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First Adventures in Urban Exploration

By nebbish in Culture
Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 11:40:17 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

It's the dead of night, and I'm stumbling through dense undergrowth, a weak pen torch lighting the way. Brambles tear at my clothes and bare arms. Ahead, Monty navigates with a stronger beam, and leads me and Pi up a steep incline. I give up all pretence of looking after my clothes and scramble up on my hands and knees, the torch held in my mouth. I slide down the other side on my arse into a broad trench. "Watch your step, it's along here somewhere," says Monty. We walk slowly, scanning the floor with our torches, and there it is - a featureless black hole in the leaf litter, just three feet across. With apprehension I realise that now I've come all this way, I'm going to have to climb inside.

It's the entrance to a World War Two air raid shelter, in woodland by a disused mental hospital fifteen miles to the south of London. It's entrances bricked up, some enterprising soul who came before us had worked out where one of the passageways was, and hacked through the woodland floor with a pickaxe. Shining a torch inside, we see that someone has manoeuvred a rusting set of metal shelves beneath the hole as a footing. We lower ourselves in, dangling on a piece of thick electrical flex.

At first I was unimpressed. It was a small room, filled with rubbish, dank, and very plain. Monty smiled and let me wander into a sharply curving passage. I turned and shone my torch ahead into a seemingly endless corridor, feeling a rush of excitement. This place was massive, a real catacomb.

Over the space of about an hour we wandered the corridors, which were filled with strange, decaying twentieth-century artefacts - old hospital beds and unidentifiable medical machinery, engineering equipment, shelves of tools fused together with rust. In the blackness every nook and cranny could only be shown in turn by torchlight - each one a new, eerie unknown. Round one corner a smashed-up series of cubicles was scarily reminiscent of a screen shot from Doom 3. The corridor floors were lined with candles from some recent underground party, and I thought of how amazing the place must have looked with nothing but these lighting it up, like subterranean airport runways. Apart from empty beer cans, the only other sign of previous explorers was chalked at the end of a corridor - www.urbanadventure.org (site presently down). Seeing this, I knew that that day I had made my first forays into urban exploration. I was an urban explorer.

Earlier in the evening I had had what was for me a much more frightening urban exploration experience. We'd met up with the creator of undergroundkent.co.uk and his wife on the Isle of Grain, a desolate, industrial marshland flat on the Thames Estuary, where the suburbs fade into a disjointed landscape of power stations, housing estates, ancient military defences and boggy wasteland.

The object of the evening's venture was Grain Tower, a bizarre relic that had seen service in three wars: first as a Napoleonic gunning tower, ready to launch cannonballs at the French; then in the First and Second World Wars, when it had been extended and improved to protect the Thames and Medway rivers should Germany invade. A couple of years back I had visited with Pi at night, and it had been out at sea, a dark silhouette on the water. At low tide it could be reached by a long walk down a rough causeway across the sands.

I expected to walk in through a broken door, but no. The only access was to clamber twelve feet up a frayed rope, onto a concrete platform that separated the old Napoleonic part of the tower from the concrete-and-brick World War Two extension. I am terrified of heights, and at this point was tempted to say "No, I'll stay and keep watch" (the tower is owned by English Heritage, who while letting the place decay through neglect, will prosecute trespassers). But, in the spirit of the day, I clambered up the rope with clenched teeth.

Inside was no less frightening. The dark rooms concealed holes in the floor which dropped to the rocky foundations below. I climbed another two floors, but could only go so far. Whilst my friends climbed the exposed, decaying concrete steps to the top - complete with rusting iron reinforcement peeping from the concrete, and gaps where the steps had collapsed altogether - I stayed put, sat on a window ledge well back from the unprotected edge. My vertigo is such that I can actually get dizzy and freeze on the spot, completely helpless. I felt chicken but knew I was being sensible.

The creator of undergroundkent.co.uk knows his military history, and pointed out the rusting machinery that hoisted shells to be fired across the estuary in World War Two; the intricate Napoleonic brickwork peeping from the concrete of the twentieth century; explained how people with metal detectors regularly find cannonballs launched in range-testing in the sands. All the time I was just worried about getting back down that bloody rope, but when it came to it it wasn't as bad as getting up there. Back on dry land (well, wet sand) I had a feeling of achievement - of conquering a fear, and seeing something very few people were adventurous enough to see.

I had been browsing urban exploration websites for some time prior to this day: the Paris Catacombs, the post-industrial ruins of Detroit, forgotten corners of New York. Actually doing it myself was quite a rush. It was dangerous and illegal, but at the same time I felt I was seeing an aspect of history denied to the public, lost in the endless London suburbs and off the tourist trail.

In these places, history has to be dug out by explorers like myself. There are no guided tours, information plaques, booklets on sale. I was lucky to have the creator of undergroundkent.co.uk with me on the Isle of Grain to explain the place's history, but in the air raid shelter south of London we had little to go by - from the internet we gleaned that it was a shelter for the inmates and staff of the nearby mental hospital, but further than that we don't know. At some point it seems to have been used as an industrial workshop - why anyone would want to work down there is unknown.

This uncertainty is one of the mainstays of urban exploration. Not knowing an unusual place's history can lead to wonderful speculation and add to the feeling of discovery - this site about the Essex Mountain Sanatorium in New Jersey is a great example. In the absence of interest by professional branches of history and archaeology, urban explorers attempt to uncover a place's history for themselves. In the case of the Essex Mountain Sanatorium this is apt, as it was demolished before anyone could get to the bottom of it's past. There are plenty of places around London like this, which I plan to look into on some dark night.

