Urbex FAQ's

FAQ’s
I get several emails a week from my website, mainly about access and security, so I’ve decided to write an FAQ encompassing the most common questions. I am no way claiming to be an Urbex guru, nor is this section an exhaustive guide to Urbex. It should simply be treated as a set of tips and tricks that I don’t mind sharing.


1. What is Urban Exploration?
2. Finding Sites
2.1 Asking for access
3. Legalities
4. What to take:
4.1. What not to take
5. Access:
5.1. Getting in
5.2. Fences:
5.3. Chain link
5.4. Barb wire
5.5. Razor Wire
5.6. Palisade Fence
5.7. Electric fence
6. Security Guards
6.1. Security Dogs
6.2. Dealing with Security Guards
6.3 Dealing with the Police
7. Dangers:
7.1 Asbestos / Lead paint / Anthrax
7.2 Poop
7.3 Floors / ladders
7.4 Undesirables
7.5 Cuts, burns, etc.
7.6 Falling from Height
8. Draining
9. Taking Souvenirs
10. Who to take with you:
10.1 Group Size
10.2 Age
10.3 Etiquette
10.4 Fear
11.0 Europe
11.1 Costs
11.2 What to take
11.3 Law
11.4 Posting European reports
12.0 Balance
13.0 Mapping
14.0 Sharing / Media / Anonymity
14.1 How much to share
14.2 Talking to the media
14.3 Why the anonymity?
15.0 Urbex Humour
15.1 You know you’re an urbexer when...
15.2 Urbex Car games
15.3 Gangnam Urbex
16.0 Glossary



1. What is Urban Exploration?
It is the exploration, and documentation of areas generally considered ‘off limits’ to the general public. Often these are derelict buildings, but often include live sites such as drain, or cranes.
Our one creed is: “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”

2. Great, where do I go?
This is what 99% of emails I receive are asking for.
Half the fun is finding the sites; that’s what makes us explorers. It really is a geeky hobby, and many hours of research go into finding sites.
  • Just walking / driving / biking around - Number one. Always has been, always will be.
  • Bing maps, See Google maps & Para 13.0 “Mapping”
  • Books - Books such as “(your town) at war” will often talk about local structures. There are now a wealth of urbex specific books out there too. Beauty in Decay, Derelict London, Invisible Frontier, and of course Access All Areas. There are obviously a wealth of books on WW2, often containing maps and information which has yet to be digitised. Again books on particular Asylums, or sites like Pripyat will give you way more information than is available on the web.
  • Buildings at risk register - online, and full of photos, written descriptions, and of course postcodes / grid references.
  • Companies house - Which local businesses have ceased trading recently? Where were their former offices? Etc.
  • Defence Estates website - UK bases are shrinking daily, and it’s all public, you just have to look!
  • Ebay - maps, plans, deeds, historical paperwork, post cards, etc.
  • English Heritage (and it's Scottish/Welsh equivalents)
  • Estate agents - If you’re like me, you’re eye is instantly drawn to the price which is half of anything else! It’ll usually be a plot with buildings on, or a ‘property in need of renovation”
  • Land Agents also specialise in development opportunities. They often produce a nice .PDF brochure too to read at your convenience.
  • Face book / Twitter - We’re now connected instantly with a group of contacts around the country, and around the globe, why not use it?
  • Freedom of Information act requests (FOI) - Anything that is Publicly funded (I.e. Nhs, Government, Police, Council, Army etc.) will have a FOI procedure in place. You can ask them anything, and as long as it’s not going to be too much bother (normally more than 18 hours work) they will answer it for you.

    Burlington was the UK governments biggest secret for a long, long time. When it was decommissioned (still under MoD ownership BTW) I knew they would have had a condition survey done. As a UK tax payer, I part funded that survey, so asked for a copy of everything. I didn’t really expect anything, and if I’m honest kind of forgot about it. Three weeks later a large package postmarked ‘Corsham’ dropped through my letterbox. I was amazed to find a plethora of maps, as well as 9 hours of un edited footage from down there!

  • Geograph website (Maps the UK down to a 100m grid with photographs - if you can find it within 100m on a screen, you can find it in real life after)
  • Google Earth / Maps / Streetview (see Para 13.0)
  • Graffiti / urban art / parkour forums
  • Local authority planning applications - All of these are now online from your local councils website, in the planning section. They’re fantastic as they will often included detailed surveys, as well as proposed drawings.
  • Local history societies, also “Friends of…(insert church / asylum name here)
  • Local knowledge - They are explorers friends, as well as enemies! Try talking to locals, especially the older ones.
  • Local library - So much information! See Books above, they will have maps, and microfilms which have yet to be digitised too. Librarians are always helpful, and quite often sexy…
  • Local museums
  • Local papers - look for “Firefighters were called to part of an abandoned factory...” or “Nursing home due to close after 35 years...”
  • Local Police website (where have they been to catch the local pikeys lately?) Police.uk now includes all this data in map form
  • Local TV news - As the local paper really. Usually it’s because of something like a fire or a murder, but every cloud eh?
  • National Trust
  • Ordinance survey maps - New ones available on Bing Map - see para 13.0. Looking at new maps! – Look especially for the magical disused symbol (dis.) Old ones available at old maps.co.uk, libraries etc.
  • Panoramio - A website retagging photographs to where they were taken. You can see why this would be so helpful to an explorer!
  • Photography Websites / Forums - FlickR, TalkPhotography, etc.
  • Photo Collections (Stock image websites)
  • Subbrit - Everything underground & cold war. They have extensive, accurate, uber geeky information on their website.
  • Urbex Websites - Duh, you’re on one! www.derelictplaces.co.uk is a good friendly forum, but in this day and age everyone has one. Sometimes sites are just named out right, sometimes they are code named, but more often than not there will be clues in each report. See the anecdote below for an example of this.
  • Vimeo - See YouTube. Some videos like ‘Crack The Surface’ are only on Vimeo
  • Wikipedia - I.e. homes of historical wealthy families, do they still exist? Sites like breweries may have their own page. Wikipedia also has co-ordinates sometimes too…
  • Wikimapia - Like Wikipedia, but an editable map of the world.
  • YouTube (I’m already into hundreds of locations on the Dereliction Addiction Series!)

    Just look everywhere you need to. Whilst trying to locate a plane I ended up joining an aviation forum, a geeky but helpful lot. These are the methods we use every day. They’re no big secret, there’s probably loads I’ve missed off too. I’ll leave you with an anecdote about locating a site:

    A certain elusive European site was located from a single photograph: It was of a red Renault CV in the overgrown garden of the house. The explorer researched the number plate to find out it was French. From here he researched the format of French number plates. He found the 2 letters which denoted the region it was registered in. It didn’t even necessarily mean that’s where the building was, but it was a start. In the back ground of the photo was a beautiful gate with monogrammed letters above it in beautiful ironwork. It was a longshot, but he started researching wealthy families from that region with those initials. Sure enough after tens of hours of dead ends, and tenuous links, he nailed it.

    On another occasion, I had tried to disguise a site I had had visited, I went down all of the usual channels of blanking out shop signs that appeared through windows etc. When another explorer said he found it from my photos, I had to know how.
    He had downloaded my photos and inspected the Exif data, the meta dat which attaches itself to every photo you take, such as ‘Time taken’ ‘Camera used’ you’ll find it under ‘Properties. He had compared the time signature on my photos with that of a previous report of a well know location. He then knew that it was 40 mins from me taking my last photo at the first site to taking my first photo at the site he wanted. He made an informed assumption that it must have been within a 30 mile radius of the first (well known site). This still gave him nearly 3,000 square miles of area to search. I now know I hadn’t been thorough enough with my editing. I had left a date stone in the background of one of my photos. It took him time, but he researched every building finished in that year in that county to find it. I have extreme respect for people like that.

    2.1 Asking for access
    Big Taboo, don’t just assume you can ask. It’s a bit cheeky isn’t it? To us it just reads as:

    “Hi, I know you don’t know me but, you know all that research you done, and nights you spent in the cold rain watching security, all those mornings you went to work early just so you could drive past and see if a panel was missing yet? Well can you just sum up all of that information so I can go and take some photos to sell?”

    I always try and reply (politely) to 100% of my emails, but mails like this to any explorer wont get you anywhere. Half the fun is in the exploring remember? The sense of satisfaction you’ll get will be so much greater, trust me.
    Besides, how do we know you’re not security posing as an urbexer so you know where to seal next? Or a landowner after that admission of guilt ready to serve a county court judgement? Exactly.

    3. Is it illegal?
    No, but....It’s a grey area.

    We do not break in anywhere (see below) however we do trespass. Trespass is a civil offence in England and Wales, not criminal, therefore you can’t be arrested for it. Fact. However, the owner of the property may send you a solicitor’s letter, and summon you to court to sue you. If you have caused no damage, then the only thing you can realistically be sued for is ‘loss of earnings’, which on a derelict site is pretty hard to justify. In Scotland there isn’t even such a law as trespass, so go for it.

