Mr Smith goes to . . . a nuclear bunker

Afternoon tea at the weapons silo

As this portion of your favourite magazine is roughly the size of an invitation card for the mantelpiece, you could consider this a stiffy to an "At Home with Dr Strangelove". English Heritage is thinking of listing cold war architecture. Can the publication of Pevsner's Shelters, and afternoon tea in the west bunker, be far behind? Inspectors have been visiting what survives of the A-bomb building boom, including weapons silos and military bases as well as fallout accommodation. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will decide which addresses are preserved for the nation.

One group of people who already enjoy a nice run out to a reinforced country pile is Subterranea Britannica. They got together in the 1970s to study mines, tunnels, drains - "if it's man-made and underground, we're interested," says the membership secretary, Nick Catford. For the purposes of researching a book, I enrolled. Many of my new friends are cold-war enthusiasts, and produce their own newsletter. I know you won't take much convincing when I say that the spirit lifts at the sight of a new Siren on the doormat.

Conservationists are coming round to the challengingly minimalist lines of the concrete radar post, but in this, as in much else, they are way behind my pal Bob. Bob is an old salt who has finally dropped anchor in Croydon. He knows more about the early warning system of the 1950s than any man of his age who doesn't have a degree from Cambridge and a flat near the Kremlin.

"I'm just nosy," he says of his hobby. "You can't study these things in isolation, you need the complete picture."

I joined Bob for a Subterranea Britannica excursion to a disused "R6" radar block in Lincolnshire. It meant an eight o'clock start on a Saturday morning from Redbridge Tube Station. At ten past eight, Bob said: "I hate being late" - meaning me. (A hangover, I'm afraid: I couldn't risk blaming London Underground because Keith, who was giving us a lift, is a driver on the Northern Line.)

My companions beguiled the three-hour journey by pointing out every passing water tower, CCTV camera and radio mast. It was like "I spy" for spies. Keith stopped the car to photograph a rural police station. Bob wanted a snap of some RAF married quarters. "Remember what I told you. It's about building up a complete picture." The pair of them were quite harmless. Bob's wallet of maps and plans was like sealed orders for a mission that was taking place years after the top brass had called the whole show off.

We found the R6 silo in a farmer's field. It was full of scrap. Men with hard hats and miners' lamps were scrambling all over it. It would be wrong to think that my fellow explorers were anoraks. Well, all right, it would be wrong to think that they didn't think it, too.

Bob asked a bloke in a moustache: "Do you want to see a picture of a Type 7?"

"That's the best chat-up line I've heard all day," he said.

Stephen Smith's book of travels in subterranean London will appear next year

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