Dark Arches and Underground Worlds

Tunnels are pretty much guaranteed to be interesting. They’re hidden away underneath things, they lead from one place to someplace else and there is always that patch of no-man’s land in the exact middle where you’re nowhere at all. If you’ve ever walked through a subway tunnel, on your own, in the middle of the night, you’ll know what I mean.


Tunnels and underground chambers feature in a lot of the fantasy worlds I’ve enjoyed on the page and on the screen. In The Time Machine – one of the first SF novels and the source of the film which inspired one of the funniest Big Bang Theory episodes – HG Wells had his cannibalistic Morlocks living underground. Neil Gaiman’s TV Series and book Neverwhere imagined a whole other version of London beneath the capital, inhabited by Rat People, Sewer Folk and Angels. Lost episodes of Doctor Who recently recovered feature Yeti perusing Patrick Troughton’s Doctor through the London Underground in glorious monochrome. All of these and more work partly on the basis that being underground is scary and exciting. Plus there’s the Freudian angle with tunnels but that’s a whole other matter.

Dark Arches 1

Leeds has its own hidden underworld in the form of the Dark Arches. Running under the railway lines near the station, these huge Victorian tunnels link the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool Canal. They’re incredibly atmospheric. Even before you get to the walkway crossing one end of the tunnels, you can hear the roar of  water rushing over brickwork . If you stand and watch the water flow down the tunnels, It’s easy to imagine they might be the entrance to other places and other lives. Even other times.

Arches 2

Further on, there are more long tunnels which have been tuned into car parks. This is something of a shame. Back in the 90’s, this part of the Dark Arches was home to various shops and a regular Sunday Market. It had an atmosphere all of its own, like a mini-version of the famous Camden Market in London. You could get stoned just by standing in one spot for a while and inhaling. There were exotic people and ordinary people and a few awkward in-betweens. I used to go there all the time, just so I could pretend that I was living another, more exciting life. It felt like the sort of place you could re-invent yourself in just by being there. When I was young, being something different felt like all that I wanted.

Tunnels 3

Now all that’s gone and it’s become home to cars for city centre workers. There are shops but they’re mostly pubs and restaurants. I’m sure it makes more money now but I feel that something has been lost. It’s less mysterious, a place for work in rather than to play. All the same, those tunnels with the roaring water are still wonderful. And I’ve discovered a wonderful coffee shop called Coffea at one end. It’s a bit quirky and a nice place to sit and read about hidden worlds.




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