    So, then you just break in and take pictures?
    No. No we do not.

    An urban explore never breaks into anywhere. I will go into ‘Access’ below, I just thought I should make this clear from the start.
    It’s probably worth mentioning there are still a few ‘no go’ areas:
    • Live Military bases
    • Live Power Stations
    • Live Airports / Railways
    • Any other live governmental facility

    If you get caught in any of these, it’s likely that you will be arrested, and held for the maximum time under the Terrorism Act. It’s up to you whether you think that’s worth a photograph.

    Military Radar Facility: Note the aerials. Note the entrance to the underground bunkers. Note that they forgot to close the gate...


    4.What do I need to take:
    You don’t need anything, but we all like to have gear and it does come in useful in some situations. Which is what it’s all about really, the following is an exhaustive list of what I use, but use selectively – If you’re doing a derelict bungalow at the end of your street you should probably avoid walking there dressed as a ninja, with your night vision goggles / respirator / full climbing harness etc. It’s not needed, and you’ll look weirder than you already look.

    Lets start with clothing, we all need some of that. I always tell people never to dress all in black, it’s suspicious. Try navy blue, it’s pretty much the same at night anyways. That said I normally ignore my own advice and wear all black - I find it flattering, and I’m really a closet goth. Street clothes are fine for some situations if you want to blend in in a city, or if you’re just nipping in somewhere, but for a full on day exploring you should probably choose your clothes with a bit more care.

    Inconspicuous dress- About to go rooftopping, Christmas Eve 2011

    Sturdy footwear: Choose wisely. You want something that will protect you from the odd needle, rusty nail, or shard of glass. However you want something that allows you to feel what’s beneath your foot, so you can feel that twig under tension before it breaks loudly, letting everyone know where you are. You can also feel the give in a rotten floorboard before you trust your weight to it. I started out with army boots, steel toe capped, and steel soled, but TBH found them a bit heavy, and prefer lightweight trainers, each to their own, whatever you’re most comfortable in is the best choice.


    Trousers:
    Combat trousers seems standard explorer fare these days. It’s my favoured option, and I wont even consider wearing trousers unless they have at least 8 pockets. Zip up ones too, there’s nothing worse than swinging your legs up to a rafter, and seeing your car keys disappear through the floorboards below! Don’t go for the type with the ‘waterproof coating’ that’s really noisy. Not only will it make you really obvious to security, it ruins the atmosphere for your fellow explorers. Camo patterned combats are fine, and the camo pattern has even crept into a lot of high street fashion now so isn’t too unusual. Although if you do go for camo trousers, do not go for a camo jacket too, it‘s one or the other!
    I can never condone shorts on an explore – even though our hobby has ‘urban’ in the title, almost every explore has stinging nettles at some point!

    A group of urban explorers in varying, typical dress

    Top half:
    Whatever you fancy really, dress for the weather. I prefer a hoody as they’re warm, and can protect your lovely hair from falling detritus as your mate climbs the worlds dirtiest ladder above you.

    Hi Vis vest:
    Bit of an odd one isn’t it? I thought we were trying to be invisible! Weirdly a hi-vis vest is like an invisibility cloak - If you saw someone in a black hoody scrambling over a fence, most people would call the cops. If you saw someone with a hi-vis vest and a tripod inside the perimeter, you’d be unlikely to call the cops. If you did, they’d probably ignore you. Just make sure you a) get the right colour - Rail always use orange, different contractors may use other colours. And b) make sure it’s not pristine new, it looks suspicious. Use this as an excuse to go and roll in some mud.

    Gloves:
    The most likely part of you that’s going to get injured on an explore are your hands: Grabbing onto a window frame that you thought was free of glass, steadying yourself on the top of that barbed wire fence, or just skimming your knuckles on a wall, etc. If you’re going to wear gloves, the most important thing is that you’re comfortable in them, and you can operate your camera in them. There are loads of suitable gloves on the market now for cyclists, photographers, and labourers. I’ve only recently started using them, but have found them to be a great help.

    P3 Mask:
    If you’re going in an area where there is broken asbestos this is essential. You’ll need one that’s rated to P3 to stop asbestos particles coming through. P1 and P2 are generally for larger particles normally found in DIY, e.g. spray can vapour, sawdust, etc. Some people enjoy having a full face mask with changeable filters, some prefer the disposable paper type. Either way, the important thing is to get a tight fit to your face. It’s pointless getting a filter that goes down to microns if there’s a 5mm gap down the side of your nose! There’s a lot of rubbish talked about asbestos, so you’ll have to read up on it to decipher the truth. But it is a danger to an urban explorer, and you’ll never avoid it totally, so it’s always handy to have a paper mask stashed in a pocket.

    Cotton Mask
    I take a stretchy cotton face mask on explores too, you’ll see me wearing it in a lot of photos. It just sits on my neck most of the time, but then if you’re going into a slightly dusty / mouldy environment you can pull it over your mouth and it makes things a lot more comfortable. Of course it wont filter out asbestos, or fine, fine particles: but I’ve found I always get a dodgy throat after an explore if I haven’t used it.

    Cotton face mask

    Over the years I have started to keep my gear in two separate bags. One is my camera bag which comes on the explore with me. One is a rucksack kept in the car, for all the things I’ll occasionally need, and can select on an ad hoc basis.

    Camera Bag
    So I’ll start with my camera bag. I use a ‘sling’ style of bag which you can slide from being on your back, to round your front without having to remove it. Some people have a lot more gear with them, and choose to have a full rucksack, some people have a handbag, totally up to you. I’ve always favoured bags that have loops on the outside too, allowing you to clip on things such as ropes, extra lenses, tripods etc. I’ve made two modifications to my bag: I’ve cut off the ‘round the waist’ belt, never gonna use that. And I’ve permanently locked (and reinforced) the strap clasp with multiple zip ties. I know that the strap will now hold my full bodyweight without opening, so the whole bag can double as a climbing loop.

    My camera bag

    Camera:
    Explorers use a wide variety of cameras, ranging from a camera phone, to a full on DSLR with different lenses. A camera isn’t even essential, but most people are into the hobby to document the places we visit, but some people just go for the experience. The new iPhone camera is amazing, and if composed well will produce photographs fit for any wall. An SLR provides a lot more freedom, with the user being able to select a longer exposure to write their name with a torch, or to ‘lightpaint’ an area. Of decide how much of the shot you want in focus, i.e. shallow depth of field for details, or deep focus for that endless corridor shot. Either way, just make sure you know how to use it: you don’t want the flash to fire just as you reach the top of that crane!

    You will also want to bring spare batteries, a remote release for long exposures, and spare memory cards. A 16GB card will hold 2,000 8MB images, but this level of commitment scares me. I prefer to switch cards after a few hundred shots…just in case. Using smaller cards and changing them regularly can be a good thing, on many occasions I have palmed a blank memory card to show the authorities “that I’ve deleted all of my photos”. No one can make you delete your photo’s, not even the police, especially not security guards. They often know that. You know that. But they don’t know that you know that. They also don’t know you’ve just palmed a blank one in. Deleting photographs is a criminal offence, It’s destroying possible evidence (criminal damage, and perverting the course of justice).

    Video noms up a lot of memory and battery too, bear that in mind. I have found that a battery grip is a great investment. It fits on the bottom of the camera and you can slide two batteries into it instead of one. In theory it should double your battery life, but I have found through some strange quirk, it actually provides more than double. This is extremely handy when abroad or travelling. On my last Euro-urbex trip, I came home with 790 photos & videos without a single bar missing from the battery display!

    Tripod:
    A tripod is a double edged sword, it will enable you to take some amazing long exposures but will severely restrict your speed and movement through small holes. Camera bag manufacturers still largely ignore the fact that people take tripods with them, so you’ll often see people just carrying them in one hand. Again personal preference is king here. Some people favour heavy Manfrotto tripods, some people prefer lightweight mini tripods. I favour the mini tripod, which folds down to about 30cm, and extends to about 75cm. You still have to stoop to operate it, but have found a 30cm tripod is more than twice the convenience of a 40cm tripod! I can recall an anecdote of being at the Crimea Nuclear Power Plant and hearing the guard dogs bark getting closer. Myself and a fellow explorer drew our tripods, looking at my micro tripod, and his heavy Manfrotto, I started to consider my choice of tripod.
    If you’re planning on going rooftopping or draining it may be advisable to take a full height tripod: Water can get deeper than 75cm, and the parapet guarding to roofs can be over 75cm too.

