Postal Museum review
My dad used to be a postman. Apparently he managed to deliver a letter once that didn't have an address on it, it was just a name -- that's how good he was. And he delivered another letter that didn't have an address or a name on it. It didn't even have a letter inside it. It was just an empty envelope. That's how good he was. But unless you happen to deliver letters for a living I'm guessing that a visit to the Postal Museum isn't exactly at the top of your list of fun things to do in London. It's more likely to be at the bottom. But keep reading because there's something inside here that will definitely make it worth your while... a kilometre-long stretch of underground train track that once carried their clattering mail trains.
But before you get to ride the train you have to whizz through their exhibition, and fortunately it's a lot more interesting than you might imagine. (Note: they give you a time slot for the mail train when you enter, so you might end up having to do that first and the exhibition after.)
It starts off in the days when postmen carried muskets and guns on horse-drawn carriages and did battle with highwaymen and pirates on the sea -- not what you were expecting in a postal museum! They've also got bits about bi-planes, the Titanic, Penny Farthing post bikes and Penny Black stamps. Then you're onto the Blitz and how the Home Guard kept the post going. They've even got a few salvaged mailbags from the shipwrecked SS Gairsoppa.
As interesting as the exhibition is, if that was all the museum contained then I wouldn't recommend it -- it's the underground mail train that makes it worth seeing. Whilst you're waiting for your time slot you can take a few photos of them lined up in front of the tunnel and you'll be surprised they're so tiny -- they look like toy trains, like a funfair ride, the kind of ride that trundles around the perimeter of a zoo. You've got to remember that they were built to carry mailbags, not people, so they're not exactly roomy: the sides of the carriage are just six inches from your skin, and the tunnel walls are just six inches from the train. You practically have to sit with your knees up and elbows pressed into your ribs, and if you're six-feet tall you might even have to bend down a bit so your head doesn't bump against the roof. I hope you don't suffer from claustrophobia!
When he toots his horn you descend into the turning tunnel and pick up some speed. This is when it starts to sound a lot like the London Underground: you get all the same roars and metallic screeches and flickering lights that you get on the tube, but now you're screaming past sandbags, wires and pipes just inches from the window. After a few minutes he stops at an abandoned platform and projects a movie onto the wall so you can learn a little of its history. Then it's off again into the next tunnel where he slows up and stops for a pretend powercut. It reminded me of that mine ride in Indiana Jones.
So is it worth a visit? Well it's certainly quite pricey, but they're basically charging you for the mail train ride which is a lot of fun. If you're too claustrophobic to do that then don't bother with the rest.
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