the drain having been so intimate with it. There was nothing for the next few moments, until the slightest trace of something sent prickles down my spine. The smell of egg. All of a sudden I was losing the feeling in my hands, my arms, my face, until it finally consumed my lungs. A great cloud of green gas erupted from the pipe, choking us all. “Fuck man”, someone yelled amid spluttering and coughing, “did you poke it in the right hole?” The lads holding the flap quickly dropped it. Suddenly realising that we’d got this fetishism idea all wrong, we decided to escape as quickly as possible. Unlike the guy in the book we’d read, we certainly weren’t awash with feelings of satisfaction. No, no. We were awash with the putrid smell of shitty egg!

To conclude, then, and to offer our own contribution to the book. Inside this culvert beneath Darlington, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to peel back the history of the place, because there are too many cobwebs. You will get a sense of your own mortality under certain circumstances, but it will require a strong curry the night before. It’s unlikely that people with a fetish for infrastructure will get off on the architecture here, unless egg is your thing. And finally, the ‘winding tentacles’ are a load of bullshit; what they surely mean are spikey fucking brambles, and there’s nothing spectacular about those. As for the allure of mystery and all that, this explore is a culvert, so you should expect that you’ll probably reach the other, unspectacular, end at some point along the way. Unless, of course, there’s a fuck off grill at the other end – and then, the only mystery will be how long it’s going to take you to walk all the way back. 

Explored with Meek-Kune-Do.
 

Faverdale back in the 1930s 

 

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(Black Path is up on the top left hand side of the image, beneath the railway line)

 

Darlington to Barnard Castle Line

 

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The Wagon Works
 

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