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So after what has seemed like years of waiting and watching every explorer and their uncle get to taste the derelict delights Europe has to offer finally it was the turn of our motley group (bar Mookster the jammy sod as it feels like he's been over here more times than I've had hot dinners) to head on over the pond. After barreling down the A12 from Essex and snatching up Jess, Mookster and I from the arsehole end of London, known to the locals as Orpington and to everyone else as 'don't go there, especially after dark' our heroic party consisting of the already mentioned loonies as well as Ant_43 (aka Gorilla Face) and our noble driver Bones Out (aka Bones Out) arrived at our destination and the beginning of what was to be our grand European Urbex Adventure. In Dover. Arriving perhaps a little earlier than planned (our train wasn't leaving until 11pm) a few quick local explorers were hastily arranged beginning with perhaps truly the greatest explore ever known to mankind, the veritable mansion known as Bushy Ruff House. This glorious site, built in 1797, is still in tip-top mint condition and comes with all it's original features such as walls and holes for windows, even some floor if you are lucky, and will leave any explorer worth his salt speechless, even ones jaded by the past glories of sites such as Pyestock will see they but pale in comparison to this mighty edifice. Worth the journey down alone. Highly recommended. "OK guys, everyone point to the best explore you have EVER done!" So dazzled were we by Bushy Ruff's radiance we at first completely walked past it trying to find the bloody thing, ending up on a sheer path overlooking some tennis courts and finally in someones back garden before one member of our party helpfully pointed out that perhaps the crumbling burnt out pile we initially dismissed in the first instance was the site we were looking for all along. So back we go, acquiring along the way some strange looks from the locals playing in said courts. Like they've never seen 5 explorers loaded with camera gear getting hopelessly lost thirty feet from a derp before. Tssh. Bellies full of fish and chips and now with a train to catch we bid adios to dear ol’ Blighty and the very confused seagull trying to hitch a lift from the queuing cars. Through the night we drive and through various stages of consciousness I slumbered until we finally arrive at stupid o’clock to our weekends first foray into continental exploring, Grand Moulins, an impressive gothic structure I have fuck all photos of. Yes, after an hour or two of me enjoying a pleasant mooch in the dark around the grounds stupidly waiting for the sun to creep up over the horizon so I could finally get some outside shots without having to use my clumpy tripod and my camera now finally half way out my bag our visit was somewhat interrupted by the local fuzz, one of whom was, as has already been pointed out in past reports, a total babe. Thankfully more amused than annoyed the six officers escorted us back to our car which by this point had been completely boxed in by very official looking police vehicles and another half a dozen coppers. Clearly it was a quiet night for the Lile force. After giving Jess a half hearted telling off (she being the only one who could speak french all the rest of us could do was just try and look as sheepish as possible) we were free to leave which we did. Quickly. So, onto the explores. DAY ONE Doel A graffiti artists wet dream, Doel is an abandoned village North of Antwerp. Mostly brought up by the port wanting to expand, and left to ruin while the few residents that now remain slowly trickle out, it is now awaiting demolition but in the mean time this unique explore has become a living street art gallery with some of the finest examples of graffiti I have ever seen. A finer place as any to mooch, the vast amount of space available to freely wander meant the group split up and met back up again several times. You could quite easily spend an entire day here but we had other fish to fry so just a very enjoyable morning it was to be. Bones Out lending a helpful hand by scaring away Doel's last few remaining residents. No explanation required. Du Parc I rather arrogantly thought this place was a shit hole. Possibly me literally stepping in a pile of shit and skidding for a good couple of feet, nearly taking out Ant in the process, swayed my opinion of it somewhat. Most of the explore I spent sulking with my camera firmly in my bag incase of any more poop related incidents but looking at the shots the others in the group came back with I can see that perhaps I was a tad hasty in rushing to my judgement of this site. It does have some photographic potential. (It’s also a shit hole.) I do like this picture I took though. One of the few things left standing in there. Tapioca House Now we are talking. Possibly my favourite site from our little weekend away. Greeted by a local walking her dogs while we were all standing conspicuously outside the site with our big fuck off camera bags and tripods doing everything but whistling and looking aimlessly up at the sky in trying not to look like we were until about a second before planning on nipping around the fence and rolling on in. Thankfully she was very understanding of our very obvious mental illness and spoke briefly about the site before bidding us good day and thus our planned entry continued undisturbed. I spent a worryingly long amount of time in here and no doubt frustrated the hell out of the rest of the party who probably just wanted to take a few shots and bugger off but with this site being the way it was and me a self described ‘stuff photographer’ I was well and truly in my element and it would have taken an armed swot team descending on the site to get me to leave before I was well and truly done (which thankfully for me, but not for the rest of my group, never happened). Mook meanwhile was having a little kip in the car. Just because. In most of the rooms I got so caught up in taking close up shots I forgot to take any wides. Doh. Hofstadt Swimming Stadium Last stop of the day, Hofstadt Swimming Stadium, which was an unusual little explore with not a whole lot happening but still made for a couple of nice snaps and a chance to explore in the fresh air and baking hot Belgian sunshine for a change. Bumped into some fellow explorers here. Pretentious arty shot ahoy!
