The Winchester

"Not all those who wander are lost" – Tolkien

Home Fires Burning, 2007-2010

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The desire of explorers to conquer local derelict sites is always strong. Like a dog pisses on walls to mark its territory, explorers become expert at their local sites to gain early credibility. Reading isn’t exactly a haven of exploration. Aside from Station Hill’s 80s urban wonders, there is little else in Reading aside from an outdoor swimming pool and some office blocks. Construction comes and goes, there is the usual crap such as nursing homes and hostels, but the bottom line is, Reading doesn’t really draw explorers in.

Western Tower had been one of the first sites that I ever really wanted to get into. A 16 story tower block opposite Reading station, it was the highest building in Reading for 30 years, until the yet to be occupied Blade was built. I’d reccied this site numerous times, hatched various half-arsed plans to get into it, had covered myself in anti-climb paint, but still hadn’t got in until March 2010. Friars Walk was adjacant to this; a shopping centre abandoned when trade moved away. The Oracle was built in 1999 as a modern shopping centre with spaces to shop, eat, drink, and chat up slags, and Friars walk suffered until in 2003, they called it a day.

The first site I actually explored was Sonning Lime, which has since been demolished for a newer plant to be built. We waded through swathes of nettles on a hot summers afternoon to get into what was a pretty uninteresting site given it’s size. There wasn’t much left there, but my imagination could see it active.Two warehouse type buildings and some pretty ancient hoppers, conveyors and walkways were all there was to see here.

Friars Walk was the target another evening. Danny had told me he had seen an access point open up, so we met on a Friday night and entered the site through a broken window on a remote entrance that was sealed a few days later. Other access points have since come and gone but none have been quite as simple as the broken window in October 2007.

Friar’s Walk seemed to talk to us. Things clicked, whirred and beeped. Alarms seemed to go off every few minutes, remains from each shops security systems. In the security room a row of monitors relayed live images

I can’t remember another site anywhere that’s offered quite as good a jungle gym as Friar’s walk.

In truth, the best thing about Friar’s Walk is the maze of tunnels and rooms behind the shops. The parade of shops is uninteresting and stripped, the jungle gym is fun for a few minutes untilyou realise you’re not 7 again and the views are unspectacular. Knocking it off the list was the best thing I think!

Later on that evening we gained access to the Kings Meadow Lido, an attractive Victorian outdoor swimming pool which is now surplus to requirements. Plans are afoot to refurbish it, however the opposition is just as vociferous, preferring to have it knocked down. A local diving club uses the facilities to store equipment and train, although I wouldn’t like to stick my head in that water. Bloso Hofstade this ain’t.

Mecca Bingo was closed in 2004 following the decline of the working woman’s game, until Foxy started strutting his stuff and Luxury BJ’s were available in South Reading. Sealed tight with only three doors,  located on a plinth in the centre of town, Mecca took a lot of perseverance. But here it is. Thanks to the guys who helped, you know who you are!

A few months later, Kings Point became open, and despite being a shitty, stinky, stubby building, it offered reasonable views over the east side of central Reading. Eventually the car park areas were taken over by a private firm and the place was sealed. Boo hoo. By far my greatest memory of this place is seeing in the new year in 2008 sitting at the top with two fellow explorers, discussing our plans for the future. Many of those plans have since been fulfilled.

Premier Inn began building a new hotel next to the IDR in 2007, and in 2008 the majority of the structure was up. View of the Oracle are good from this point.

Western Tower was the final point on my tour of Reading. Access was interesting and the views are good, but the roof layout is unusual and there are obstacles all around, as well as two different levels to the roof. Inside there is nothing to see but empty space and the detritus from stripping the buildings when British Rail vacated. The buildings are in good condition throughout, the staircases wouldn’t look out of place in an occupied building, and the lifts are kept powered up.

This was more a box-ticking exercise than anything else. I’d looked at this place for years and years, recceing, failing, being foiled by the curry boys underneath who seem very interested whenever we appear, and eventually I bit the bullet and went late at night and did it. We followed the night up by climbing the scaffolding on Sacred Heart and St Lawrences’ churches in the town centre.

Only other thing I can think of is the One Reading Central crane that I clambered up in 2008 before any other work had begun. Crane goes  up Sunday morning, I go up it Sunday night. Welcome to ISO 3200…

Written by Winch

March 12th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

3 Responses to 'Home Fires Burning, 2007-2010'

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  1. Great read as usual… love the last bit aswell! Great job


    12 Mar 10 at 3:27 pm

  2. Great read mate, bought back some memories. Keep it going.



    13 Mar 10 at 3:01 pm

  3. […] The Station Hill area, with Western Tower, NCP, Mecca, Friar’s Walk and BT all waiting to be knocked down in order to build me a big playpark for a couple of years. Want to know what’s inside them? Home Fires Burning. […]

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