The other mainstay of urban exploration is the excitement, danger and risk; entering an unknown, dangerous place with nothing but your wits to carry you. This may seem foolish, but western society doesn't adequately cater for young people's lust for excitement. Many older societies have a rite of passage for the young - the Aboriginal Walkabout being a prime example - whilst western society leaves this wanderlust to illegal pursuits such as drug taking. Sport fulfils some of this, but is governed by rules and is intrinsically safe. There is something missing from our lives that leaves us empty and bored. We need our own version of the Walkabout.

Of course, in urban exploration you should minimise these risks, and first and foremost realise that your actions are down to you - there are no professional instructors around to pull you out of a mess. You need to rely on your instincts and intelligence - if I fall, will I twist an ankle or break my neck? How easily will professional medical aid reach me if something goes horribly wrong? Make your decisions accordingly: in urban exploration, some places are simply too dangerous to go into - and you will, at some point, need to pull back. These risks need to be weighed up, and you need similarly sensible people around you - never go alone.

Research your destination: are you exploring a place that has been victim to arson attacks in the past? This is important - you could find yourself arrested on suspicion of arson, an offence that carries a hefty sentence; or worse, find the building on fire around you as some unknown nutter sets it alight. Find out, and if this is the case, stay clear.

Go equipped, with more than one torch (in case one breaks - you don't want to be stuck in the inky blackness of a tunnel without light), spare batteries, water, maps, compass if needed, rope (for emergencies only - you are not an experienced climber), and a mobile phone. Call someone beforehand, let them know where you are, and give a cut off time to call the emergency services if you don't call them back.

And remember you are breaking the law: dark clothing is good; over-the-top army gear will only attract attention on your way to the site. Keep your torch to the ground if there are windows around. Don't go in a big gang - more people will make more noise and attract attention. And have a decent excuse in case you get caught, which when it comes down to it will be close to the truth - you are taking photos of this forgotten piece of history before it is destroyed through vandalism, redevelopment or neglect. My friend Monty was caught once, but given free reign of the site once he showed the police his photography equipment and explained his motives.

Don't carry knives or anything that can be construed as a weapon; or spray cans, marker pens or anything conducive to vandalism. Try to leave lighters and matches behind as well. But the more photography equipment, the better - try to back it up with a story about writing about the place, researching for an article, a website or for college.

There are also moral aspects - don't vandalise or leave rubbish behind. Remember you are pioneering territory ignored by mainstream archaeology, and respect it accordingly. These are forgotten places, just as important as the tourist attractions but criminally ignored. Don't mess them up for those who come after you.

But most of all, if you are interested, do it. Urban exploration has blown up in recent years, with the internet as its major tool. These places are no longer the stuff of local legend - as some truly bizarre relics, such as the tunnels of the Mad Mole of Edge Hill in Liverpool were in the past. The network of communication that now exists means that urban exploration sites are accessible and documented - and if they aren't, you can document them for those that go after you.

I was lucky - Monty found out me and Pi were interested, and took us on a foray. At some points I was apprehensive, even scared. But it wasn't difficult - looking at it now we could easily have done it ourselves, we just never dared. Most cities are home to forgotten places - whether disused mental asylums, shelters (in Europe), or forgotten industrial sites. You don't need much equipment, you just need to ignore that little part of your consciousness that says its illegal and dangerous - and once you've done that, you'll find yourself liberated, a true explorer of the unknown.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o disused mental hospital
o screen shot from Doom 3
o undergroun dkent.co.uk
o Isle of Grain
o Grain Tower
o Paris Catacombs
o ruins of Detroit
o forgotten corners of New York
o Essex Mountain Sanatorium
o Walkabout
o victim to arson attacks
o Mad Mole of Edge Hill
o Also by nebbish

Display: Sort:
First Adventures in Urban Exploration | 99 comments (73 topical, 26 editorial, 0 hidden)
Infiltration.org (4.60 / 5) (#4)
by Greener on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:54:36 AM EST

Here's a website I found a few years back with some well written stories of urban exploration and new ones added frequently. Definately worth a read.

Steam Tunnel Speleology (none / 0) (#56)
by g00dn3ss on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 06:58:17 PM EST

There is a whole boatload of urban speleology/exploration sites. The Google Directory has a pretty good list.

Anyway, no one has mentioned the college steam tunnel circuit. You can basically pick any college campus and there are probably steam tunnels there for your exploration pleasure. Look for the steaming holes! I was actually able to get maps and schematics of the steam tunnels in the historical section of the local university library. Anyway, this is a good way to get your feet wet in the urban exploration scene.

A word of warning though. Many steam tunnels are extremely hot to the point of being unbearable. If you are in the least bit claustraphobic - this isn't the place for you. Hot, dark, and cramped. But it can add a little adventure to your otherwise dull life ;)

I've been adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber - The Dude
[ Parent ]
wow, fucking great article (4.66 / 6) (#18)
by circletimessquare on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 07:52:35 AM EST

+1 fp, +1 fp, +1 fp

when kuro5hin sucks, boy does it suck

but when it shines like this, it is really worth it

as a denizen of gotham, i can attest to the gems on the http://www.forgotten-ny.com/ website alluded to in this article

great website, just browsing it casually is fascinating

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Aw, shucks :-) (5.00 / 2) (#20)
by nebbish on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 08:03:47 AM EST

Seriously, thanks for that.