    Ensure your tripod is tall enough to extend over roof top parapets

    If you’re still reluctant- I’d recommend the micro tripods, about 3 inches tall, they fit into pockets.
    Taken with a micro-pencil-legged-tripod on the floor, deep under the Ukraine, 8 Sec exposure:


    Torch:
    Even more essential than a camera. Some people feel the need to bring a 5million candlepower search light, others opt for more ninja LED Cree torches. Almost all derelict places are badly lit, and a decent torch will soon become your best friend. Some people prefer head torches to leave their hands free, although personally I’ve never got on with these. On many occasions I’ve been underground with someone wearing a head torch, just as your eyes start to adjust they look at you, blinding you, and burning out your night vision for the next 20 mins!

    The reason I no longer use expensive torches is because they’re so easy to lose. I have a lovely Fenix torch in the Newmarket sewer system somewhere, if you want to go find it, it’s yours.

    Most torches come with a wrist strap: I’ve attached a karabiner to mine, so keep it clipped on a belt loop when I’m exploring. This can also be a handy ‘hands free’ light source when descending a ladder / rope into a pitch black cellar as it lights below your feet!

    At the time of writing I’d say the Lenser P7 was the most popular explorers torch. It’s a small, well made LED torch, with a simple push button on the base allowing it to be operated with one hand. It’s telling that this is the most popular torch among law enforcement officers in the UK too. They are between £35-£40, bright, sturdy, everything you want. I use a cheaper version, the only other advantage is that the base of mine is flat, allowing me to stand it up like a candle, whereas a P7 is rounded at the base.

    Standing a torch up like a candle - Note the karabiner clip

    When using your torch at night, be aware of how much you’ll stand out. A lit room in an asylum that’s been abandoned for a decade draws a lot of attention. Some people swear by putting a yellow filter over their torch to make it blend in more with the lighting you get at night from street lights, I cant say I’ve ever tried it.

    If you’re going draining take two torches, both with spare batteries. A working musician once said to me “To have one of something is to have none of something, to have two of something is to have one of something.” These words are very wise, people always assume the battery will die before the torch. This isn’t always true, and to be 800m down a drain when your one and only torch goes is terrifying.

    Batteries:
    Always bring spare batteries. Enough for you, and at least one other explorer. I bring 8 AA’s normally. 4 spare for my flash, 2 spare for my torch, and 2 spare to give away.

    Mobile Phone: It could save your life. But it could also drop out of your pocket, or ring wildly just as security is passing you. Put it on silent and zip it in. GPS mapping apps can be helpful in navigating large sites.

    Using an iPhones GPS to navigate a large site - Severalls Asylum

    Food / water:
    If it’s a big site and you’re going to be there a while, why not treat yourself. There’s nothing like dining on top of a water tower 200ft above the surrounding landscape. Avoid caffeine on the actual explore as it’s a diuretic and you’ll need to wee a lot, and avoid alcohol for obvious reasons. The best explore snack is Haribo, and the best explore lunch is KFC. Fact.

    Alcohol rub:
    Even if your hands manage to avoid the rats urine, dust, pigeon excrement, asbestos powder, and lead paint, it’s always nice to have clean hands to eat. If your hands do become overly filthy it’s worth cleaning them to avoid leaving palm prints on doors etc.

    First Aid kit:
    Just a little one, for cuts / bruises etc. If you lose a hand you’ll probably prefer to go to a hospital than to let your mate try and stitch it on because he has the kit to do so. The pack that you carry with you shouldn’t extend too far beyond plasters. I see people carrying around full on operating theatres with them and it makes me laugh that they wouldn’t even know how to use most of it! The bigger first aid pack can be left in the car.

    UrbanX leaking after an injury whilst exploring - Belgium

    Maps:
    This is a whole subject to itself - See Para 13.0 “Mapping” If you do decide you need a map, be prepared to explain it if you get caught. I hate using them on an explore, preferring to map the place mentally in my head. Sometimes it’s essential, Box Mine in Wiltshire for example has 96km of tunnels, which all look the same, and it’s pitch black. You can only cover about 8Km a day underground, so if you get lost in there it could kill you.

    Map of Box Mine, Wiltshire, UK

    In Car Bag:
    As outlined above I keep another stash of exporing gadgets in the car, then I cqan decide if I need anything for a particular explore. For me, this is a big bulky rucksack that would be useless on an explore. It’s the bag I take as luggage on a euro explore, so is big enough to hold three days worth of clothes, alcohol, and hair products. I’ve found an ‘assault rucksack’ from an army & navy surplus store which seems fit for the job. It’s covered in webbing loops, I tried counting them once, but gave up after 100. What you cant fit in the bag can be hung from it!

    Car bag

    Climbing Slings / other climbing gear
    A year ago, I would have said that anyone carrying these was going over the top. Then I saw them in action recently. Watching an explorer twice my age clear a 10ft razor palisade with ease changed my whole outlook. Climbing slings are loops of webbing, of varying lengths. Their most common use in urbex is to be linked, to form a makeshift ladder, there’s a photo of some explorers scaling an 8ft razor pallisade using this method in “Access”. They can also stand in for a straight rope, or even to form a prussic friction knot to form a crude safety fall back.

    An alternative to climbing loops are strong belts, like skate or caving belts. If there are four of you, and you link your belts to form a chain 6 ft long (assuming each one extends to 36” Circumference. This should be more than enough to clear a 10ft fence. Then on the other side you all put your belts back on, simples!

    There is loads of climbing gear to talk about, but it’s pretty specialised stuff, and not needed on 99% of explores. I’ll leave it for now as if you’re using it, you’re more skilled in it than me.

    Gaffer Tape
    There’s a saying that: “You only need two items in your toolkit: if it’s supposed to move, use WD40, if it’s supposed to stay still use gaffer tape.” It is invaluable, it can fix anything. Situations I’ve found it most helpful in urbex is: to patch up ripped combat trousers between sites (see Para. 5.4 of an incident with some barbed wire) It can also be made to form makeshift climbing loops: If you make a loop of gaffer say 30cm across, (sticky side out) then cover this with another layer of gaffer (sticky side in) it makes an extremely strong loop. Make 4 of these inter connected, and hey presto you have a ladder.

    Leatherman Multi-tool:
    Ooh “Going equipped! Going equipped!” I hear you cry! This is why I leave it in the car. It’s not a bulletproof argument, but is easier to explain. I know an explorer who swears by his, and takes it with him on every single explore. He’s been arrested several times with it on him, but has never had hassle with it. He told me once that an officer started to raise it with him, until he pointed out that the officer had the same one clipped to his belt! I cant even begin to list the uses for them here: When I was travelling across the Ukraine by train, the beds are suspended on chains from the side of the carriage, mine had pulled out. I was able to bore a new hole, and screw the chain back in for a good nights sleep. Down in box mine (permission visit) I used it to cut cheese, and open wine for a cheese and wine party 100ft below the surface. Use it to cut gaffer, or medical tape, or tighten your tripod plate to your camera.

    Enjoying cheese & wine 100ft underground

    Better first aid kit:
    This is where I keep things like bandages, creams, scissors, tape etc. I never understand people with massive first aid kits, if me or someone else is that badly injured, we’re going to hospital. As talented as my fellow explorers are, I don’t want one of them sewing my hand back on. Make sure you know what’s in your kit, and how to use it. Check it regularly as things can go out of date.

    Carrier bags:
    Even on summer explores the amount of stuff that ends up wet and muddy is staggering. It’s so handy to have a fist full of carrier bags for wet shoes. Plus they keep your car mats looking nice, and at the end of the day can be used as a rubbish bag for all your KFC wrappers.

    Post explore bath, you can imagine what the car looked like…

    Glow sticks:
    Not just for the early 90’s. These are infinitely useful underground. I always attach one to my black camera bag before going underground as it is so, so easy to lose. If everyone in your party attaches one to their person, it’s easy to see at a glance where everyone is, and check everyone is still with you.


    Chalk:
    If you have to make small discreet marks underground, make sure they can be brushed off after you’re done with them.

    2 Way radios:
    Oh, we’re getting really James Bond now!
    Ideally, the group stays together and you’ll never need these. But this rarely happens! Especially if it’s a big group, splitting up is essential. Radios can be more of a hindrance a lot of the time though: Imagine hiding in silence behind a door as security is passing you by, when over your radio barks “Oi, watch out, that ginger security guard is heading your way!” Not Ideal. Even worse are the beeps and crackles they seem to emit at their own will. For this very reason you can justify getting an ear piece. They’re around £10 from Maplin, and will make you feel like a double agent as well as keeping you hidden. Remember that radios are useless underground.

    Wet Wipes:
    Not very James Bond, but lovely to have these in the car to come back to.

    A proper ladder:
    I feel bad for even putting this one here as I’ve only ever used one once. It’s so brazen, but for this particular site there was no other way of scaling the 20ft wall!

    Using a metal ladder to scale a wall

    Door Stops:
    I’ve seen people take these with them, especially when exploring alone to stop doors closing behind them, locking them in. Failing that there’s often debris around the site that can be used, or use your tripod, or your gaffer… etc.

