2011 has been an odd year. I’ve ‘explored’ 62 new locations in 5 different countries, admittedly a much lower haul than 2010, but probably a more exciting and intense one. Marc, Gary, Neb and Patch appear to have been my main ‘partners in grime’ this season, but notable mentions need to go to Dan, Brad, Otter, Chris, John and NC Kapita for their involvement, particularly in getting abroad to Norway, Hungary, France and Austria and biting the bullet when we needed to in these places.
The advent and growth of the LCC has provided support in various ways and the open communication that appears to be evolving has made exploring in this country a joy again. Thanks of course due to all that’s been involved. We’ve slept in several bizarre locations both home and abroad and had various interactions with the police and other authorities – all part of the job.
Below is my list of personal favourites, taken solely from places which were new to me in 2011.
20 – Liberty Bridge
Arriving in the city centre of Budapest after an afternoon of draining, we hit this green monster, a climbing frame of good proportion. Myself, Marc and Nckt spent a couple of hours on, under and inside this. This knackered ourselves sufficiently to end up sleeping in the car in a suburb, where we were woken at 9am by some confused and apparently quite angry Hungarian Police who didn’t speak English. Welcome to Hungary.
19 – Devil’s Ditch Sewer
The first site we graced in Budapest was the old sewer running through the hills on the north to the outfall next to the Chain Bridge. NC Kapita fell over, we went to the outfall on another day and chilled next to the somehow clean and steamy waters. Although this wasn’t overly dissimilar to some UK drains, the fact the area felt really foreign made the experience a little different to usual.
18 – Kings Cross Disused Station
At the peak of The LCC’s tube exploring, I dipped into the old Hammersmith and City Line station with Gary one night to grab a couple of photos. Although the place stinks of piss and is tagged everywhere, the experience was given an edge by a works train rolling through slowly as we hid in some cables. A week later came the infamous bust at Holborn and I haven’t been in the tube since. The station itself was unremarkable in many ways, but the experience was something a little different.
17 – Nadar’s Dungeon
Paris will feature a little more as the list goes on – it is one of the best cities to explore in and with the Metro and Catas to descend into, and various monuments to climb, nobody could visit this city and be bored. The sewers are a path less trodden and following Felix Nadar‘s path from the 19th century, we ended up in a sizable chamber apparently shared by water supply pipes. After being in the most cobwebbed dungeon space I had even seen, we left the sewer feeling like we’d just been playing a video game.
16 – Northern City Lines
Hiding at the end of the tunnel in the pitch black wasn’t much fun, but it was probably the most exciting night I had in London this year. Along with Magic Door and SKT on the same night, we didn’t have an easy ride. Soon after arriving, Gary spotted workers and we hid in the disused sections while waiting for them to leave. Hearts in mouths, we waited for 20 minutes and then legged it away and out. Next adventure? SKT.
15 – Swindon Town FC
Ah, Swindon. Traditional rivals of the football team I support, what better a thing to do in the pre-season than take a drive over to the County Ground, climb their floodlights and have a walk on their pitch? I don’t think Alex and Patch were as enamoured as I was with the whole experience, but it was something to do. And why not?
14 – South Kentish Town Disused Station
Borne out of a frustration at a personal lack of progress on Tube at the start of the year, Gary invited me along with him one Friday night. After getting spooked by sirens at the Magic Door, hiding from workers in NCL and then finally getting into one of the better of the disused stations at SKT, we had one final scare as a police car sped sirens blazing past immediately after we exited. For all the fear that accompanies exploring the LU, the payoff is grand when you get it right – and SKT was a fine reward.
13 – Cromwell Tower, Barbican
The Barbican appeared to become the latest plaything in the summer. After Gary and Patch cracked Lauderdale Tower during their time at The Squat, Badman took the lead and soon after, we found ourselves on the roof of this excellent tower. Without a big summer roadtrip to enjoy, this was probably my highlight while Otter, Brad and Marc were out in the USA, conquering boneyards, bridges, subway and the most excellent of derps.
12 – Mailrail
After being out of the country when this was cracked, (as has appeared to be the case with several high profile places this year!) I headed down with Luke and Chris a few days after the initial accomplishment of getting into the Mailrail. Having been on the site for no longer than 20 seconds, Postman Pat was bellowing at us and we legged it down the tunnels and out. Despite the experience lasting little longer than 20 minutes, and the feeling of missing the boat somewhat, I was glad to get my crumbs from the table and have something of an experience in a place we’d all been lusting after for ages. No photos so here’s a picture of Postman Pat and some of his other gormless mates.
11 – Clapham North Deep Level Shelter.
I missed out on this a couple of years ago due to a distinct lack of commitment, so took the opportunity to attend Brad’s leaving party here in February. With around 30 of us in the tunnels, with music and Belgian beers, it was a great send off. I returned a couple of weeks later with Larey and Cogito, and the lack of people inside made the tunnel feel plain odd.
