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As a species I think it's fair to say we are a nosey bunch. Not just because we tend to stick our noses in other people's business without realising it, but because we are famous for letting curiosity get the better of us.
Say you pass something on the street that stands out like a sore thumb; your eye automatically navigates towards it and urges you to look closer. Your brain sends you signals and that persistent conscience on your collar beckons you to travel deeper into the crows nest. That's something nobody can fight, and you know what? Sometimes life can be a whole lot more interesting should you choose to listen to that echo repeating at the back of your neck. So for when that voice inside your head tells you to fall deeper into the rabbit hole, why not invite the adventure into your life and allow yourself to fall?
There's no denying that we're all out here trying to make the most of our short time on this earth, and so when adventure comes a-knocking, it's our decision as to whether or not we answer the door. For that slight decision can change our lives forever or alter the way we see things in life. An alternative route to work, a new method of transportation, a second language—all things that can heavily impact us for better or for worse.
Urban exploration is something that has the ability to deliver a history lesson at the expense of inviting us into territories unfamiliar to our own. Like tearing us away from our nine-to-five lifestyle and throwing us deep into a monochrome abyss where nothing is recognisable. There is no neighbourly faces to greet us nor wish us well, and nine times out of ten we'll find ourselves facing up against the barrel of paranoia. And yet, it somehow drags us in every time. As if we are given the opportunity to leave the comfort of own own homes and delve directly into the torn pages of a lost chapter in a history anthology.
Through the nail-biting fear of leaving the familiar we are able to decide whether or not we wish to pursue history in the rawest format imaginable. Armed with an open mind and the dusty lens of a camera and torch we are welcomed into a whole other universe filled with dereliction and stories untold. Hospital records, school reports, artwork, decade-old council tax bills - all items that once held a place within a family or business; now lost and forgotten amongst countless piles of debris and woodland clusters tucked deep away in every corner of the earth.
Listening in to that voice once in a while isn't all that bad after all, and say the next time your iris begins to wonder, perhaps you might be willing to follow it. If only for a while.
URBAN EXPLORATION IN A NUTSHELL:
URBAN EXPLORATION, or better known to most regulars as 'Urbex', is the art of visiting abandoned structures and uncovering there once cherished memoirs. Through the power of gripping reports and stunning imagery we are able to portray an ideal picture of what a property used to look like back in its golden era.
Urbex has been around for many, many years; right back to the stone age itself perhaps. Although back then I can't exactly imagine people were overly bothered about a derelict brick or two. Yet in today's generation the world of exploration has expanded beyond our wildest dreams, to the very point of being on the lips of every individual who has access to the net.
Through the power of social media the urban community has been able to share their adventures for decades; giving the public a glimpse of what life used to look like behind the several closed doors which had been forgotten about many moons prior. With endless catalogues of pictures and a whole showreel of clips and trailers; there is just no stopping the wildfire that is urban exploration. And so long as technology overrides our tiny little palms there will always be a better picture to capture or a higher quality report to be written.
There will always be closed doors. There will always be another one closing tomorrow. There will always be a history and a story to find so long as there are people willing to discover it.
DEFINING AN EXPLORER:
Take a history student for example. Say they're so indulged in the subject that they decide to take it one step further and actually visit the location they've been studying. Through the power of urban exploration those students are able to physically capture history unfolding before their very eyes, without the use of a textbook or four-hour lecture on timeline events.
An explorer takes pride in the journey itself, and not in the hope of becoming Facebook famous from taking the perfect shot at the exact right moment.
Anybody who takes it seriously will understand that the real adventure comes from looking away from the lens and more towards the world surrounding you; watching the ruin crumble like clockwork as a dying portrait of ancient laughter circles above you. With hand-me-down trinkets and Tudor outfits spread before you; packing a hard-hitting emotional punch that leaves you almost overwhelmed and grateful to even be sharing the experience with the spirits of past.
A true explorer does not think of fame nor fortune. A true explorer just wants to be taught and enlightened, because we are all students, and we all want to learn. That's really all we need.
Anybody that is out for alternative motives is unlikely to be the explorer I reference in this article. So be aware of the differences, because not everybody in the business is identical.