    Credibility props:
    Kinda overlaps with the hi-vis paragraph, anything that makes you look like you’re supposed to be there. Anything from a clip board, to a tape measure can be used to great effect. We’ve even been known to take a Frisbee, and upon seeing the security guard approaching, play the “I’ve found it!” game. I think the empty dog lead, and shouting “Fenton?” can be a bit much. Just make sure you all know your story, and use the prop to your advantage and not to dig yourself into deeper trouble.

    Euro Exploring / Travelling:
    If you’re going abroad to explore, you’ll want to pack extras such as cosmetics, travel adaptors etc. That’s all common sense so I’ll leave it up to you. Carry your passport at all times, if you get apprehended by the politze and you don’t have it, they will treat you ten times worse. The only modifications I make to my camera bag kit, is I get rid of the alcohol run (liquid) and replace it with an mp3 player. I can swan through airport security with no liquids. Observe the local laws, in France you’ll need two breathalyzers in the car, and all of Europe you’ll need the Hi-vis / emergency triangle kit. Don’t forget things like insect repellent and sun block.

    Packing for three days in Europe, Aug 2012 (excuse the grainy phone pic)

    Passport:
    So your actual passport should ideally have 6 months left on it, some countries are really paranoid about you only having a short time until expiration in case you go missing or end up in hospital for a long spell. There’s mixed opinions on carrying it about with you while urbexing. The fear that it will get lost, or wet isn’t unfounded, however the opinion that you’ll wriggle out of a situation with the authorities by not having ID on you is incorrect. Police will view a foreigner in a derelict building without ID, or even specifically a passport) with extreme suspicion. I’m always a lot happier having it zipped into a pocket than I am leaving it in some dodgy budget hostel anyway.

    It may sound OTT but taking two photocopies of your passport, and all of your bank cards (front and back) can be a lifesaver. Take one copy with you, and leave one in the UK with a friend. Sure, if you lose your passport you can go to your embassy and explain – The first two things they will ask you for is your passport number and where it was issued. You’ll have to be an very self obsessed to know this information off the top of your head. If you can hand them a copy of the missing passport they can instantly verify your identification on screen, and take steps to issuing you a replacement right then and there. I know someone who lost his passport on an island that didn’t have a British embassy, unfortunately he needed a passport to fly to the adjacent country which did have an embassy! I’m not saying it will work everywhere, but he managed to travel it on a photocopy of his passport.

    It’s the same with your bank cards. If you lose them in a foreign country, and have no internet access how are you going or know what number to phone? Or the number / expiry date on your card?!

    Anything Else?
    Anything else in terms of night vision, grappling hooks, ropes / climbing gear probably isn’t really necessary and makes it harder to get away with the ‘we just wandered in’ excuse.

    I cant reiterate enough that all of this needs tailoring to the explore. You don’t need weeks of rations and climbing gear to do a bungalow – but going underground without them would be suicide. You need a boat to do Camden catacombs, and a Geiger counter to do Pripyat. This is far from an exhaustive list - There are hundreds of things that can aid you on an explore: Drainers will talk to you for hours about types of waders, Lift surfers will show off their selection of utility keys, and cavers love to show you their helmet. Just take what you need.

    4.1 What not to take:
    Please, please, please, do not take anything like:
    Markers, spraycans, screwdrivers, pliers, lock picks, crow bars, drugs, etc.
    If you’re caught you won’t be trespassing, you’ll be immediately assumed to be a burglar, and will almost certainly be charged with ‘going equipped’. You’ll be sent to jail, and one day in the showers you’ll drop the soap...

    This might sound basic, but do you know exactly what’s in your rucksack right now? When was the last time you took everything out? It’s worth a thorough check, just to make sure you don’t have any of the above before you leave the house.

    5.Access

    5.1.Getting in:
    We will only enter a site or building if there is a way in that avoids any damage, no matter how small. We respect and care for the buildings that we visit. We want to preserve them as best we can for future explorers. We’ve spent loads of evenings down the local library finding out about this fantastic building, why would we want to damage it?!

    There is normally a way in without breaking any laws or locks. Sometimes this can be obvious, such as a missing door. Normally it is a lot harder and will involve a lot more thinking. “Is there a service tunnel that goes into the building?” “Is there an open window on the top floor?” “Is there a ventilation grill missing, that’s big enough to squeeze into?”.

    Entries vary greatly on every site, from ‘walk-ins’ to climbs up the face of the building to a small opening. When buildings are ‘secured’ 99% of the time it’s as a deterrent. If it looks hard to get in, most people will be put off trying. Often gaps will be left at junctions, normally considered too tight for a human to pass, but it’s surprising where you’ll fit. Here’s an explorer exploiting the gap at the edge of a grille:


    Again, this is half of the satisfaction of exploring – finding a way in without causing damage. Due to the amount of hours that explorers put into finding access, we will never publish access information on a particular site.

    Sometimes objects on the site can facilitate access:


    Kids are permanently plugged into Google these days, by publishing access details online it would be advertising a free place to hang out, drink, smoke, spraypaint, and start fires. It would also inform the security company in charge of the site the exact place to seal off. Vandals, and general bad guys are however often a blessing in disguise. If you find a site completely boarded up, try visiting it the following week. Chances are some low level criminal would have been to rip off a window board for you.

    I get so many emails every week from A level photography students asking about access, and most are disappointed when I am reluctant to give them detailed information about access to a particular site. Unfortunately it is inevitable that when they show their lovely photographs to the other thirty teenage classmates, there will be questions and interest in “how they got in” probably more so attention than the actual photograph.

    One of two things happens when non-explorers frequent abandoned buildings:
    • One: The owners of the site notice, and lock it down, tightening security.
    • Two: The building quickly becomes vandalized; normally this quickly leads to arson and the building being razed.

    Apologies if this seems pessimistic and paranoid, but it’s just my personal experience:
    Holland House, burnt down shortly after I visited: http://www.newmarketjournal.co.uk/news/local/arson_attack_on_derelict_stables_1_548096?action=logout Westmill foods burnt down shortly after I visited: http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Ely/Factory-to-be-demolished-after-arson.htm Wilson Connolly Logistics, Hescot Furniture, the Cane Hill Asylum, many other places have all gone the same way, since non-explorers have found ways in.

    Without mentioning any specific access points, I can share my experiences and tips of certain obstacles:

    5.2 Fences:
    These are used by us humans to mark our territory. It’s way more convenient to erect one of these than to constantly go around the perimeter urinating. Often these barriers are more psychological than physical. Even an average able bodied person can get over a 6ft wall or fence in a few seconds, they are meant as a deterrent than an actually physical barrier. If they literally didn’t want you to get over it, it’s be 50ft tall, and electrified. When salmon farmers pen their fish in the ocean they corral the fish then use a bubble curtain to keep them penned in. There is nothing stopping the fish physically swimming through it, it just see’s the barrier and assumed it to be physical.

    So you’re ready to climb the fence? Why bother, the gate’s open.


    Again this is back to the psychology of the fence. It will look big and imposing to the public, and most people will stroll by assuming that it’s doing a pretty good job. Whereas in fact, I’d wager that 90% of the fences that we deal with, are not complete.

    A common practice is to fence off the most visible side of the site, and leave the other sides that are out of public view completely open. Walk the perimeter, is it complete? Didn’t think so:


    Often new fences, or fences on sloping sites will not go all the way to the ground. It is far easier to roll under a fence than climb over it. Oh, and I’ve found it’s definitely easier to roll than to crawl, or Lambada.

    Types of Fence:
    5.3 Chain link:
    Very common, can be erected by semi skilled workers quickly and cheaply from a roll. These are extremely climbable. If you cant get your feet into the holes, take your shoes off and climb it in socks. One of the great things about this fencing is that it’s very common in public parks, around basketball courts etc. So you are free to practice to your hearts content before tackling a ‘live’ one. If someone asks you what you are doing, you can smugly tell them that you’re simply practicing your climbing. It’s legal.

    Through practice you will get a feel for it, the way it flexes in the middles, or how its rigid around the upright posts. Do the corner posts have supports at 45 degrees which you can walk up? You’re half way to the top already. One thing you’ll learn pretty quickly is how much easier taught fences are to climb than baggy ones! As soon as you’ve had experience climbing a loose one, you’ll train yourself to look for the tightest fences you can on explores!

    Of course if you can avoid a climb at all so much the better. These will often have human sized holes already cut into them by previous visitors.


    5.4. Barbed wire:
    This is normally used on top of the chain link fence as an added deterrent. The easiest thing of course is to avoid it, is there any sections missing? Failing that you simply have to climb as high as you can and step over the wire. If you don’t feel confident of this, it may pay to bring a slab of blanket, or carpet to lessen the penetration of the barbs. Try and aim for taught barb wire, as it’s more predictable than loose wire which will sway about as you climb.


    Unfortunately on this occasion, I became snagged on the barb wire entering the site. Try and avoid this, it’s quite embarrassing talking to a security guard whilst he can see your underwear.