The weekend just gone, I spent a mad couple of days in France and Belgium with a group of four who'd never been before. Probably the most fun I have had for a long long time, it was non stop laughs and action all the way and, even though I was acting as tour guide so didn't see anything new to me, I enjoyed not shooting as much photos and just wandering around the locations soaking up the atmospheres and sounds, smells etc. We kicked off at truly stupid o'clock in France, with the plan seeing the sunrise from the top of Grands Moulins de Paris mill. However it soon became clear the cloud was stubbornly not going anywhere, but I managed to get a couple of shots from the top anyway. Three of the group didn't tackle the stairs up to the top, as it quickly became clear to me that in the intervening 14 months since my last visit the place has become even more of a massive death trap than it was before, and it won't be long until almost all of the top 2 floors is totally inaccessible. After it got a bit lighter we headed down and around the other parts, and three of us were halfway up the main tower when we heard the other two say from further down 'guys, there are four security guards walking across towards the building'. Staying put for a moment we tracked their movements and realised they were climbing into the site. Recognising the light blue shirts and dark trousers as those worn by the rozzers we quickly decided that as there were four of them, the best thing to do would be do go down to ground level and see what was up, no point running around a lethally dangerous derelict building hiding. The three of us emerged with the other two nowhere to be seen, and we spotted four of the police officers coming round towards us. We waved at them and they came over, and suddenly four more appeared from somewhere else! So we were surrounded by seven of the finest French policemen and one utter babe of a police woman who turned out to be the one who spoke the best English. Now it could have gone either way, but pretty much as soon as they saw we had camera gear and weren't going to burn the place down it was all laughter and smiles from both sides, we got the usual 'this is private and very dangerous' talk and a couple of other questions about our car etc, once the others in our group showed up we were free to leave with them following. Getting back to our car we found it boxed in by a trio of police cars with another officer standing guard taking the total to nine, which must have been nearly all the officers on duty at 5.30am that morning! After they had finished doing whatever amongst themselves they bid us farewell and we left, sadly without the total hottie's phone number.... More here http://www.flickr.com/photos/mookie427/sets/72157634651305780/ It was then off to Doel which has a separate thread, after Doel we hit up Du Parc Stockings Factory Last that day was the Swimming Stadium, we met a small group of like-minded people in here so had a good chat, it was nice to see this place not with an extra metre of water in it like it was last year! More http://www.flickr.com/photos/mookie427/sets/72157634651661944/ Sunday saw us head to the awesome Villa Wallfahrt, one of my favourite Belgian residential sites. This used to be a religious hospice for terminal patients judging by the various bits of paperwork left behind and multitude of condolence cards and it closed around the mid-1990s. Sad to report though that someone has had the stuffed Pheasant away! I took a more complete set of photos back in March, this is what I got this time though. More http://www.flickr.com/photos/mookie427/sets/72157634645185463/ Last stop after a change of plans was Atelier Decor, I think my group was pleasantly surprised here, it is a very photogenic location. Again, I took a much more comprehensive set of photos back in March. More http://www.flickr.com/photos/mookie427/sets/72157634651715822/ The group also did Tapioca Farm and Bowling Mill but I chose to have a little sleep in the car for both of those having covered them comprehensively back in March. The other non-urbex highlights had to be accidentally taking private service road through a tunnel in Brussels emerging in a totally different tunnel, 2 of the group walking down the Dunkirk beachfront promenade wearing Cyberman and Gorilla masks, crashing into the side of the Eurotunnel train and just general messing about the whole way...how a trip should be!