On our way back from Birmingham on Tuesday, we decided to visit Stapeley Water Gardens. We’d seen the brown signs leading off the M6 often enough, but never got round to visiting it. When we got there, it was disappointing — a large car park and what looked like an even larger garden centre so we decided to give it a miss.
Besides, we had been intrigued by the rather oxymoronic signs that read “Secret Bunker”.
They led us down ever-narrowing Cheshire lanes and I was beginning to fret over meeting a car coming the other way. Fortunately we didn’t. Unfortunately what we did meet was a double-decker bus, but we managed to edge by each other without damage.
We finally arrived at our destination, the place where our elders and betters might have had to run the country in the event of a nuclear attack, albeit with a skeleton staff, as Beyond the Fringe put it.
This was Hack Green, the abandoned radar station that in opened in 1984 after great and closet expense as the potential seat of government for the north west, were the balloon to go up, only to become a relic of the Cold War within five years
It turned out that the meeting with the bus had not been quite so unfortunate. It carried a khaos of kids who had been on school organised tour. But for that, the place would have been closed when we arrived as it only opens at weekends from 31 October.
Presenting ourselves at the turnstile and after some initial confusion of who we were and why we were there, we handed over our money had the place to ourselves.
It contains the most amazing amount of Cold War paraphernalia — British, American and Russian — decommissioned nuclear warheads, uniforms, personal effects, newspaper cuttings, early warning radar systems and masses of communications equipment.
Much of it had a failsafe back-up, for example it has two air recycling plants and the sophisticated VDU system was backed-up by an old fashioned plug in operator switchboard.
The deepest third level below ground was where the important people would have been, the minister or senior civil servant who would have been commissioner for the north west and, of course, the BBC who had a studio ready to broadcast information to what remained of the population.
But the bit that really brought home to you the horror of what might have been was the bunker, a small enclosed room with flickering lights and crackling static coming from two speakers. And every five minutes, through sound and light, you get a feel of what it might have been like when a nuke struck with wave after wave of aftershocks.
I don’t like to think of the place as a museum. It was there and ready for action during the lifetime of the majority of people alive today, even my daughter. Consider that and then the risible Protect and Survive public information films don’t look quite so silly.
Someone, somewhere thought nuclear attack was a credible threat. Think about that and shudder.