    5.5. Razor Wire:
    Barbed wire’s evil twin brother. Whilst it’s not illegal in the UK, it’s use is discouraged by the Police after a number of burglars injured themselves on it, and sued the householder. I’ve personally never come across it on a derelict site, I would recommend treating it like barbed wire, but with more caution.
    Note: I have assumed the above sharp wires simply line the top of the fence. I have seen it in some extreme cases used in coils. I have absolutely no idea how to tackle it so wouldn’t want to comment on it.

    5.6. Palisade fencing.
    This is becoming more common, and to be honest is pretty effective. They consist of metal ‘spears’ usually topped with 3 razor sharp spikes each, and range in height from 6ft to 12ft. Assuming there are no gaps, the easiest thing is to go through the fence. Walk the perimeter and run your hand along each palisade, are any of them loose. It only talks one broken fixing on the bottom rail to be able to pull the spear to one side and step through. Always remember to put it back as soon as you have passed through, to avoid alerting anyone to your presence on site, and to the access.


    If there’s nothing for it, you’re going to have to go over. The horizontal rails are always located on the ‘inside’ so no help there, and the vertical members are carefully placed so you can rarely wedge a boot in. Bar Olympic gymnasts, most people wont be strong enough to hoist themselves up with their upper body only, so how do you do it?

    A makeshift ‘grappling hook’ can be made from a 1ft length of broom handle, and a length of knotted rope. Tie the rope to the handle, throw over the fence. The handle will wedge between the palisades, leaving you to climb up and over. When you get to the top do not forget to grab your climbing device and drop down to the inside. Do not leave it hanging there! I would avoid using the carpet / rug trick on these, it will just weigh you down.

    This method should take an average explorer around a minute. This can be very significant, as one site which I have visited was security patrolled every 9-10 minutes, we had to time it perfectly to get our whole group up and over without being spotted.

    If you’re lucky enough to own a set of climbing loops, a makeshift ‘ladder’ can be made in seconds by daisy chaining a few together, which can be easily looped over the top of the fence.


    5.7. Electric Fences:
    I’ll mention them here, as they do exist. I’ve never know of one on a derelict site as they require so much maintenance, and of course an electric supply. In the unlikely event that you come across one, try and avoid it, find another way in.

    6.0 Security:
    A lot of sites, even derelict ones have active security. Even more sites have signs up saying that they have security, but in truth they stopped hiring that company years ago, but the signs are still up.

    Why have security at all? For several reasons: Firstly is the fear that people will get in, injure themselves, and sue the owners. Secondly the site may be up for development. Take Severalls Hospital, they are planning to put 1,500 homes on the site: If we said conservatively £175k per home, the site all of a sudden becomes worth £265m, that’s definitely worth guarding.

    Every site is different, but there are generally two levels of patrol that the owners can opt for: ‘On site’ where there is a security presence 24 hours a day. They will often hole up in portacabin near the entrance, and will probably patrol once an hour, on the hour. Depending on the site this could be a walk around, or a drive around in a van. It’s definitely worth watching the site for a couple of hours before you attempt the fence. You can get a good idea of how often they patrol (it’s normally on the hour, and the half hour), where they go, how long the route takes, etc. Also if they have dogs...

    The second level of security will be where a guard has say 10 sites to cover, and will drive to each in turn, once, twice, or thrice a day. These guards generally have less commitment to the site, and will be more interested in ticking the box that says they’ve visited and checked the perimeter.

    6.1 Guard dogs:
    I’m talking about the type that are attached to the guards, not the free roaming ones here. A lot of guards have these now, and not really for the reason you think. Security dogs don’t drag you to the ground by your arm, that’s police dogs. Police dogs are extremely well trained, and you will be given 3 clear verbal warnings by a trained officer before they are allowed to release the hounds.

    Top tip: If you do stupidly decide to run for some reason from a Police dog, don’t dart around cones, scrabble through a tube, and over a seesaw, they’re trained for that.

    It is far more likely that a security guard will bring his or her pet dog along for company. Unfortunately even the yappiest of poodles has an excellent nose, and will easily sniff you out. No matter how well you hide, they will find you! On the upside, most guards won’t let their dogs inside any buildings with broken glass in.

    6.2. Dealing with security:
    First tip: Don’t get caught and you won’t have to.

    If you do get caught; don’t let it ruin your day, it happens to us all, and if it doesn’t then you’re not trying hard enough.

    As soon as you become aware that someone may be onto you you have three options:
    Hide: Only attempt this if you have somewhere to hide, obviously. If you get caught whilst hiding, it will be ten times more embarrassing. Again, only attempt this if the guard is dogless. If you do hide, be prepared for a wait, a good jobsworth will hang around for up to 20 minutes, which will feel like a lifetime in a dusty cupboard. Especially if you need to cough / sneeze / fart / burp.

    Come Clean – It’s a fair cop guv’ you got me. This is often the best option you’ve been busted red handed. How you handle the situation is entirely down to you and the guard. Be polite, protest your innocence that you’ve done anything wrong. Show them how artistic your photos are, and explain that you’ve caused no damage etc. The worst they can (legally) do is to ask you leave. If they do, then leave, it’s only courteous. They cannot hold you under civilian arrest, as you’ve not committed a criminal act. If they try - walk away, leave the site. If you feel at all threatened by them do not hesitate to call the police first.
    You do not have to give them your name, or any details about yourself.

    If they ask you to delete your photo’s – do not, under any circumstance delete your photos! If any police involvement happens later on you can be charged with destroying evidence. Your photo’s have accurate time stamp information in the Exif data that proves where you were at certain times. If anyone else deletes your photographs they have committed an act of criminal damage, this also applies to police officers.

    Last Option: Run! This is our natural instinct; however it is a absolute fact in security guards minds that only guilty people run. If you’re going to run you’ve got to be confident that you’re going to get away, because if they catch you, and you’ve made them out of breath, then they will not be happy.

    Ninjalicious provides a great formula in his book “Access All Areas” (See further reading) on how to calculate if you can get away. Take your running speed in kilometres, and subtract that of the guard. This can be calculated using their circumference, age, and footware). Give your knowledge of the site a mark out of ten, and subtract what you believe the guards to be. If you end up with negative result you should stay put. If you end up with a positive number, you should stop doing sums and start running.

    6.3 Dealing with Police:
    All of the above principles of dealing with security apply to the police too: Be polite, don't be cocky, but don't feel afraid to correct them if they're wrong. Now of course we all know that you've done nothing wrong, you're somewhere you're not supposed to be, but you haven't damaged anything, and you're not committing a criminal offence, so first of all relax - you're going to win this one.

    So if it isn't illegal why would the police get called at all? Normall they turn up when a member of the public has seen you, they don't know what you're up to, so have instinctively called the police. They have to respond, so they have to turn up. Alternatively if a security has very good reason to think that you're genuinely up to no good they may call them in.
    I've included a video of our last encounter with Essex Constabulary, they were called as there was a large group of us and the security guard thought there could be something more going down (i.e. planning a rave, etc.).

    Know thy enemy: There's a few things that the police need to hear before they send you on your way, we know this so at the early natural opportunity we mention that we came in over the fence (causing no damage) and that the photos are for non-comercial purposes. The policeman tries the ol' "You could be seen as committing an a [sic] burglary" and we quickly correct him that we're not, and that we're committing a civil trespass. Our whole encounter lasts a couple of minutes at most, no searches, no names taken, no photos deleted - quite the opposite in fact I was filming the whole thing on two cameras.



    7.Dangers

    7.1 Asbestos / Lead paint / Anthrax
    Asbestos was used widely in construction right up until the 80’s. If it’s left alone it’s fine, if it’s disturbed then you run the risk of breathing it in. There’s not much you can do to avoid it, it’s found in insulation, floor tiles, plasterwork, everywhere. As long as the place is fairly well ventilated, and you’re not kicking up dust you should be fine.
    If you’re going to enter an enclosed space, such as a service tunnel, you probably won’t be fine:


    Always protect yourself with a face mask. These come in P1, P2, and P3 grades. The first two are for general DIY, only a P3 mask will filter out the tiny asbestos particles. I prefer the disposable type, around £9 from home base:


    7.2 Poop
    Pigeons love derelict buildings too. They also love to poo. It’s horrible stuff, and contains more bacteria than I would like to think about. Try and avoid it, but if you do get it on your hands, was / sterilise them as quickly as possible.

    7.3 Floors / ladders / Stairs
    Always test floors before trusting them with your full weight. Where possible stick to the edges of the rooms as these are generally more solid. If it’s a timber floor the positions of the joists below will be indicated by rows of nails, where possible stick to these. Use the same rules for ladders, inspect rungs, and test them before trusting them. When doing any sort of climbing, a general rule is to have 3 points of contact at any point. i.e. one foot and two hands. If you slip, the chances are that you will be able to support yourself from three points of contact.