Im going to have to stop arguing with you about Israel! :-)

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Never stop arguing with circletimessquare (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by synaesthesia on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 12:36:27 PM EST

It is meat and drink to him! And he can't live without meat ;)

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
Move to a vote now, please. (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by thelizman on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 09:28:41 AM EST

+1 FP, and for you archeological spelunkers out there...get your own Nazi Air Force.

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
OK (none / 0) (#25)
by nebbish on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 09:32:22 AM EST

Thanks. There's no typos or anything so I suppose I'll take the plunge...

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Some facts (none / 0) (#60)
by anothertom on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 07:51:20 PM EST

  • Interflug was East German, not West German. The West German Lufthansa still exsists.
  • If you are looking for live bombs in Berlin, well just dig a hole. With some bad luck you'll find one.
  • Everybody knows there's a "secret Nazi force" in town and everyone to disagree with your political opinions is a member.

[ Parent ]
Isn't this trespassing? (none / 0) (#27)
by RyoCokey on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 09:57:32 AM EST

I suppose it might be seen in a different light in the UK, but in the US, breaking into a building is grounds for a self-defense shooting by the property owner.

farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
Yup (none / 0) (#29)
by nebbish on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 10:07:23 AM EST

It is most definitely tresspassing. These places aren't privately owned though - I wouldn't do that.

As for shooting tresspasers - there has been a famous ongoing case here in the UK over Tony Martin, who shot two teenage burglars (one of them was killed) with an illegal firearm and was imprisoned. He has recently been released. Loads more details if you google.

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Private ownership (5.00 / 1) (#57)
by cybergibbons on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 07:10:13 PM EST

The shelter is privately owned - by the son of the man who owned the shelter when it was used as an optical factory until the late sixties.

[ Parent ]
Interestingly enough (none / 0) (#73)
by Gully Foyle on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:23:39 AM EST

The link in his sig is about the Tony Martin case.

If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
[ Parent ]

Sure is (none / 0) (#30)
by toychicken on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 10:12:25 AM EST

Uh-huh, in the UK trespass is just that. You're on someones land. This doesn't give them the right to shoot you, under any circumstances... (see Tony Martin case). It is still illegal, and you can face a heavy fine, or even a spell inside.

However, there is one exception, and given the current political climate, it's best not to test it... don't go onto Ministry of Defence land.

- - - - - - -8<- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Just how many is a Brazillian anyway?

[ Parent ]
Psyche! [nt] (none / 0) (#31)
by nebbish on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 10:21:49 AM EST

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Just followed your sig link (5.00 / 1) (#36)
by nebbish on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 11:09:42 AM EST

Which I should have done before posting a comment :-)

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Not in massachusetts. (none / 0) (#38)
by jforan on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 12:36:00 PM EST

If you shoot someone in your own home, you had better plant a weapon on them.  If your life is not in imminent danger, you are not allowed to harm them with a deadly weapon.


I hops to be barley workin'.
[ Parent ]

Re: Not in Mass. (none / 0) (#92)
by nne3jxc on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 04:51:14 PM EST

Yes, in Mass. you are supposed to "yield" to the trespasser unless you are in imminent danger of your life. If there's a way to get out, then you're supposed to get out. Now in New Hampshire (where I sought refuge from Massachusetts politics), you can shoot or otherwise defend yourself and property. I had a NH cop once tell me that if someone's trying to break in, you can just shoot him. Just make sure you drag him inside the house before the cops arrive. (Another interesting, somewhat related bit of Massachusetts lunacy: If someone breaks into your house and then, while running away, he breaks his leg by tripping over something on your lawn (a kid's bike for instance) -- he can sue YOU.)

[ Parent ]
RTFA! (none / 0) (#49)
by Wain on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:14:32 PM EST

In the article he explicitly mentions that it is tresspassing. On top of that, you should try reading the article you linked to, it does NOT say that tresspassing is legal ground for shooting someone, it says that only if your life is in imminent danger is it legal to. You cannot kill someone legally in the US just for breaking into your home, they have to provide a threat to your life first.

[ Parent ]
In Texas, you can. (none / 0) (#54)
by awgsilyari on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 06:20:23 PM EST

If I remember correctly, if it is after dark you can shoot anyone venturing onto the property, without warning.

One more reason I will never go to Texas.

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

Yeah, I'm from Texas (none / 0) (#82)
by RyoCokey on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:51:32 AM EST

I should have qualified, but the link doesn't refer to Texas, but the US overall.

Additionally, I take all the "No Trespassing" signs out there very seriously.

farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
Parent ]
"No Trespassing" (5.00 / 1) (#91)
by Kadin2048 on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 03:05:27 AM EST

I've done a fair bit of urban exploring, mostly into the vast abandoned mill complexes near where I live. Most of them are privately owned, but generally they're by banks (foreclosure) or holding and development corporations. So the chances of anyone being home are pretty low.

However, I've always taken "No Trespassing" signs very seriously, especially on private property. If you see one, stop. Venturing into a clearly posted area pretty much eliminates any excuse you might have if caught. If a structure or area isn't posted, in most areas you have to be given a chance to remove yourself before you're in any trouble.

