THE BLOG

Finding Secret Adventures in London

06/01/2015 21:55 GMT | Updated 06/03/2015 10:59 GMT

If you ever dare vocalise that London fatigues you, some wit will remind you that, "If you're tired of London, you're tired of life!"

But the city has undergone a major mutation since Samuel Johnson's 18th century playground: if a new bar, shop or show opens in modern London, social media will share, dissect and rate it before you get the chance to go yourself. You've half-done everything in this city, because you've already experienced it through the medium of your phone screen.

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There's no longer a mythical bar at the other end of the Northern line, no legendary eatery with food from an unknown country. No obscure record shop with a treasure trove of vinyl, nor hidden bookshop with gems of literature. The moment something is discovered it's blogged, re-blogged and YouTubed into the limelight, precipitating a horde of trend pioneers who drain its essence before moving on to the next Instagram sensation.

There's something magical about arriving at a place that existed only in descriptions and your imagination. It's a bit of a risk - it could be remarkable or rubbish - and that's half the reward. We've become loathe to go somewhere unless we're certain of what we'll find, so precious has our free time become.

Yet adventure sits at the very heart of our being. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, this sedentary life leaves us edgy, unfulfilled, and the open road softly calls.... a craving we can hardly articulate or understand. With every inch of London logged, shared and rated, where can we find adventure in 2015?

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Secret Adventures tries to answer this quandary. You turn up at a pre-arranged time and place, prepared for meteorological eventualities. Then you're taken on a magical mystery tour. The destination and details are unknown.

On a Thursday night in December, I met 16 other exploratory souls at a North London pub, with a pack full of waterproofs and food & wine to share. Heading down to the water's edge, we clambered into rickety boats and motored a short distance along the watercourse, turning under an archway that I hadn't noticed. Mooring up, we slipped through a boarded doorway and entered a vast cavern beneath the buildings and streets of the city.

By the light of flaming torches, we explored tunnels and walls constructed in the Victorian era. Crossing the threshold into a second room, we could see a light up ahead. Approaching, we discovered rugs and candles laid out by Secret Adventures' Founder, Madoc Threipland.

"I discovered this place earlier this year. Because it's hard to get to, it remains rarely visited. Hardly anyone has heard of it, and it's extremely atmospheric. I thought it would be the perfect setting for the first Secret Concert. "

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After an hour of chatting with like-minded individuals, Madoc introduced Cosmo and Merlin Sheldrake - two brothers from Hampstead who performed a vocal duet that drew from influences as broad as Ireland, New Orleans and Cuba. It even involved the playing of cow-bones. Next up were Jenny and Jamie, the vocalist and guitarist of Strangefruit, who performed a haunting acoustic session. Combined with the setting, firelight and adventure we'd taken to get there, it was easily the most magical concert I've ever attended. All of us agreed to keep the location to ourselves: whilst inaccessibility and logistics are part of what keeps this place special, a single misplaced Tweet could evaporate that magic.

After the concert finished we packed up, headed back to the boats and motored out onto the canal proper. As we moored up at the towpath and re-joined the London we knew, it was like returning from Narnia. But the true delight was that we didn't know what we'd find when we set off from the pub. It was a bit of a risk. And in that, I rediscovered what I'd first loved about London.

Watch the video here to get a feel for the evening.

Film by Steve Melia

Music by Strangefruit and Cosmo Sheldrake

Secret Adventures run adventures in London and beyond throughout the year. It's free to join, with events individually priced. Keep in the loop through the Facebook page or visit the www.secretadventures.org