    Sometimes the stair treads may be missing from the flight completely. This does not mean that you cant climb the handrail:


    7.4 Undesirables / Residents
    At some point during your Urbex career you are fairly likely to bump into someone up to no good. Unfortunately a lot of society see derelict buildings a ‘law-free’ refuge. The best tactic is simply to give them a ‘thumbs up’ as soon as you see them. This lets them know that you’re not there to cause them trouble. Personally I’d avoid anywhere that has evidence of recent drug use, like the plague.

    I feel bad putting ‘squatters’ in this category, as 99% of them are lovely people who chose to live an alternative lifestyle to the norm. When you encounter squatter be courteous, and polite. Remember that you’re visiting their home, so act like you would normally in someones home; you wouldn’t normally be snapping away at someones sleeping area would you?

    If you bump into someone doing damage to the building, it’s your call as to if you want to report it. Just think about how you are going to explain your presence there.


    Unfortunately derelict structures can be used as dumping grounds for all kind of unpleasantness . Mafia Tunnel, Ukraine.

    7.5 Cuts, burns, etc.
    It’s likely that you’re also going to get scratched and cut throughout your Urbex life. In fact it’s a certainty. It can’t be avoided just minimised. Common sense is your friend; watch for bits of glass still attached to the window frame, and rusty nails. Always treat any electrical fittings / cabinets as live, until you are definite that they are not. If you do end up bleeding, just use common sense, clean it up, dress the wound (plasters or gaffa tape) make sure you’re not bleeding to death, and carry on exploring. Do check that you’re not fatally wounded though; it’s easy to not feel a cut when adrenalin is flowing.

    UrbanX’s Accident in Chateau Chat Noir:


    At the time of writing I’ve been on over 250 explores and have only needed one hospital visit as a result of exploring. Whilst walking past a shed, I somehow walked into a metal rod which was protruding from it. It entered my ear canal, ripping it down the entire length, before piercing right through it, just 1mm away from my eardrum. Seconds later my ear was welling with blood. Be careful out there, you never expect it to happen to you, but it has to happen to someone.


    7.6 Falling from height:
    This is probably the most likely way that you’ll die urbexing. Even if you did cut off your hand, you’d probably still live. If you fall off a water tower you have no chance. It’s the main cause of death in the construction industry too. Everyones threshold on heights is different, and these should be respected.

    It is a real danger and a lot of the buildings I have documented on here have taken peoples lives. In June 2012 an airsofter fell through the first floor of the Brewery E . When I went months later there was still police tape marking off the area below the jagged hole in the floor (undeterred I climbed all seven storeys in sub zero temperatures and driving snow). The Next day I visited Grand Moulin De Paris, which has claimed the lives of seven graffiti artists since becoming derelict, although if you see some of the positions of the artwork there you’ll be surprised it’s not more.

    Atop of Chateau Noisy, Photo courtesy of CovertUrbex

    Never lose sight of the fact that you can fall from height from the ground floor: I was saddened to hear of the death of a Seattle explorer a few years ago: He had wanted to explore a local industrial building for some time, but could never find a non-destructive entry. Until one night he was walking past when he spotted a door wide open. Seizing the opportunity he darted out of the sight of the traffic and into the door. Unfortunately the door led straight into a lift shaft which dropped three storeys below street level, he was killed instantly.

    Whilst exploring a the ground floor small house in Belgium the explorer only a couple of feet in front of me suddenly dropped through the floor. He managed to stretch his arms out to save himself falling through completely. I dropped my camera, grabbed him under the armpits and luckily was able to pull him out, we were only exploring in a pair. I could feel him thrashing his legs, unsuccessfully trying to get purchase on any support beneath him. After we’d both composed ourselves we shone a torch down the hole, expecting to see a crawl space – no it was a double height basement. Had he not had such quick reactions he would have been very badly injured. It’s one thing recovering someone that has fallen from an upper floor to the ground floor, but is a completely different ball game trying to recover someone from below ground level.

    8.0 Draining
    There’s no getting round it, draining is dangerous, really dangerous. All drain functions are automated, and have little to no human input. When an attenuation tank nears capacity, it will trigger an overflow sensor; this will release tens of thousands of gallons of waste water into the system without warning. Even the best designed drain doesn’t take into account explorers wandering through them.

    There are three types of drain below our cities:
    • Foul water sewers - Which take pure sewerage, personally I avoid these.
    • Combined sewers - Which combine sewage with storm water, used to ‘flush’ out the system
    • Storm water sewers: The most pleasant of all drains. However, through personal experience these are not always as ‘pure’ as they are made out to be. Wandering through them you can find evidence dating back to the Victorian era of dodgy house builders simply tapping their waste pipes straight into these, instead of expensively plumbing it to the foul sewer. You have been warned.


    Decent drains are inherently harder to find than derelict buildings as they are located some 30ft below your normal eyeline. You will most likely find them by wandering past their outfall. Another good method of finding them is to look at cities on Google maps, and look for sudden starts or stops of watercourses. A city has a massive surface of hard landscaping that water runs off, it has to go somewhere.

    It’s very easy for harmful gasses to build up in drains, especially in the less ventilated areas deep underground. I’ve always been paranoid about naked flames / sparks in these environments because of this. If any member of your group starts to feel nauseous, dizzy, of light headed, you should all move to a better ventilated area immediately. I can’t condone taking a budgie in a cage down in any circumstances.

    Always watch your footing, even more carefully than you would in a derelict building. Victorian sewers are built entirely of brick. The surface that you walk on would have been polished to a mirror like finish by the action of water flowing over it for a hundred years. Normally its then coated in a fine layer of highly lubricating algae. There will often be ‘sumps’ in pipes, up to 20ft deep to catch debris. Assume that you will fall down one of these with every step you take where you cant see the floor.

    So, all these dangers, why do it?
    When I was a child, we always used to talk about how cool it would be to have secret tunnels between our houses. Well through draining I have fulfilled this fantasy. Imagine walking the streets of the city on a busy Friday night, when the streets are filled with loud and rowdy people; Then effortlessly popping a manhole, and dropping into your own silent underworld. A network of tunnels as big as the city itself, inhabited only by you. You can walk anywhere you want, alone, only with a damp musty scent in the air, and the feint sound of traffic rumbling above you. It’s pure exhilaration.

    9.0(Not) taking souvenirs
    This is just a reminder of what I said in the first few paragraphs: “We take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” I’m sure that if you’ve read to this point then you’re not the type to take souvenirs as some kind of ‘proof’ that you’ve been somewhere. It’s a criminal act, if you’re caught; you will have the metaphorical book thrown at you, quite rightly. Even worse than breaking the law, you’ll ruin the experience for future explorers. Imagine if everyone that went before you had swiped that retro looking phone, or the sign for the Xray machine, your experience wouldn’t have been nearly have fulfilling, would it? Lecture over.

    10.0 Who to take with you:
    It’s probably a bad idea to go exploring on your own. If you do, and I often have, just use common sense. Leave a loved one your exact location, including entry points, and times that you expect to be in and out. The last time I went on my own I ended up in hospital, and it’s no fun not having someone to share that with.

    So I get a message from a stranger on the internet. He and his mates want to meet me, alone, at an abandoned lunatic asylum in the middle of the night. I’m sure this was something my parents told me not to do. But sometimes parents are wrong, going along to meet those guys (and gals) was one of the best things I’ve ever done!. Strangers are friends you haven’t met. Just exercise the same caution you would anywhere else on the interwebz.

    I cannot stress how much trust you place with your fellow explorers. Even in just meeting them: I mean, you’re going to meet a complete stranger from the internet, in the middle of the night, at the abandoned mill? I’m sure when I was younger that was something my parents told me not to do.

    On my very last explore I was being shown the access by a complete stranger I had met for the first time, just minutes before. He pointed a torch down a manhole and said “just drop down there.” The torch didn’t even seem to light the bottom; it was just a well of darkness. You really have to trust someone before throwing yourself (a storey height at least) into something like that.

    Explorers are geeks. I know that any explorer that has invited me out has sifted through my previous reports and probably my Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc. Social networking has enabled us to build a picture of the whole person before you meet them. That’s not to say Charles Manson couldn’t have created a nice Facebook profile, with pics from ‘Corfu ‘06’, so be careful.

    Girls are good to take if you aren’t one already. Security are always more sympathetic to them for some reason. I know one explorer who takes his son, although having a child for the sake of Urbex is beyond my level of commitment for the hobby. I’ve known people to take dogs with them, to provide a “I came in here looking for my dog” excuse. Although I believe this is too risky on anything but a rural site (broken glass in paws, guard dogs, etc.).

    Do you trust you fellow explorers enough that if you were about to step on a bit of rotten floor they’d grab you? If you don’t, then I assume you’re content with falling four storeys because someone was too shy to say anything?