In my experience, the places that are posted are some of the least interesting, because they've been visited a lot before (hence the signs get put up). If you get creative and off the 'beaten path,' there are a whole lot of abandoned/empty buildings around which aren't even marked 'No Trespassing.'

[As a sidenote, in some states at least, you have a 'right of trespass,' that is, you can move across privately owned land unless it is posted otherwise. I am fairly certain this is the case in Maine, it may be in other places as well. Still, the best bet is not to do anything destructive, and not to get caught.]

[ Parent ]

In the UK... (none / 0) (#66)
by pwhysall on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 02:19:24 AM EST

...trespass is a civil offence, not a criminal one.

That's why all those "TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED" signs are so much hooey.
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
[ Parent ]

I can't speak for where you live but... (none / 0) (#67)
by Symmetry on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 02:50:11 AM EST

In the state of Maine, you can legally kill someone only if you reasonably believe you are in imminent danger of rape, kidnapping, or murder.
Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. Don't assign to stupidity what might be due to ignorance. And try not to assume you opponent is the ignorant one-until you can show it isn't you. -M.N. Plano
[ Parent ]
Great story... (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by skyknight on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 12:32:40 PM EST

You're quite right about the lack of adventure in the lives of most people. Many sports are indeed highly rule based and thus lack the ability to fill the void, but not all of them are this way. Currently my favorite sports are paintballing, mountain biking, and Tae Kwon Do. I think this may be the case because they are very open-ended as far as sports go. The rules are minimal, and exist mostly for reasonable safety concerns, e.g. wear a helmet for biking, a mask for paintballing, etc.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
Zombie tips? (1.00 / 1) (#40)
by Zombie Joseph Stalin on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 12:39:11 PM EST

I really miss some tips for us zombies, like good places to find some brains!

--The Terrorists
Yes, this seems like an excelent tip (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 12:51:18 PM EST

Why don't you gather your zombie friends and go haunt that place instead?

My brain's already taken, BTW.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]

Mad Mole of Edge Hill (none / 0) (#41)
by adrianhon on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 12:41:35 PM EST

This refers to the vast network of tunnels underneath Liverpool dug by Joseph Williamson in the 1800s, now known as the Williamson tunnels. I visited these tunnels last week on a guided tour; fascinating stuff, in places they have four tunnels dug on top of each other, going in separate directions. Unfortunately they've only been able to clear a very small section of the tunnels (they were filled up with rubbish in the 1900s) due to objections from the people who own the land above the tunnels. Well worth a visit in any case.

Im there... (none / 0) (#70)
by nebbish on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 05:56:08 AM EST

Just emailed a scouse mate to try and organise a visit :-)

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

oh great (5.00 / 1) (#43)
by el_guapo on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 01:26:44 PM EST

like i don't ALREADY spend too much time at work browsing the web :/
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
urban exploration in atlanta (5.00 / 5) (#44)
by durkie on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 01:36:05 PM EST

one of the better known places around atlanta is an old water treatment facility known as the water works, secret city, maximum discomfort, and many other names. it's not terribly hidden, but an excellent place...all of the basins and structure of the facility are there - graffitied and crumbling. rainwater has filled up the basins and turned them in to giant algae pools or small lush forests held inside a concrete barrier. plus it's got good biking in the area and it's right by the train tracks, so you get all sorts of transients and debris normally associated with being by the tracks.

there used to be 2 abandoned mental hospitals in the area. one of them was a lot better stocked than the other, but both were pretty damn scary at night. you'd be wandering around these places, not knowing what to expect and your nerves on edge, and every tiny little thing would set you off. you'd open a door to walk in to another room, and like almost every other door in the world it closes after you open it. but in the pitch black of some strange ass mental hospital you'd hear the door closing sound as someone opening the door right after you and it'd scare the hell out of you.

one of the hospitals that was just torn down was a total blast to play in. it still had all of the gym equipment left over and motivational posters aimed at retarded people (one of them showing a box of cereal pouring in a bowl and nuts and bolts coming out. caption read "when you mess up....everyone messes up!"). i found some weaponry there (knives, baseball bats), but then also some cool stuff, like a duke university diploma and a full-sized pool table. one particular night when we were wandering around the elevator shaft we started to smell a lot of smoke and followed it to find that someone had set fire to a section of the hospital. i didn't really see the point beyond gratuitousness, but it made some cool plastic sculpture as the plastic fluorescent light covers melted off of the ceiling and reformed on the ground.

unfortunately, there was a pretty big game of hide-and-go-seek there that was busted up by the cops (who attempted to charge everyone there with the accumulated damage done by everyone in the years the thing's been abandoned), and it was torn down shortly thereafter.

there's a decently extensive sewer system under emory univesity, but i've found that it's really not that well connected. so you end up crawling on your hands and knees for like 30 minutes straight through successively smaller sections of pipe only to be met with a wall or grating that can't be passed. big disappointment. we had to backtrack from this once and we climbed out of the first manhole we could find. it let us out on the street and an ambulance driver that was passing by exclaimed "well now i've seen everything!"

there are plenty of abandoned buildings along the tracks that run parallel to dekalb avenue. interesting structure and such, but for the most part just an abandoned building. there's also an abandoned steel mill down the street from the amtrak station in downtown, but i've yet to wander around there.

Did you explore any of the metal works before.... (none / 0) (#65)
by gte910h on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 01:16:57 AM EST

...they demolished them for Atlantic Station? A friend of mine has some B&W photo's from his explorations before they tore it down.