10 – RER Tunnels
The RER is Paris’ regional railway and runs in tunnels under the city in the same was Crossrail will in London. Big concrete tunnels sitting deep underground, accessed via many ladders and stairs, ventilation shafts and grilles. What’s not to love?
9 – Saltley Gasometers
Nebula and myself had eyed these up in October 2010, and with a lack of gear hadn’t been able to get very far up them. Come the summer though, we rose all the way to the top, killing off that hesitance that occurs around high things. I’d done a gasometer before, but this one was different as it was always at the back of our minds having not done it first time round. Getting it down on the list felt important, somehow.
8 – Aldgate East Crane
Although not a particularly tall crane, it’s location close to the City of London gave it an edge and there was rarely a minute which went by without the sounds of various sirens blaring. Neb climbed to the top with ropegear as I learned something about myself when the jelly-legs and paper-dry mouth took over as I put the harness on. I returned later in the year and had a great time just looking out over the city – there’s something special about being up high that I hope is never lost.
7 – Valkrie Plass Abandoned T-Bane Station
Having arrived in Oslo late into the evening, Myself, Gary and John ran into Volvat station between trains running down the tracks. After the end of service, we ran down the tunnels into the disused Valkrie Plass station and then ventured a little further into the system. While I wish we’d have gone a deeper, it was satisfying to have been in the country 6 hours and have completed the two things we really came for. Unfortunately Elisenberg Station wasn’t accessable due to a 1km tunnel run with trains runnig 24/7, but Oslo was a great place to explore!
6 – Paris Utility Tunnels
During a weekend trip with Brad, Marc and Otter, we met up with Dsankt and went down into the labyrinthine tunnel network under Paris. Incorporating sewers, water supply tunnels and power tunnels, these run only mostly underground. At one point we ended up going over a bridge, which was bizarre but magical. Nobody could build these cities as beautifully as they’ve evolved.
5 – Budapest Metro Line 4 Construction
The main target for the trip to Budapest was accessing the part built metro system, due for opening in 2013. Having been under construction for 5 years, I was concerned when I planned the trip that we might miss the boat, but despite several appropriate security measures, we still found our way in. We didn’t spend too long in here due to the presence of security just down the line, but damn, it was fun getting in and a real jigsaw puzzle with the security.
4 – Paris Crane
Upon arriving in Paris, tired from a flight, hour long transfer and several beers, Marc drove us to a crane and suggested we climbed it. Tall and beautiful, with views across to central Paris, this was the perfect way to start a trip which descended into a pure assualt on the urban environments of Paris, with Sewers, Metro, RER tunnels and subterrannean construction. Explore Everything? Toujours.
3 – Down Street Disused Station
Long considered the most difficult station to get into, when we visited earlier in the year it felt bizarre that a tiny glitch could grant us access so easily. The station has a lot of its passageways and interior areas intact, and it’s position as Winston Churchill’s War HQ gives it a little more mystique. The tumbling of this station on the list gave the team belief that the whole network could be conquered, and when it was reported that a certain individual had completed the list by the end of Christmas day, that mental barrier attached to ‘completing’ the tube seemed to be lifted a little. Big respect to Bukkake.
2 – Boucle Villiers, Paris Metro
Dsankt’s 2010 report of ‘The One’ highlighted that underneath Paris there really are the most fantastic spaces. A big party in these tunnels had indicated the possibilities related to the subterrannea and we have tried to echo these ourselves in various ways this year. The now disused space itself is full of laid up trains and the turning loop runs for a couple of hundred metres – a really fun space to be. The line used to terminate here but it was extended, rendering the loop redundant to trains, and ready to play in.
1 – Porte Molitor, Abandoned Station
Coming in at number one for 2011 comes Porte Molitor, the most difficult of all stations in the Paris Metro. From the moment we popped a tyre next to the station and a previously reticent Marc arrived to help out, we just knew we were all going to end up in that station. When we ran off the platform and started navigating dong barriers, PIR sensors and cameras, it just felt like one massive adventure. When we were stopped coming out of the station by a guard, I don’t think any of us really cared – we’d done Molitor and it had been nothing but fun.
2012 is set to be a different year. I’ve recently taken a look at the countries I’ve visited in my life and clocking in at at 24, the list seems somewhat slim. With another 8 countries present in the world for each one I’ve visited, it’s apparent how I seem to be skimming the surface to some degree, but aspiring to making each experience a new and fresh one is the key to keeping productive.
The concensus is that we’re going to be going a little more international next year, so despite 4 trips abroad this year for ‘The Winch’, I think there’ll be some different experiences in new and different places. There’s loads of drains in this country I haven’t been and wish to, but as the list above shows, metro and tunnels are dominating and are always at the forefront. Every city has tunnels somewhere, it’s just a case of finding them.