    10.1Group size:

    Exploring with one is probably a bad idea....
    Exploring in a pair is great for low-risk sites and where stealth is paramount.
    Exploring in a trio is ideal. If one person gets injured, one can stay with them, while the third goes for help.
    Exploring with 4-6 is probably the most common group size for large sites. Just make sure you keep out of each others’ shots!
    Exploring with 7+ is pretty unfeasible on 99% of sites, but is feasible on huge sites:


    10.2 Age / Physique:
    Explorers come from all age groups and none are any ‘better’ than others. An 18 year old is more likely to be able to scale a wall, but a 45 year old is more likely to find an easier way over. An 18 year old may have all of the energy for a epic industrial explore, but a 45 year old is more likely to have a rich knowledge of the machinery & tools. I got into exploring around the age of 24, and have generally found the most common age group to be 28-48, although that is just my experience.

    It’s a myth that all urbexers are super human ninjas. There, I said it. A lot of us are overweight and unfit. It’s rarely an issue: we’re not leaping across chasms, or pulling ourselves up by one hand, there’s no need. We’re inherently lazy, and will always seek the easier, safer way. It is a massive help to be able

    On the subject of being chased by dogs: ”You don’t have to be the quickest in your group… You just have to not be the slowest” – Nelly, Urban Explorer

    10.3 Etiquette:
    Be nice to one another; it’s not hard. I find that explorers generally bond quite quickly, probably due to the risky nature of the hobby and the number of anecdotes we are all keen to share. If you see someone struggling to get out of a manhole, pull them up. If you see someone struggling to get over a fence, throw them over, I’m sure they’d do the same for you.

    Remember you’re working as a team: if someone’s torch batteries fail, and you have spares, lend them. Always take along more food and drink than you think you’ll need and share. Make sure everyone has washed their hands with alcohol rub first though. Why not print off a few more copies of that asylum layout to give to your fellow explorers? It’s only courteous to offer petrol money to the driver. And finally if someone shares information, or even a whole explore with you, offer to do the same for them in return. If people only take, then the community doesn’t function.

    10.4 Fear:
    I’ve put this section in with “other explorers” because they can be the alleviation of fear, or the accelerators of fear. If you go into an explore completely confidently, but all of your exploring buddies are shaking with fear, it will rub off on you. For the most part, exploring with others will be a lot less scary than if you were doing it on your own.

    I’ve always held the view that if one person really is too uncomfortable with doing something, then no one does. If you come to a challenge, such as jumping between first floors to access another room, and someone was uncomfortable with it then it would end there. Encouraging them to do something that they are really uncomfortable with will always end badly.

    As a group you should know your weaknesses. You can only get over a wall that can be tackled by your worst climber. You can only run from security as fast as your slowest runner. The sooner your group can accept its weaknesses, the sooner you can play to your strengths, and avoid situations that expose your weaknesses.

    11.0 Europe:
    More and more explorers are now turning to Europe as an exciting way to find more sites and braoden their horizons. I’m one of them. Frankly the standard of site in Europe is so much better, and lets face it - easier.

    As an example: This is in a town centre, and has no front door.


    Can you imagine how long that would last like that in the UK?! Their whole culture of more respectful ness is apparent everywhere. Most countries in Europe allow drinking at the age of 14, but you rarely ever see a drunk.

    11.1 Costs
    At the time of writing, a car on the ferry costs under £100 (way cheaper if you get a deal in advance) and a double room in a hotel is about £40. So assuming you have a car load of four of you go over for two nights, you’re looking at £65 for 3 days. I can blow that in a night in Cambridge before I’m even tipsy.

    11.2 What to take
    Most European countries insist you have a hi vis in the car (which you’ll have as a good urbexer anyway) as well as spare bulbs, a warning triangle, headlight deflectors, and a couple of breathalysers. You’ll need a GB sticker on your car too if there isn’t one on your number plate. If you don’t have any of this don’t worry, they sell it all on the ferry. Otherwise you’ll need your passport, obviously (more about this in Paragraph 4.0 Gear) and whatever extra clothes / cosmetics you need. I’ve found it helpful to overpack socks. You can never find them in your rucksack, and a clean dry pair is pure bliss when you get in. All of this is discussed in Paragraph 4 Gear”.

    11.3 Law
    The law is different in every country, and I’m not a lawyer. So this is going to be a short paragraph.

    Try not to get caught.

    I know trespass is black and white illegal in Germany, but have never known anyone to actually get charged with it, even if they’ve been caught. Imagine how much beaurocracy is involved with charging a foreigner for such a petty crime.

    11.4 Posting European reports
    European explorers are fastidious about keeping sites secret from undesirables. Nearly all sites will be codenamed, either something like “Sanatorium P” or they will make up a name “Chateau Des Singes” (Castle of monkeys). This is obviously to stop the sites becoming trashed so quickly, and it works. It can be really frustrating to research at first, but Europeans are actually quite free with knowledge once they get to know you. Often a little research will also confirm a location. I.e. if you’ve found the same site called “Chateau P, Des Singes, and Chateau B” and you find a famous botanist with a surname beginning with B, who lived in a town beginning with P, you’ve found your target.

    I would say respect this privacy, if a European explorer has seen you name their favourite site, they will be very reluctant to share info with you in the future. If you stick to their conventions, you’ll be accepted.

    12.0 Balance:
    Good balance is an excellent skill, made even better by the fact it doesn’t take long to master. Seriously an hour of balance practice every now and then will change your life. You’ll think of the obvious advantages with good balance - being able to walk across a beam. Yes it will help with this, but so much more. When you balance you are completely aware of your whole bodies position, where each limb protrudes, and more importantly where you are exerting your weight. You’ll also lean about friction of different materials, and how to cope with slight cambers. You’ll not only be able to walk across joists as if they are solid floors, but also be able to gauge the slightest deflection, or moisture lubricating the surface beneath your sole.

    But yeah, being able to walk across a thin beam with confidence will open up hundreds more sites. It would almost seem super-human to a non balancer to be able to walk 12ft across a pipe. Trust me, its possible for anyone to master after an hours practice. A lot of ditches will be crossed by a pipe before they have any kind of bridge. Imagine being chased by security to a wide, water filled ditch, trust me there are loads ofg them around the fens. You face a 12ft walk across a 2” water main pipe, or a half mile run along the ditch to the next proper crossing. You’d wish you’d have listened to me…

    If you get really good, you may even be able to walk short distances along fences, which again, will get you to places with the minimal of climbing.

    How do you practice? Any way you can. A lot of urbexers are into ‘slack-lining’ a form of tight rope walking, except the rope isn’t tight. It’s considered harder. Where possible, walk along kerbs especially where they are slightly raised on both sides. If you can walk a kerb 4” high, you can walk one a mile high. I live over two miles from my local pub, but I have only ever walked there, and back on kerbs. My biggest tip would be to look ahead, and not where your feet are.



    13.0 Mapping



    By our very nature, explorers are obsessed with maps. We spend hour after hour studying them, and when they don’t exist or need enhancing we turn into amateur cartographers and create our own.

    13.1 Google Maps / Google Earth

    This is what we all probably default to these days when we need a map. I’m not surprised either, they offer comprehensive, almost up to date mapping of the entire Planet, as well as the moon. It’s not to be relied upon 100%, it’s not totally up to date - things get demolished at an alarming rate these days. The resolution still isn’t as good as it will be in a few years time. But it can certainly give you enough information to come to a decision that the building has fallen in to disrepair / is demolished etc.


    Google map of Millennium Mills, (including security guard sitting in his van!):

    The best thing about Google Maps / Earth is the ability to create your own maps. This is an explorers dream. At the time of writing I have around 600 locations ‘pinned’ to my map, but this is going up every day. You can not only ‘pin’ to the map, each pin can contain photos, links, notes, or videos. Further to adding pins, you can draw lines and shapes, which is invaluable for tracking underground rivers / drains etc. This is all done on the online version, which can then be saved into a .kmz file to be viewed in Google Earth. If you feel lilke it you can change the file extension to .xml, and import it into Excel, giving you a table of all of your locations including co ordinates!

    I colour code all my pins, I’m a bit OCD like that - blue for future locations, green for visited locations, red for demolished etc. As an example of what it looks like here’s a censored version of my map (No labels, no colours).



    Another massive advantage to this is that you can carry your map on your smart phone. Providing you have signal, you can track your location alongside your ‘pinned’ locations. This becomes even more invaluable when you start to include “Explorers Maps” from Para 13.8.


    iPhone screen capture inside Severalls.

    There is a really clever way of converting these to TomTom / other navigational device. I don’t use TomTom, but have been in the car when a “You’re close to an urbex location!” Alert has gone off!

    Google Earth also allows the user to manipulate a slider to show all of the previous versions that Google have taken, so you can see how sites have changed over the last decade or so.