THE RISKS INVOLVED:
Urbex is of course a rather risky business to dive in to, and regardless of how physically active you might consider yourself to be, you can never quite prepare for every encounter you come across in the world of dereliction. This can often mean having to face the odd tight squeeze or tiptoeing across a platform that has seen much, MUCH better days. It matters little if you are the strongest unit in the county when facing an enclosure of asbestos and chalk clouds. Because at the end of the day, we are all human, and the first thing to remember when entering a crumbling building is that we are only sacks of meat and nothing more. We are NOT invisible. We DO get hurt.
Each explore is a whole new adventure, and so long as you are willing to strap yourself with the essential gear and take into account the risks on hand, then the journey itself can escalate to a whole new level of wondrous tranquility where anything is possible.
The sights we see, the memories we create, the backlog of memoirs we store away for future conversations with our grandkids; it all becomes an addiction sooner or later.
And yet, we aren't able to create these memories to begin with if we do not follow the basic guidelines of health and safety when leaving our homes every morning. Because without a basic structure on how to not only treat our body, but also our minds, we are essentially asking for trouble before even passing GO. So before even assessing a situation, it is ALWAYS essential to have the kit and the correct attitude before taking that initial step forward.
But remember. If something looks dangerous, DO NOT risk yourself for the sake of the adrenaline rush. People have lost their lives in a hobby as dangerous as this, and many more are likely to should they not keep their wits about them.
So as a rule of thumb. ALWAYS assess the situation before taking the step forward, and NEVER put yourself at risk if you feel the urge to step backward. It's as simple as that.
Play it safe. That way everybody wins.
THE ESSENTIAL KIT:
When it comes to Urbex there is a rather endless scroll of equipment you might consider bringing with you on your travels. That can either be a blessing or a curse of course, because frustratingly there are several factors to take into account before gearing up and heading out. One of them being the location you plan on visiting and whether or not a large kit is suitable or if a smaller compact kit is preferred.
Whatever your case, it is always worth researching the location before packing up, because the last thing you want is to feel encumbered whilst slogging through a sewer pipe. So do yourself a favour and study up, and take into account every little thing you may or may not need.
Now, the things you WILL need are:
x1 Flashlight (For those dark and dingy hallways you'll encounter)
x1 Backpack (Preferably lightweight and waterproof)
x1 Phone (Fully charged!)
x1 Camera (For all of those juicy highlights)
x1 Tripod (To get that perfect crisp shot)
x1 Small First Aid Kit (For obvious reasons)
x1 Dust mask / Respirator (To protect you from all that toxic air you might encounter)
x1 Water (Because you never quite know just how far you'll be going)
ALWAYS be equipped. ALWAYS be prepared for any situation. There's no knowing when you might submerge or resurface again in the world of urban exploration. So remember, your kit is your closest friend out there. Keep it light. Keep it essential.
It's a dangerous world out there - so take care of your gear and it'll take care of you! Simple.
THE LAWS BEHIND THE LOST:
Whilst technically it isn't frowned upon to take a peek at something that catches your eye once in a while, it is rather discouraged to go further than the wandering eye, especially when that involves testing the patience of a hardworking security officer who just wants to make ends meet each day.
One thing to remember is that although a property is technically abandoned, it is still worth noting that there is still an owner somewhere in the world, and without said owners permission to enter the premises, you are basically trespassing. That is something nobody can fight. It is what it is and unless you have permission or a letter approving your visit, the chances of getting into trouble are painstakingly high.
Now I'm not going to promote trespassing here. That's entirely your decision as to whether or not you are willing to take the ethical routes in order to secure your history lesson or just bypass the malarky and skip the paperwork and jump straight in. That's your call, plain and simple.
The world has hundreds of thousands of abandoned sites dotted around, and simply venturing into one can sometimes seem almost too easy. But always remember that there is a chance of being caught, and if you aren't supposed to be there, then be prepared to do some talking.
Now, the main rule that I PLEAD you to follow is this.
DO NOT RUN.
Please. Just don't do it. It's difficult enough trying to defend Urbex as it is what with the hoodies of todays generation giving it a bad name. So do yourself a favour and keep your cool, and if you get spotted out there, be the man (or woman) and put your white flag in the air. You've been defeated.