[ Parent ]

nay (none / 0) (#90)
by durkie on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 11:49:32 PM EST

i think that's probably the steel mill i'm talking about. i didn't know that it had been torn down...it was just passed on as a possible place to go explore  (or get drunk, as seemed to be the other thing people did there)

[ Parent ]
Razorwire vs. Webpages (none / 0) (#45)
by killmepleez on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 01:56:10 PM EST

It might be interesting to track the time between "urban explo. site details appear on urban explo. website" and "urban explo. site suddenly guarded/fenced/bricked/blown up by government one day".

Seriously, if you can use google, so can the bobbies. This was a big conceptual mis-step with sites like cruisingforsex.com -- as long as they were truly under the cultural radar, you actually could pick up some nice tips and tricks <wink> <wink> from the information provided. But once word gets around, the police simply check the website every few weeks, and add a patrol round to whatever new park/mall/restroom/college gym is listed as being a good spot for a quick anon fuck.

[sigh] They don't want to let us get married; and the don't want us having sex in public; what's a horny middle-aged queer supposed to do -- sit around re-reading the autobiography of Quentin Crisp while waiting for 17 gentleman callers to come a-knockin' at the door. Yeesh!

"...the ways and means of dysfunction are also the ways and means of survival."
-Anthony Swofford, in
Probably Not That High (none / 0) (#78)
by allied on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:05:34 AM EST

In my experience, the government doesn't seem to care much about what goes on at abandoned sites as long as nobody sets them on fire. A lot of times, the government does not own the site to begin with, and the owning company may not have a presence in the town anymore, or may even be completely defunct.

[ Parent ]
Looky Here (none / 0) (#46)
by Mach5 on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:09:09 PM EST

I'm from New Jersey, this is old news. We have been doing this stuff for years, thanks to a local magazine called Weird NJ, started way back in 1989. People from all over our state find all sorts of weirdness, haunted houses, abandoned buildings/mental hospitals, strange landmarks, creepy cemetarys. I've been to an abandoned missle base not 20 miles from my house. It's a fantastic magazine, since NJ *is* the coolest state of the union. Every one of our towns has something to discover. i love NJ.

www.weirdnj.com for more.

Clothing, underground workshops (5.00 / 3) (#47)
by Stereo on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 04:15:34 PM EST

Many people think they should wear dark clothes for this. The less people are likely to see you, the less likely you are to get caught, they think. This is actually a bad idea. If sameone sees three guys in black entering an old factory, they might call the cops. So what should you wear?

If you look like you're a worker, nobody is going to have any second thoughts about your presence. Wear bright fluorescent orange security clothes with these gray 3M reflex stripes or a blue coverall, a yellow hard hat, working gloves, steel toe shoes etc. Make sure they are dirty and slightly used. If anyone asks you what you are doing, which is very unlikely, tell them you're there to evaluate the safety of the building or something. If they insist, tell them Mr. Foster hired you to do this and you're just doing your job.

These underground workshops were probably used during the second world war, when you were very likely to get bombed if you were producing planes or ammunition. The Germans had whole tunnels convected into factories that were about as efficient as those above ground.

kuro5hin - Artes technicae et humaniores, a fossis

As someone ... (5.00 / 8) (#59)
by ChuckVA on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 07:48:36 PM EST

... who does evaluate the safety of buildings, among other things -- and on military installations, no less -- I can attest to the validity of this advice. Once I put on my hardhat and steel toes, and start wandering around, I can just about go anywhere I want. If you do encounter others, don't avoid them -- if you look like you're not trying to be furtive and you're doing something purposeful, you'll almost never be questioned.

I've only been stopped and questioned once while doing my job -- I was wandering around one of our local military installations, taking photos of a pier we were about to demolish. This was actually a "scouting" mission on my way home, since we were planning on coming out to make more detailed invetigations later that week, so I wasn't wearing any of my usual gear. I'd stopped in at the office of the officials who were in charge of the port to let them know I was there, but no one was in, so I went on down and started snapping photos. The only person interested enough to question me, amusingly enough, was the sergeant who was second in command at the port facility -- one of the two men I'd just been looking for.

As for another fun (and non-military) example -- years ago I was moving a computer for a professor of mine at a university I was attending at the time. Rather than do so when it was quiet, I simply backed my (obviously privately owned) vehicle up to the building loading dock, marked with a large no-parking sign, turned on the flashers, left the tailgate open, walked in, and loaded the computer into the back of my truck at 12:30 on a nice, bright, sunny afternoon. Of the half-dozen people I ran into in the process, no one questioned me -- and one even held the loading dock door for me while I walked out with a computer case marked with "Property Of ###" on a large, red tag. If I'd actually been robbing them, no one would've known differently -- they'd have been out a computer.

It's more a matter of attitude than anything. Generally, if you don't look like you're doing something wrong, most people will happily assume you aren't, go about their business, and maybe even help you out.


[ Parent ]

Anyone have info on NYC infiltration? (none / 0) (#48)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 04:47:27 PM EST

Any clubs or common sites or anything?

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."

Check Jinx Magazine (none / 0) (#52)
by Miscellany on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:39:57 PM EST

They have a Web site, jinxmagazine.com, and two of the founders have just written a book called "Invisible Frontiers." The site is nice. The book is so-so - too much ink wasted on the importance of Jinx and its mission, too little dedicated to the sites they've mentioned.

