Rocky Horror Show

Urban Exploring in Nottingham

10 August 19 interview: Ashley Carter
photos: Tom Morley

The last decade has seen an explosion of interest in urban exploration – the activity of exploring abandoned man-made structures. But with several recent high-profile deaths, and growing concern from the police, the practise has started to come under increasing scrutiny. We talk to Kayleigh Manning, an urban explorer from Notts, to find out what the fuss is all about…

 

What exactly is urban exploring?
For me, it’s exploring anywhere that has historical value. Abandoned houses, despite not being landmarks, are still very much rich in history. You find the best gems and weird bits of history in places that people might not know very well.

What makes an ideal location?
I love abandoned halls or mansions. Bulwell Hall is one of my favourite places to go because it’s ruined to the extent that it’s falling apart. There is just so much history there; when you go in you can see a children’s measuring chart with the names and heights of the children that used to live there.

That sounds like there’s an element of tragedy to it too?
There definitely is. I’m really interested in morbid history and stories that are sad. A lot of places that urban explorers go to are locations with tragic backstories; houses where people have died or where there’s been a big fire. I’m fascinated in World War II history, which is horribly tragic. I’ve also been to a few houses that were home to older people who have passed away. In a way, I feel like I’m honouring their history by being there and remembering their life. It’s sad that they’ve been forgotten and left to ruin, so I like to go there and treasure what has been left behind.

What are you thinking about when you’re exploring?
I tend to do a lot of it on my own, as I don’t know too many people who are into it. A lot of it is just reflecting on what was there before, and how sad it is that it’s fallen into a state of ruin. But with that said, there is something beautiful about places that have been abandoned, like it’s been allowed to degrade and return to nature.

Do you feel like you’re directly interacting with history, as opposed to viewing it through a television screen or museum glass?
There are a lot of barriers with museums, even with guided tours. You aren’t given any time to reflect on a personal level. But with urban exploring, you can go and look at the things you want to look at, and tangibly interact with them. You get the freedom to touch and feel things if you want to. I like to take little bits as souvenirs, but I obviously wouldn’t take anything too grand or anything personal. I might take a little screw, or something like that. There is an abandoned school in Nottingham that I went to a couple of years ago. I found some old invoices from the sixties, which was really cool. There’s definitely something to be said about having little things like that to yourself, and having knowledge of places that most people aren’t aware of. It’s important to be able to think your own thoughts and make your own opinions, which isn’t really the case when you have a tour guide. You’re always just being told their version of events.

With urban exploration growing more and more popular, is there a sense of wanting to keep some locations to yourself so they don’t get too many other people visiting?
It’s definitely a popular hobby, but there aren’t loads of people doing it locally. We don’t have that many places that are overly well known. And some people do go to sites and wreck them with graffiti. That’s not to say that all graffiti is bad, because there’s some really artistic pieces in abandoned sites, which is really nice to see. But there’s a big difference between that and putting your fag out against a wall.

What was your first experience of urban exploring?
A friend of mine told me about an abandoned house that we thought it would be cool to check out, but we weren’t able to get in. Then I found out that a charity I used to work for in Hucknall had moved and left its old space to rot. It was completely abandoned, and I already knew the place inside out, because I worked there for years. It was so weird seeing a building that I used to love completely empty – especially when you were able to remember all of the memories you’d made there. That started my interest, and made me want to try and find other locations.

If you had an unlimited budget, what sites would you like to explore?
I would love to do Chernobyl. With urban exploring, it depends on the location – so places like that are already too well-known, and your experience would be too formal and guided. Most of the time the best experiences are locations you find that are still hidden, which you only hear about from word of mouth. This is a really strange hobby! I would also love to do the Catacombs in Paris, which I’ve heard you can do by paying dodgy guides. It’s really illegal, but is a much cooler way to see everything.

What’s the weirdest experience you’ve had?
I’ve had quite a few weird experiences, but the main one would be during an exploration of the Rock Cemetery on Forest Road. I’d been down there with a tour guide, but decided I wanted to go back again on my own. I ended up finding some bones in a cave, which is really strange when you’re walking around a cemetery. I was on my own, it was dark and I only had a torch, so it was pretty spooky. There was one really big bone next to the remnants of a fire, and I don’t know how it would have ended up there. I actually called the police about that, because I was quite concerned.

Do the potential legal implications of urban exploring worry you?
Sometimes, yeah. But it really depends on the place. If you’re going into a house on a main road, you’re fairly likely to be seen. But places like Bulwell Hall, which is in the middle of nowhere, you’re much safer. You can make as much noise as you want. You just have to not get freaked out by the signs telling you that you’ll be prosecuted if you’re caught.

Is access the biggest obstacle you have to face?
A lot of the really great locations are meticulously blocked off, which must cost so much money. If they just let people come in, the novelty would eventually wear off. When you put signs up, it adds to the intrigue and invites people to go in.

Did the deaths of urban explorers like Rebecca Bunting and Eric Paul Janssen in recent years have an impact on the way you approach your own exploring?
Definitely. It made me consider more about where my boundaries and limitations are. I'm guilty myself of doing risky climbs and entering unstable building, but it's made me reevaluate my limits. I need to assess how confident I feel in accomplishing a certain exploration, and if it’s too risky then sometimes I won't enter. But on the whole, I'm probably a bit too careless, but that's what adrenaline will do to you! It was so sad to hear of their passing, they were both professionals and icons in our community.

What would you say to someone who was interested in urban exploring?
I would say start off small and simple. Get used to the routine of entering these locations, scoping them out and researching, because you never know what's happened or what could be lurking in that location. Ensure you're prepared for whatever you need to be doing at your location, whether it be climbing or wearing a mask due to asbestos. Don't let ‘no trespassing’ signs scare you; there are entire cities and lost locations just waiting for you to explore them. Take them as an invitation. Most importantly, have fun, interact with these lost worlds, and take history into your own hands.

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