Now I'm not going to tell you you'll go to jail if you get caught, because chances are the security will be too lazy to bother notifying any further authorities, and the paperwork involved is just something they'd rather not deal with. So for when that time comes (if it does) just remember to put on that friendly face and explain yourself clearly. Because if you look like you're up to trouble, they're going to assume you were up to trouble. So smile, baby.
Plus, I can safely say my partner and I have had many polite conversations with security, and on occasion we've even been given a history lesson right there on the doorstep. Why? Because we didn't pose a threat to either the property or the history, and we made sure they knew that.
We never darted off towards the bushes and threw our hoods up in hope of vanishing between the leaves like chameleons. We simply waved and slumped our feet across the premises towards the officers; politely and calmly.
Trust me. Do that, and you might just get off with a slight warning and a slap on the wrist. That's all you'll get.
So in a nutshell; don't be a damn hero. Just deal with the consequences.
MEET THE UNDESIRABLES:
Sadly, it is frustratingly easy to confuse a yob with a baseball bat and a genuine person with a camera who just wants to see something for how it was and not how it could be. That's the problem with locations such as abandoned buildings; you can get an enormous flutter of characters that can range anywhere from the homeless to the youths, drug dealers to explorers. Unfortunately it's finding the right group to clash with when experiencing the history for yourself.
Nine times out of ten you'll realise you're alone, despite the endless graffiti telling you you're going to die should you choose to venture to room 308 on the highest floor. Because the chances of actually encountering another individual are fairly slim, and should you collide with any other person it's usually best to approach them openly, because honestly, nobody wants to see you sprinting away like you were up to no good. That's the youths jobs in this scenario. The same youths that give urban exploration a bad name in todays society.
Make no mistake. These youths are NOT considered as explorers. These are merely children looking for an output in order to channel their pre-pubescent rage. And that usually means by smashing and stealing anything they come across on a rocky road to juvenile detention. So bare that in mind when you think of the class types that involve themselves in the hobby.
A real explorer defines his or her adventure by the experience itself, not by the thought of financial gain or reckless behaviour.
So be aware. They do lurk. They do loiter. They do not however, pose a threat... providing you do not give them a reason to think you are one.
That reminds me. Don't threaten anyone. Be nice.
LOCATING THE ABANDONED:
If it were as easy as walking right out the front door and bumping into something then everybody would be into Urbex. However sadly, it is not. In fact the dedication and gruelling hours put into research is actually quite disheartening if you spend too long on it. But it's the payoff that makes it all worthwhile. That's what we keep envisioned in our minds when we sit up all night scouring Google Maps for potential hotspots.
There's no denying it. We all have that urge in our hearts to just spit it out and ask every other explorer about their travels and if they'd be willing to share their locations with the exact co-ordinates to accompany them. But as you eventually come to learn; ninety-nine percent of those involved in the community are not likely to give you a nice answer should you ask that exact question.
It is called exploration for a reason. So by having everything handed to us on a silver platter we are essentially skipping the effort and pretty much taking half of the fun out of it. So do yourself a favour and get a stack of research under your belt! It'll feel a whole lot more earned once you finally reach the place, believe me.
After a while you'll begin to notice the frustration that comes from having strangers burden you for locations all the time. It's almost as if somebody you've never met before wants to take sudden advantage of your savings account and split it 50/50. They've done no work for it, but because they share the common interest of money with you they like to assume they're able to share it with you.
I can't begin to tell you the amount of times I've had to shut down message requests that fill my news feed every day. With direct questions like 'Postcode?' or 'Where is this?' you can understand why nobody likes dealing with it. Especially after you've spent hours doing your research. So be like everybody else, and unless you've got yourself a good location trade on the table, keep your research to yourself. You've earnt the right to keep those little secrets to yourself and yourself only.
ENTERING AN ABANDONED PROPERTY:
Arriving at any abandoned location is quite euphoric in a sense. Seeing that decaying doorway or grotty gravel path right before you and knowing you're about to step foot into something that was once loved by countless people. That's something that cannot be compared to anything.