[ Parent ]
UE resource (none / 0) (#50)
by el_guapo on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:15:11 PM EST

http://www.uer.ca/forum_showthreads.asp?fid=1&catid=114 i'm getting a little excited at the prospect of getting out this fall and exploring my new home town of phoenix :-D (summer is just too damn hot for that, imo)
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
If you head a bit (none / 0) (#63)
by techwolf on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 09:58:10 PM EST

to the tucson area there are dozens of old "NIKE" and Titan II silos to explore.
"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]
oh yes... (none / 0) (#85)
by el_guapo on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 12:18:06 PM EST

i found those on the good ole w-cubed about 10 minutes after posting that. i WILL be checking those out. and the ghost towns. and the ancient cave dwellings. and - oh, you get the idea :P it seems arizona has a TON of UE stuff for those interested :-D
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Yup (none / 0) (#86)
by techwolf on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 02:10:35 PM EST

TONS of old military sites, as in the 40-60's AZ was still a very remote and pretty unsetlled area....perfect for hidden/remote bases

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]

oh really? (none / 0) (#87)
by el_guapo on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 03:24:34 PM EST

don't perchance have some links, eh?
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
I sir am a Veteran of UE (none / 0) (#51)
by techwolf on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:19:33 PM EST

Been doing it for a great many years in So Cal. and will continue to do so....
"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." - Thomas Jefferson
Be careful (none / 0) (#53)
by elemental on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:59:45 PM EST

Have fun kids, but be careful. As was pointed out in the article, this is trespassing and is very much illegal.

Back in 1991, in my younger and more carefree days, a friend and I were arrested and charged with felony burglary for exploring abandoned buildings. Four months later I was out of jail and serving three years of probation for it. Was it fun at the time? Yes. Was it worth getting caught? Hell no.

I love my country but I fear my government.
--> Contact info on my web site --

Felony burglary?!? (none / 0) (#64)
by robson on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 10:50:10 PM EST

Damn. Did they have to prove intent to steal, or were they just able to take their pick of the harshest charges available to them?

That's really rough.
It seemed real but wasn't.
[ Parent ]
It's just that his definition of abandoned... (1.00 / 1) (#68)
by Michael Moore on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 03:59:01 AM EST

means the owners were away on a ski trip.

"My life was more improved by a single use of [ecstasy] than someone's life is made worse by becoming a heroin addict." -- aphrael
[ Parent ]
Re: Felony burglary?!? (none / 0) (#84)
by elemental on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 11:54:02 AM EST

We were caught after we had left the building. When they searched us they found my friend had taken something that they were able to prove came from the building in question. Hence burglary.

But yeah, they were really trying to nail us. There were originally more bullshit charges that we were able to have dropped.

I love my country but I fear my government.
--> Contact info on my web site --

[ Parent ]
urbex.org.uk (5.00 / 2) (#55)
by cybergibbons on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 06:50:51 PM EST

Wow... my site gets it's first mention on kuro5shin... something new every day.

It's quite amusing really, we take people to the shelter who have never explored before, because it's completely safe and quite "exciting" if you've never explored anywhere before. Probably been down there over 30 times now - your description of it all makes it sound new and interesting again. You must have been moving slowly to take a whole hour about it though... the map is available here.

Some pictures from inside this bunker from 5 years ago. It hasn't changed that much to be fair.

I had the same idea (none / 0) (#69)
by nebbish on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 05:45:57 AM EST

Ive got a couple of friends who are interested in all this, and Im planning on taking them down the shelter sometime soon for the same reasons - its safe, accessible, but dramatic.

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Shelter's History (4.50 / 2) (#58)
by cybergibbons on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 07:25:24 PM EST

If anyone is interested, a few bits about the history of the shelter described.

It was built during WW2 as a shelter for civilians, one of 4, others being at Epsom (a larger, more complex shelter), and Kenley (currently in use as a optical factory). The remaining one is somewhere about, because they are labelled deep level shelter 1, 3 and 4. I'm not sure where it is though.

It was mostly used to store items safely instead, and it appears that it was never properly sanitized or fitted with bunks.

After the war, it was used as an optical factory producing mirrors. A video can be found here, by clicking on "Telescope Makers" (the ground above it very different nowadays).

Sometime during the early seventies, some serious backfilling was done, and the entrances covered. It was used briefly as a store, possibly by gypsies (travellers, pikies, whatever), as it is full of worthless scrap now, including most of a VW beetle, several motorcycles, the rear of a tractor, and some vacuum deposition machines (from the mirror making). Contrary to popular belief, there isn't any medical equipment in there, and the hospital on the hill above never used it.

We found the existence of the shelter on some planning documents about 7 years ago, and when we went looking for it, it was sealed with concrete. We tried getting the guts up to open it ourselves, but someone had come along and done us a favour.

Since then, more and more people have been down it, including probably the most bizarre sight I have seen, with over 40 people from Subterranea Britannica down there at the same time - it looked like people were just going for leisurely strolls down there.

The Epsom shelter, this ones bigger brother, can be seen at the UK Forts Club page.

Epsom (none / 0) (#71)
by nebbish on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:06:17 AM EST

vacuum deposition machines (from the mirror making).

Probably what we mistook for medical machinery. I read about the Epsom asylums and rumours of tunnels in Ian Sinclair's London Orbital. I was hoping to make the area my next visit, just to scout around a bit. Is it worth it? Have the asylums been redeveloped?