    13.2Google Streetview:
    This is an amazing leap of technology, and is the armchair explorers dream. The level of detail is fantastic, and it’s possible to see if boards have been removed / heights of roofs etc. It’s no substitute for the real thing, and a lot of ‘Urbex’ sites are surprisingly rural or down roads that Google dared not venture. Then again there are some where Google seem to have almost had an explore themselves!

    Streetview of St. Andrews Asylum, looks like the Google team enjoyed it!



    13.3 Bing Maps:
    Another mapping website worty of a mention as well as Google. As well as aerial images that are probably about the same quality as Google, they offer a ‘birds eye view’ option. These were taken in low flying aircraft, so give a slightly 3D quality to the images, i.e. not directly from above. In most areas this is rotatable too, so you can actually see all of the elevations of a building. The resolution / quality of these is far superior to that of Google.

    Bing ‘Birds Eye View’ Map of Millennium Mills: Note the film crews & tyre marks from a recent car chase, and also the security guard on the roof:


    The Bing website has also transposed the Ordinance Survey of the UK onto its maps too! Explorers will naturally be drawn to the magical (dis) symbol!

    13.4 Old OS Maps:
    These are available from your local library, and more commonly charity shops. Unfortunately the modern up to date OS maps will often completely remove old features, even if some structure remains. These will be clearly shown on the old maps. Online versions are readily available for free from Oldmaps.co.uk


    1923 Map of Severalls Mental Hospital:

    13.5 New OS Maps / Road maps:
    The good old paper versions that are the best friend of the hiker can be useful to the explorer too. The best one’s are called the ‘Explorer’ series and come with bright orange covers. Not only are they a useful research tool, they can be a good credibility prop: After all, someone in a field in outdoor clothing with a big OS map can’t be up to no good. For the free, electronic versions of OS maps see Paragraph 13.3 Bing Maps.

    Roadmaps will guide you to a site and no more. I have found them to be useful particularly on road trips to Europe though. It’s great having a series of co ordinates in your SatNav, but if a site fails and you want to find the next closest site: It’s so much easier to look on a paper map than to punch in every co ordinate and do a route to every site to find the closest. Also when abroard data is expensive, and phones run out of charge – paper rules supreme.

    For simplicity, and at the risk of the map falling into the wrong hands paper maps should be kept coded. My Euro-map has stars with numbers showing the site, and a separate list noting what each site is, as well as an exact address / location details.



    13.6 Layouts / Surveys etc.
    When a planning application goes in for the development of a derelict site, it will often have a survey of the existing building attached. These are available from the local planning department free of charge, and can prove invaluable.


    Cane Hill Lunatic Asylum Survey:

    Not only are these surveys way more detailed than satellite imagry, they are often necessary for areas not available to satellites…i.e. underground! The Box mine complex under Wiltshire is made up of 96Km of underground passages, which all look the same, being underground it’s also pitch black. It would be reckless to attempt to explore down there without the survey. Luckily there are lovely laminated A3 versions of this available from the local pub!


    Survey of the Paris Catacombs:

    13.7 Hand drawn maps:
    The original explorers map. You cant beat them. I love Google maps, but it’s not guaranteed that you’ll have Wifi or perfect 3G when you’re underground in a service tunnel. Besides, when you hand draw a map, it forces you to actually think about what you’re drawing and visualise it, it’ll go in to your brain so much more.

    Although a wealth of information was available on Pripyat, it had never all been consolidated into a single map. In 2011 I undertook the task of creating one. I started by piecing together screenshots of aerial images to create one large, high res map. From here I made several versions which I marked up by hand as I researched each building.



    When I felt I had enough information, I annotated the aerial map in red using photoshop to create the map shown in Para 13.9.

    13.8 Explorers Maps:



    You will have noticed that we keep these as minimalist as possible. This is for 2 reasons: Firstly it’s easier to read, especially if it’s pitch black and all the ink has run from the rain. Secondly if you get caught with it, it’s easier to explain away if it’s not covered in “Enter through hole in fence here” or “Climb through upstairs window”. If it’s ever found by security / the buildings owner - it’ll be guaranteed that all of the access point will be sealed the next day!

    If I do have to include information on maps which I’m sharing: I’ll use “A” “B” etc. on the map, and provide the recipient with a separate key, usually typed up in the email for them to memorise. So if the map gets lost or found it it’kll be useless to anyone but them.

    13.9 Pripyat Map:
    Until 2011, a complete, annotated, map of Pripyat never existed. So I set about making one! The process was described in Para 13.7, and took me around 50 hours. I’m happy to share it, but I’m sure you can understand my need for watermarks!



    14.0 Sharing / Media / Anonymity

    14.1 Media
    What is the official stance on talking to the media?
    There isn’t one. It’s up to each individual on how much information they decide to share – with anyone. For me urban exploration is about documenting spaces for now, and for future generations. Therefore I feel the need to share what I’ve seen, hence this website. Sure there’s some explores I don’t publish, either because they’ve been a permission visit that I’ve been asked not to publish (Inside certain buildings in Chernobyl for example) or because they’ve felt too voyeuristic to share. Or simply because some places are best kept offline and to a small group of trusted friends.

    It’s because of this compulsion to document that I’ve spoken to any media at all. If I was in it purely for the experience I wouldn’t even take a camera with me.

    Mainstream Media: Although it’s not as popular as footballing or pop music, Urban Exploration is becoming more mainstream by the day. Newspaper articles, Bradley Garrett being interviewed on Sky News, and of course the numerous books, and websites now available. Some people believe that any media is bad media, other people see more public awareness to be a good thing. It’s up to you, there’s no official stance. There are articles on UE in the national newspapers at least once a month now and I can see why; It’s sensationalist and edgy, and is easy for journalists to get hold of high quality images, simples.

    So what do you do if you’re approached by the media? I’d immediately question their motive. Are they trying to make you (and us) look bad? Are they a local paper that want a free photo of the inside of that mill that got torched recently? Are they a media student on an assignment? I get a lot of media enquiries, and only select a few – the most simple way of weeding is checking everything they’ve written for the magical ‘breaking in’ phrase and immediately discard their emails. Generally, one has a gut feeling as to if it feels right, and it’s usually correct.


    UrbanX doing an interview with Adil Ray for the BBC

    14.2 Why the anonymity?
    So if it’s all legit, why do you still obscure your face / real name?
    It’s just what I feel comfortable with. I’m pretty distinctive and don’t always like to hide my handsome face. In fact I try and flash it at least once in every episode of Dereliction Addiction if you watch closely.

    I always used to be blasé about my identity, posting up high res images of my face and my real name. This came to an abrupt end one day at a sugar factory when a security guard caught me and addressed me by name. He took me back to the security hut where on the wall was a high quality photo of my face beaming down at him. It wasn’t worrying, just embarrassing that this guy had better photos of me than my family do, so since that day I’ve just been a little more cautious.

    I’m not a secretive person by any means. I moderate a forum with some 10,000 members and I try and get to meet as many fellow explorers as possible. Then again, I still don’t know some of the real names of some very good friends who I explore with regularly!

    14.3 How much to share
    Sharing information & photographs elsewhere is done by about 90% of explorers. As soon as their photos arer ready they will be up on Facebook, FlickR, Instagram, their own website, and probably a couple of forums. The remaining 10% decide to keep their photos just for themselves, and that’s absolutely fine too. Some explores don’t even take a camera, they are just in it for the explore, and I respect that.

    Each forum has their own guidelines so I won’t try and cover what is appropriate or not to share, use your common sense. Needless to say most forums ask for 10-25 photos of each location – Just because you took 634 photos on the day doesn’t mean we want to see them all.

    15.0 Urbex Humour:
    15.1 You know you’re an urbexer when...
    • You are on first name terms with the security at the best sites
    • When you get excited at seeing the word ‘Derelict’ in a newspaper
    • You have heard of/ have met "The Hammer" of West Park
    • You pass by buildings that are still in use and think 'god that'd make a bloody good explore'
    • You can identify all different types of security fence, to really nerd out your friends (or write an FAQ about it!)
    • Security guards have more photos of you than your parents do.
    • You can say you got chased by dogs and got away
    • You wake up covered in bruises, but smile when you remember the explore where you got them
    • You get a semi when you see fresh scaffold.
    • You dream of exploring
    • You sleep somewhere that a tramp wont even rest his head.
    • You get a shiver down your spine when you smell damp and mould.
    • Your exploring buddies get arrested and the Police ask where you are by name


    15.2 Urbex games
    On a recent long urbex roadtrip I pioneered a game to lace the name of an urbex site into a film / song / band title.
    i.e.
    Dragons Denbeigh
    Lillesden school for Girls just wanna have fun
    Pyestock and 2 smoking barrels
    Gone in 60 Severalls
    Die Hardy Hansons Brewery

    Then there’s always Urbex charades….

    15.3 Gangnam Urbex…


    16.0 Glossary of urbex terms







    To Be Continued...

    UrbanX does not take any responsibility for your silly injuries.