Seeing something for the first time can often be terrifying, especially if you're aware of the risks involved and aren't able to contain yourself on how you'll react should the explore go sour.
It's normal to feel physically sick, and it's sure as Hell not out of the ordinary to feel the sudden urge to climb back in you car and go home. That is all a standard procedure before entering any property, and even the most experienced explorers still feel these things before hitting any spot. So don't be afraid to feel guilty or concerned. You aren't alone.
Now I won't spit out a monologue on how to trespass and I'm hoping you ask the landowners permission before exploring anywhere, but if you decide to play the naughty card and ignore the warning signs, then you'll soon discover that not every place has a clear open doorway. In fact, next to none of them do. That's a rarity every explorer dreams of.
Finding routes into abandoned properties can often be tough, and unless you are willing to mould your body into origami you might just struggle to gain access to the spot.
However it is not unheard of to find a nice open window or doorway somewhere. But that all depends on the location you're after, of course. So just make sure you aren't prepared to break your neck just to get in, because trust me, it's not worth it.
That is a sad reality to Urbex I'm afraid. You have to be prepared for disappointment, because unfortunately not everywhere you visit will be accessible. That's enough to demotivate you for sure, so any time you plan a trip, try and aim for hitting at least three locations. That way, if one turns out to be a flop, you'll still have alternatives for after, and you won't feel as if your efforts were all for nothing.
It's best not to let it drag you down if you can't get into somewhere, because it happens to the best of us, and sometimes you'll realise it's all about being in the right place at the right time. So that doorway you saw today might be sealed for now, but come tomorrow, who knows? You might just discover the local kids pried it off with a crowbar.
Be patient. There's always tomorrow.
As for exploring the actual property, there is only one thing to keep in mind, and that is to respect the world around you.
Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.
Enjoy the experience. You are doing something truly amazing and you'll be thinking about it for the rest of the day, trust me. You'll be swapping stories with your friends for a lifetime, and before exiting your first property you'll already be screaming for more. It's addictive like that, and soon enough you'll be planning monthly Urbex road trips with other explorers around the country.
Every explore is different, and each time you'll learn something new; more than what you'd ever learn from a TV series on Netflix. That's the beauty of it. There is ALWAYS something new to discover. So make the most of it and soak it all up, because you never quite know if it'll still be standing one month from now.
Time after time I've driven past new housing estates which used to be home to a piece of history. A wartime aircraft hangar or famous roadside hotel; all bulldozed for the uproar of new homes and council flats.
So enjoy it. It might be the only chance you'll get!
SHARING YOUR WORK:
When it comes to sharing your explores with the world, there are several methods you can use in order to gain the feedback you're after. That can either mean writing your reports for platforms such as 28DaysLater, or uploading your adventures in a video format to sites like YouTube. Either way, your options are limitless, and so long as there are people who are willing to read or watch, you'll never fail to get the attention you're after.
The urban exploration community can be rather fierce, and if you aren't contributing as much as you are openly searching for answers, then chances are you'll find yourself at the brunt of a bad joke. Sadly, that's just the way it is.
However, once you accustom yourself to the social side of the hobby, you'll come to learn that most fellow explorers are kinder than meets the eye. That can usually mean receiving the feedback your after or even being assisted with your future endeavours. It's just about keeping an open mind and not taking anything too close to heart. So as long as you don't comment 'Postcode?' on somebodies hard earnt explore - you'll be just fine.
Some useful links to get you started:
28DaysLater.co.uk (A central hub for the majority of explorers. A place to upload and review reports and photography from all over the UK).
DerelictPlaces.co.uk (Similar to 28DL. With all of your key reports and photography showcases from the UK hotspots).
GuruShots.com (A photography site for sharing all of your perfect shots. A great place to get dozens of viewers in a short space of time).
YouTube.com (The largest video sharing platform on the web. But you probably knew that already...).
HITTING THE ROAD:
So you've done the research. You've packed your bags and made your days schedule. The sun is shining (hopefully) and everything is looking set. So what's left to do but open that doorway and head out for your big explore. I think you're ready to hit the road and start discovering some truly incredible places.