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Epsom (none / 0) (#77)
by monts on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 08:18:37 AM EST

The Epsom shelter's worth a look - it's quite a large complex. It's on private land though which is currently under sale; when I looked round there a few months ago permission had been granted by the landowners. I'm not sure of the fate of the shelter once the land has changed hands - I imagine it will be used for yet more houses and so the whole lot might end up being completely sealed. Inside there is plenty of evidence for unauthorised entry though - candles and roadwork lights discarded everywhere, pentagrams drawn on the floor etc.

[ Parent ]
Chicago Freight Tunnels (none / 0) (#61)
by delusion on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 08:42:19 PM EST

The Chicago Steam Tunnels
One of the most "coveted" UE or so I hear. Since so few people have even found a way in. I learned how, but it's not something I'd recommend anymore. Why? Because unfortunately, my little UE expedition led to a visit by the FBI my "tour guide" was this maexpedition. I was introduced to him because he was an excellent hacker and "cracker". Yes, it was suspicous that he wasn't giving us his real name but he never knew ours. Anyway, after the PATRIOT Act clamped down on our Urban Exploration asses and the fact that we would get monitored just in case we did it again. I walked away from the UE scene in chicago.
So that's my little story, have fun kiddies, but make sure your companions aren't wanted for trying to ignite an natural gas pipeline and suspected of doing the same to an electrical substation during the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Diary spam (none / 0) (#62)
by synik on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 09:45:25 PM EST

Great article!

I have a relevant diary entry :)


UE in Australia (Perth) (none / 0) (#72)
by dakaktus on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:18:58 AM EST

Im interested in UE, and have been looking around the net for quite some time now at the incredible stories and photos people take of abandoned places. -I LOVE exploring, the last decent trip i had was around a local university, i just went into every corridor, basement and just about any door that was locked. the physics basement and zoology buildings were the most interesting. med also had some cool stuff and smelt funny. Anyway, we're currently seeking other good places to explore. we have an abandoned powerplant (in kwinana for any perthies) that would be suitable. so far we've scoped it out and have plans from the state library. however being a smallish isolated city, with little local history there really isnt that much in the way of stuff to explore, at least its hard to find decent stuff. does anyone have any decent tips on where to go looking for inhabited/uninhabited sites for urban exploration? are there any perth people that have done this before? (ive already found the oz caveclan sites but they are scant on info). please share your experiences with finding good places to explore

This stuff is often "pre-literate" (none / 0) (#96)
by Metatone on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 08:48:52 PM EST

i.e. most of the knowledge is in people's heads. If you contact the Perth cavecaln I'm sure you'll get more info.

[ Parent ]
Leeds underground (none / 0) (#74)
by toychicken on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 07:43:41 AM EST

I went to City of Leeds school, when it was still in the centre of the city. There were some pretty interesting tunnels there. They stretched all under Rossington Street, the Civic theatre & the local art college (it was part of a joint boiler / heating system), and legend has it that a school dinner lady was killed down there!

- - - - - - -8<- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Just how many is a Brazillian anyway?

Empty tube station (none / 0) (#75)
by Cackmobile on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 07:53:48 AM EST

I heard here in london on the northern line a station was built (Bull & Bush) but never opened. Apparently its the deepest one. ITs under hampstead heath just before golders green. I have been doing UE for many years in SYdney before I came to London. London is much bigger and older so there has to be thousands of places. I am after any info out there especially old abandoned tube staions/tunnels. Any help or anyone wanna go exploring!!

Disused underground stations (none / 0) (#76)
by cybergibbons on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 08:02:29 AM EST

They aren't really accessible to the public, the security is tight and it isn't advised.

Especially because of some excellent sites, look under the London section of my links.

[ Parent ]

Aussie UE in London (none / 0) (#94)
by bigMAX on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:31:04 AM EST

I've recently moved to London from Melbourne. I'd be very interested to do some exploring if anyone could point me places to get started.. Cackmobile? email: bigmax (at) newmail (dot) net

[ Parent ]
Abandoned Paper Mill (none / 0) (#79)
by allied on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:27:54 AM EST

Well, here's my obligatory plug for my urban exploration site, which focuses primarily on a large abandoned paper mill in Kalamazoo, MI. Go there, it's fun.

Anyway. I think it's interesting how many different reasons people have for liking urban exploration. Some like the excitement and danger, some like the creepiness, some are interested in the history of the place, some in the big machines, etc. Personally, I'm not exactly sure what makes me so interested in it. I just am.

Creepiness (none / 0) (#80)
by nebbish on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:35:04 AM EST

Was something I should have mentioned - stories of groups of devil worshippers, or inmates returning to live in disused mental hospitals, are probably bollocks - but they are definitely on your mind once you are in these places. There are some great creepy stories on the Essex Mountain Sanitorium site I cited.

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

"good" UE. (none / 0) (#81)
by Swashbuckler on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:37:58 AM EST

This article got me really excited! I want to do some UE! But...I think my city may be boring. I live in Ottawa.

The parliment buildings in Ottawa apparently sit upon tons of undergroud tunnels. That could be a good site. I imagine that its really hard to get in them though.

Pondring this dilema, I began to ask, what makes "good" UE? Is it the historical value of the place? its mysteriousness? the level of illegality involved in its exploration?

