The Winchester

"Not all those who wander are lost" – Tolkien

Achtung Baby! (Part One) – Aug 2008

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Writing retrospectively about my first Eurotrip isn’t so easy. I usually put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard within a few days of getting home, before the buzz wears off and the trip begins to fade into the memory.

It was a pretty hot night when I got to West Park. We’d agreed to meet in Guildford/Granton Ward, and as all of us could arrive at different times, some of us spent more time here waiting than others. As the last arriver I bought Calippos, and met an excitable Rooks doing some colouring in. Bless. This was also the first occasion I met Statler, who has been on many subsequent trips with me (but not this one)

We’d all made our own ways down and had to deposit cars, so one was parked opposite St Ebbas, another in Sevenoaks, and the 4 of us piled into Speed’s trusty automobile to head to Dover. It was late when we arrived there and we had many hours to kill, so instead of going exploring we decided to sleep in the car. It stank, it was cold, all that stuff.

The ferry journey was tiring, so we just dozed, none of the drinking and general shenanigans we’d get up to on later trips. Arriving early in the morning has its good points. We got away easily enough from Calais and off to our first site, Transfo, which was an hour and 45 minutes drive away.Of course, we stopped at a patisserie for some refreshments.

Upon arrival at the co-ordinates we had, we could see exciting dereliction nearby. Convinced that this was Transfo, we looked for entry, but on arrival it was clear that all we had found was an old mill.

My first experience of European exploring was somewhat underwhelming. The presence of swastikas surprised me, and the ease of access and general ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude of the Belgians was refreshing. On the other hand, there were swathes of derelict, modern structures to look at, and although most of them were nothing exciting, there were bound to be treasures somewhere.

Across the river from the mill, we saw another site that looked heavily derelict. We approached it and made entry, despite there being some sort of work going on on site.

Evidently part of a brickworks, this place had been derelict for a while. Still not quite used to the whole Belgian lack of security, we attempted to be as secret as possible, sneaking round like this evidently ignored place actually meant something to somebody. The work going on in the other section was demolition, the workers didn’t seem bothered and the building was pretty crumbly.

Having realised that neither a mill, not a shitty brickworks were the big shiny powerstation we had our eyes on, we departed for the site known as Filature Nouvelle Orleans. Quite what it was, I didn’t know, quite where it was, I didn’t know, but I knew we were going there. We arrived and attempted to find somewhere to park. Some old biddy on the outskirts of Ghent didn’t want us to park outside her house. We didn’t have a clue where to go so I offered her a lift in our already full car, much to the mirth of the others. She declined, we drove on, and to the FNO…

FNO was another mill. Belgium wasn’t quite what I expected. Crumbly trashed light industry in brick buildings you could walk into. I wanted powerstations, I wanted hospitals, and I wanted sunshine. We trudged through the undergrowth and walked into what can only be described as a big soggy mess of a building.

This was a grafitti haven. Birds, rats, aliens, dinosaurs, elephants and faces all inhabited the walls, looking up, round, down and across.The lack of anything else interesting in the site made this the main subject of my photos.

Enter Jean Luc. A big Belgian who had just finished travelling in the US, he enquired about our accomodation plans for the night and offered us the family home if we’d stock up his fridge with beer. He jumped around in the site like a big playful monkey and eventually went our separate ways, having been given an address scrawled on a scrap of paper…

With the car piled full of beers, bread, meat and whatever else our hungry bellies desired in the giant Spar, we arrived at the address and knocked on the door of what looked like an artist studio. We slept in his sisters bed, he whacked me in the nads for the crime of falling asleep, and we ate a fine dinner of baguettes stuffed with meat. Nom.

Upon waking we departed with Jean Luc to Die Nieuwe Molens, a flour mill on the edge of town. Die Nieuwe Molens translates as “The New Mill”, but nothing was particularly new in this building in terms of what it had to offer explorers. It was a relatively easy site, highly regarded by those who’ve visited it. It looked as if some demolition has taken place, so perhaps the jewels in it’s crown had been removed?

Following this we attempted to get into the Wintercircus, a building that speaks for itself. Jean Luc claimed to know various ways in, but all of them were sealed following recent change of ownership. Being early on Sunday morning, and with plenty of other bits to do, we said our goodbyes and headed for Du Parc, the famous sock factory in Aalst. Part of the European tourist trail, it featured in Henk Van Rensbergen’s excellent ‘Abandoned Places’ book, however in much better condition. Now it’s been ransacked, the neat piles of threads and promotional materials are spread across the rooms: also, arsonists have struck the front block.

A few doors down from Du Parc is the Schotte Tannery, a sprawling site. It was overall quite dissapointing – a lot of empty spaces, no machines, no paperwork to sift through. Du Parc was better – maybe having just visited it our expectations were too high? There was a lot of grafitti in here – maybe this was the best part?

Now is where the trip begins to get a bit more interesting. Moving away from the factories, mills and light industry, we were heading for the Forges de Clabecq. Rumoured to be well guarded, we found it to be a walk in the park. A massive site, we entered by the railways. Subsequent visitors were busted by a guard checking various points around the site, but he was a good egg apparently.

The site has railway tracks leading through it, with a separate branch leading into some giant sheds. On one side of the tracks there is another site that was clearly part of the forge, but has now been half-demolished. I believe the forge went bust a few years ago and that is why it is empty.

We spent ages on this site, climbing the structures and photographing what we found.I think we barely scratched the surface of this site. We did get to the top however, which was a bit of a wobbly knees moment when theres a drop like this.

One last thing. Nom nom nom.

As it got dark, we drove to the outskirts of Brussels and found a hotel to stay in. This was before my days of Prohobo so we found a place where we could get a room and breakfast. We went out for a Chinese and had a very tame night.

The next day we arose early and headed for Tombeek, home of the Lemaire Sanitorium. possbly my favourite site of the trip, Lemaire was an art-deco sanitorium built in the 1920s for Tuberculosis sufferers.

Although this site was stripped, vandalised and graffed, I could still appreciate the architecture. Maybe it was because the sun was shining?

I’ve seen this site described as ‘the worst place I’ve ever explored’, but I disagree totally. This is what derelict buildings are supposed to be like.

Next stop on this beautiful day was Chateau Noisy, or Miranda if you’re going to be pedantic. We spent ages driving here, field testing many varieties of ice cream on the way. On arrival, We could see it, but we didn’t know how to get to it. Eventually we parked in the village and climbed a hill that seemed almost vertical at the time.

Inside, the chateau was beautiful. The grandeur was clearly faded but it wasn’t hard to imagine the site in its heyday.

Written by Winch

February 17th, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Dereliction,Roadtrips

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