Top of London
Urban Exploring is a term that I’ve used less and less in the last couple of years, to the point it has almost become obsolete, replaced by the terms draining, climbing and trespassing. I wouldn’t tell somebody I was going out ‘Urban Exploring’, more that I was ‘going in/up ________’. We no longer creep around to take some photos, before returning to ‘real life’. This is ‘real life’, we just happen to include participating in restricted spaces within those terms. We eat, sleep and party in them, returning routinely, creating fond or distinct memories of the experiences we have in them.
A close friend recently asked me to explain why I go in drains, and I was thrown back to Brad’s recent words about being off the grid, involving ourselves in the entire built environment we inhabit and refusing the boundaries created by social expectations. We go where we want to, where we can, when we want, when we can.
Our involvement in decay, drains, sewers, underground, trains and construction has been more intense throughout 2010. We started the year slowly, spending 8 hours in Millennium Mills before foolishly avoiding Heron Tower on the basis we were tired. Carpe Diem, we failed. I regret not going to Heron, immensely. As the tallest building in London until Shard got taller, it mocks me when I see it. With Yaz’s 2008 accounts of playing Concierge, a game consisting of busting hotel roofs, my expectations now are to infiltrate it when it becomes fully active, by either posing as a worker or another anonymous, invisible person.
My first interactions I termed as urban exploration were with derelict spaces, something we’ve done proportionately less of this year. We’ve instead become more interested in drains, sewers, underground train tunnels and different types of interaction with the urban environment. We’ve had 3 continental expeditions which (under Brad’s constant fuelling) have led us to question and discuss our roles and interactions with the environments we choose to participate with. In a two week trip across Germany and Poland this summer, we discussed cutting loose from formalised urban life and attempting to survive on our wits while travelling, something I still aspire to but as usual, think too much about to.
In Paris in February, we encountered a stream of people participating in the catacombs over a weekend, both in the well known GRS network, and in another secretive space converted for use as a bar. We fell in love with the city’s attitudes to the space it’s contemporary inhabitants have found underneath it and lamented the lack of such space in the UK to involve ourselves so thoroughly with.
In March, we ventured to Belgium, a 3 night trip which culminated in trying to justify to an angry Belgian what we were doing in the remains of the factory which assumedly provided him with the Mercedes he blocked our car in with. We’ve discussed our activities in greater depth this annum, leading to a decrease in acknowledgement for the establishment and social expectations, and a distinct increase in acknowledgement of similar practices, such as grafitti, parkour, climbing, BASE jumping, potholing, tramping and sleeping rough. March saw my first sewer visit, which fueled many more and a deeper level of interest in underground watercourses, both natural and manmade. I can only see this continuing.
Looking over Brussels.
April was a month of heights, with ascensions of buildings, cranes and gasometers featuring. We also followed the footsteps of several others and ventured into the London Underground, a zone previously regarded as too high-risk and beyond us. Under this new belief, we increased our activities to include London’s cable runs and more recently ventilation systems. I also stopped to consider more dereliction, with St Peter’s Morgue and Wimbledon’s Atkinson Morley Hospital. My hometown of Reading’s recently closed Berkshire Brewery was infiltrated within 3 days of official closure, a date we’d waited a couple of years for. It stemmed conversation about infiltration of active factories and services, the belief being that the security and access would not be hugely different without the chance for the buildings to descend into decay/open access.
Cut and Cover
May saw more missions to London’s sewers, a concerted effort finally finding us access to the River Westbourne. Others soon followed, including Counter’s Creek and The Tyburn. We learned about different types of Lids and the best methods with which to access them. Early in the month we ventured to Wales to meet socially with other members of 28 Days Later, a night which was cut short due to some disagreements in the ethics with which we should be considering while practicing this hobby.
June was memorable and notable for the trip to Hastings we made. The drain we named ‘Stinger taught us a lesson about draining, teamwork, risk and fear, and we’ve since been more safety minded. Rain is a dangerous thing when it gathers as quickly as it did that night, and the efforts of those present have created strong bonds between the members of that party. We slept on the derelict pier, sadly it burnt down in the autumn. Later that month we did our first hotel roof, finding ourselves on top of Reading’s Novotel.
July was a great month. We descended into City Road tube station, adding another to the list of abandoned stations largely populated by Siologen and Zero’s work. Covered in tube soot, we felt our steps into the deep dirt at this station were significant in that we’d started playing with the big boys toys, pushing into new territories and expanding our horizons. Later in the month we departed for Europe, starting a trip by climbing Brussel’s Palais de Justice before venturing as far east as Poland, through factories, power stations, military bases and other decayed structures.
This trip spanned a week into August, and ended in Antwerp’s part built transit system. The rest of the month was spent in the sewers and drains of London, the prolifigacy of our activities inviting individuals and groups towards us that had previously diregarded our attempts at urban infiltration as feckless and ill-planned. While not specifically aiming to form collaborations with other groups, the combined efforts of a group as niche as London’s infiltrators can only bring good things to those willing to contribute and collaborate.
September was the month we visited Burlington, the Government’s nuclear bunker only officially declassified in the early nineties. A seminal moment came in a strategy/map room, where we discussed our recent activities and questioned the point at which ‘this urban thing’ would stop. Whatever else that happened that month faded into insignificance, although taking my family into an abandoned French Foreign Legion barracks in Corsica was interesting, if only for the different reactions it invoked.
October was another drain populated month. Myself and the man behind EofD busied ourselves with others to visit several more of London’s systems, as well as an inaugaral trip into London’s Underground Tunnels. Whilst out of service, we walked a tunnel between two abandoned stations, having to hastily depart on sight of track workers at the station.
Down the Third Rail
November saw our first high stuff for a while, with London’s Kings Reach Tower being host to firstly a night of photography and gazing longingly at The Shard, before a night of partying for our esteemed Paris host Marc’s 29th birthday. I did my first solo drain, which although unnerving in ways, was liberating. Cutting back another boundary and taking full responsibility for myself was the key reward here, as well as an interesting enough section of drain in Derby.
Looking over London
While December is freshest in my mind, it has been notable for a couple of adventures in London at the very end of the year, including a gathering in a part built hotel. We started the month with a trip in the snow to Brighton, for Collossus. We’ve discussed taking bicycles down there to cover the lengths more quickly. Transgressive Mobilities indeed!
2010 has been a great year, one to savour. Thanks to those who’ve contributed to that – May 2011 bring us more fantastic experiences and friendships!