Would somebody who has been partaking in UE and reading UE stories for a while please offer their opinion. In the world of UE, what make quality?

*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
Not illegal (4.00 / 2) (#83)
by Homburg on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 11:04:14 AM EST

A great article, but I just wanted to correct a misconception: trespass is not generally illegal in the UK, and you cannot (again, generally) be prosecuted for it. If you damage anything to get in (smash a lock, say), you might be breaking and entering, and, if you intend to commit damage or theft, it might be burglary.However, as long as you don't damage anything, I don't think you're in much legal danger (you could be sued, but, if you don't cause any damage, I don't know what, if any, penalty you'ld face).

Your advice about how to avoid legal difficulty looks good, though - the police don't seem terribly concerned that your not doing anything actually illegal if they find you wandering round someone else's property at night.

My own adventures (3.66 / 3) (#88)
by Mike Green Challenge on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 07:31:41 PM EST

I've recently become involved in a sort of metaurban exploration adventure. Using a system known as a "Challenge" among many youth this is an extended format similar to old "truth or dare" methods. This Challenge results in one person having to be spending a significant amount of time in the wilderness. I am currently mentoring a fine young man, Michael Green in the art of Challenges.

More information can be found on his home page Mike Green Challenge.com about his challenge and the obstacles that he overcomes. This is truly a new twist on Urban Exploration as it spreads to the suburbs to become Suburban Exploration. Just as the once popular online message board evolved into the popular "blog", I see Urban Exploration evolving into a new Suburban Exploration that you will find every young person involved in.

I think Suburban Exploration is indeed a great thing for today's youth who are spending far too much time in front of the television or even worse, the Internet. The Internet often fosters liberterian agendas that are counterintuitive to the survival instincts found in mankind. The idea of depending on corporations and capitalism for our liveleyhood is awful when it comes to a young child. They should learn a more utilitarian perspective on life involving getting by without the help of others, in the wilderness.

Aspies for Ron Paul

Roofs (none / 0) (#89)
by organism on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:53:19 PM EST

I enjoy a subset of urban exploration, roof climbing. The challenge is to find the largest number of contiguously accessible roofs. Extra points for technically taxing ascents and improvised use of available materials (roof ladders, moorings). Multiple exits are always good.

If there are security cameras, this needn't mean the climb is off. Either your stay is brief, or you need to know where every one is and where it's pointing. A pair of binoculars is better than a telescope in low light.

I've never been caught, but I know people who have, and weren't arrested. The property owners do NOT like this activity. They'll get you for criminal trespass if they can prove you've broken anything, so be very careful.

If the building is inhabited, silence is essential. Buildings nearby need to be checked (binos again).

Roof climbing's great because it's only a step away from burglary, which society says is supposed to be pretty difficult. Not getting spotted climbing a building in the middle of town is not a trivial task, and takes planning, technique and balls.

A good climb will leave you breathless, dirty, with shredded hands and a big grin. A bad one will earn you an entertaining conversation with the fuzz. So do it now!


Down Under (none / 0) (#93)
by NickW on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 07:48:45 PM EST

I visited a few sites with the Cave Clan when I was at uni. Bridges, drains, old factories.

See the Sydney Cave Clan site. Look for their newbie excursions if you want to start easy.

Cult - A sociotype of an auto-toxic meme-complex, composed of membots and/or memeoids.
Memetic Lexicon

Can't speak for urban exploration, but... (none / 0) (#95)
by MickLinux on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 09:57:55 AM EST

... I've found an old hillfort (I think) and an old semi-prehistoric hill calendar site.  

    They're not all that uncommon in the area I'm from.  

    My younger brother has found hill forts in America; those tend to be 3-sided.  Here they tend to be 4-sided, and larger.

If feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience, and you're looking right at me.

Iowa State Steam Tunnels (none / 0) (#97)
by mildweed on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 11:52:40 AM EST

First, I would like a ton more links for info on places in the USA's midwest. Second, watch yourself in the USA, it is illegal, and I have been arrested for it. Iowa State University has an interesting steam tunnel system. I would highly suggest avoiding it, however, because since my arrest, they have SIGNIFICANTLY increased surveliance.

University of Waterloo tunnels (none / 0) (#98)
by terrycj on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 08:19:13 PM EST

There are miles of tunnels under the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada). Master keys to the university used to be in wide circulation, making access easy. Just go to the bottom floor of most buildings, look for an unmarked door, use your key... There's many other ways in too, but you only find them once you're in and looking for ways out.

It's pretty interesting down there. There was one alarmed door leading into some area, completely with dozing guard. We ran.

I was one of two people to paint the Mark Of The Mole (Residents album) on a wall down there. Sigh.

UW tunnels (none / 0) (#99)
by superflex on Mon Sep 08, 2003 at 11:54:54 AM EST

The word since I've been at UW (Sept 99) is that all those tunnels are fitted with motion sensors now and Plant Ops/UW Police will be on your ass as soon as you open the door. Too bad. I've read about some more easily accessible tunnels at Laurier, but since I'm not a WLU student I've never investigated.

Another good UE spot that some friends of mine have checked out is the old Canada Malting Company plant on Queens Quay in Toronto. Although I should also probably mention that one guy broke his wrist on that adventure, climbing back down from the top of it. Guess it's just a reminder, "safety first, kids!"

[ Parent ]

First Adventures in Urban Exploration | 99 comments (73 topical, 26 editorial, 0 hidden)
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