Just remember to keep those golden rules in mind, and whilst urban exploration can be great fun, it can also be very dangerous and should not be taken for granted. There will be times you'll want to turn back and bail out. That's normal, and all I can say is this.
LISTEN TO YOUR CONSCIENCE.
If you think you are pushing yourself too far or start having second thoughts about something, do NOT be afraid to take a step back and live another day. There's just no telling how safe a structure really is, and if you hear that little voice in your head giving your warning signs, then it's probably best to listen to it. Nobody will be pointing and laughing. And if they do, you should probably find some new friends.
Urban exploration is supposed to be fun and informative, so if at any time you stop and think to yourself, 'damn, this kinda sucks'—just call it a day. Urbex certainly isn't for everyone. That's nothing to be ashamed of.
So just remember—just because something is abandoned it doesn't mean it should be treated with any less respect than your own home. Regardless of the content you stumble across, it's always key to remember that there was once history there, and somewhere in the world a certain individual cherished that history. So RESPECT it.
Lastly, DO NOT STEAL. That's a given, surely? I mean, you'll come across ancient artefacts and trinkets from time to time and think to yourself 'Hm, I wonder how much this'd go for at the pawn shop?'
Leave it there. Don't go any further and DO NOT ransack the place. Nothing belongs to you and even if it no longer has an owner, it is still a piece of the history in the property. So out of respect, leave your temptations at home and learn to love looking at these things but not taking them. You are NOT there to find your next payday, but to simply experience the stories and uncover the past through the power of sight and mind. So leave those sticky fingers on the camera lens and not on the treasures. You'll feel a lot better for it, trust me.
IGNORE THE DEATH THREATS.
Abandoned properties host insane amounts of graffiti, and you'll come to see that a large portion are death threat related. But calm yourself, because it's all a joke (usually). Nobody is waiting for you in the basement of the hotel, nor is the bathroom a meth lab. You are not going to meet the split end of a scythe nor are you going to enter a crack den filled with angry homeless men with grizzly beards.
Laugh it off. You are alone.
... Most of the time.
BRING A FRIEND.
It's a known fact that sharing is caring, so why not share then experience with another enthusiast? Or better yet, get them to bring along their camera and snap twice as many shots. That way you'll have twice as many stories to share with the world once you make it back home.
On a serious note, it is always worth tagging on a second person every time you explore an abandoned property, because you never know if you'll need them at some stage along the way.
Say you climb a ladder up to the second floor of a home and it falls just as you reach the top. Who's going to be the one to pick it up again? Or do you plan on doing some insane parkour skills to descend to the bottom? Either way I'd always be sure to bring a friend along. You never know when you might just need them.
KNOW YOUR WAY OUT.
Pretty obvious really, but still worth mentioning nonetheless.
Once you find yourself deep within a building it's easy to get mixed up in the debris and mountains of old vintage furniture, and if you don't pinpoint your exit point beforehand, you might just find you aren't as calm as you imagined. So do yourself a favour and keep that exit point in sight, and if you feel you're going too far, don't be afraid to find your way back to it.
DO NOT BREAK AND ENTER.
This may come as a surprise to you, but it's true.
When you think of exploring an abandoned building you may think trespassing and breaking and entering go hand in hand. But let me assure you, they don't.
Although trespassing is frowned upon and can cost you a pretty hefty fine, breaking and entering is a crime and can end very badly should you choose to go down that route. So if you're thinking about packing a pair of bolt-cutters on your next explore - don't. It's not worth being caught over and arrested for. Trust me on this.
Getting caught with nothing but a camera and good intentions is okay, and if you explain the situation clearly chances are you'll get off lightly. But get caught with the tools used to evidently enter a building that was clearly sealed up? Now that's a story you don't want to share. So try and stay away from the urge to study lock picking all of a sudden. It'll do you no good from the other end of a prison cell, my friend.
SEE FOR YOURSELF:
That's all for now! There's nothing more to share with you, and I'm pretty confident you can take on your first explore without feeling overwhelmed. So get out there and see for yourself the world that has been left to rot. You'll be amazed at just how much has been left behind.
Good luck, and happy exploring. Go forth and do the community proud. We're all waiting for our next history lesson.
- J Tury