J and my sister had long dissolved into the mist ahead of me. I didn’t mind. I was moseying along at my own pace.
Settling into the stroll, I shoved my hands into my pockets and let my eyes rove. Aside from the squelch of the mud sucking at my boots the scene was a blank space. A bush of thorns struck into the path from the left. It faded away as silently as it had appeared. Then a fence corralled me through a mystery field. Sick of being confined I veered for a dip in the wire. That’s when I spotted it.
Humans have an odd relationship with structures from the past. We forget them, we find them, we abuse them, we worship them, we sell them, we buy them, we build them up and take them down. Circumstance is key to an old structure’s continued existence, but its journey into the future can be pitted with as much luck and assistance as our most inspiring human tales.
To name a few examples:
- The hunting complex of Castle Rising has survived this long because it was deemed too expensive to dismantle it to recycle the material
- Angkor Wat was in major decline until it gained prominence after a French explorer wrote about it and “rediscovered it”
- The massive buddha figure of Wat Phanan Choeng should have traditionally been left exposed to the elements, but the community liked it so much they gave it shelter
- And Dover castle has thrived because of its handsomely strategic position. The building has protected people from several eras thanks to its military importance.
These are just the buildings lucky enough to be on the funded, recognized and protected side of the coin. On the flip side is the vast collection of “lost” structures—often abandoned due to lack of money or natural disasters. Here you’ll find theatres, hospitals, asylums, military bases, houses, hotels and even entire towns.
There are whole websites dedicated to urban exploring and the documentation of abandoned buildings. The cool thing is that most of these exploration databases are built by a mass of regular people. It’s cooperation at its finest!
One in every town
The first time I explored an abandoned house was with my Aunt in Alberta. Usually these houses are looted, but this one was so nondescript and isolated it had passed people’s notice. It was eerie how there were open books and dishes still set out on the table. I got so lost in my imagination a startled pigeon taking flight made me shriek and cause my aunt to come running.
Kamloops was the second place where I visited an abandoned area. My fellow students at Thompson Rivers University raved about stories of people sneaking onto the land that was once the King Edward VII Tuberculosis Sanatorium. To ghost hunters and thrill seekers the isolated community is known as Padova City or Tranquille, but the owner is branding it as Tranquille-On-The-Lake and offers it as a movie set (for anything except horror movies).
I visited the town during the day and without having to dodge a potato gun (as the stories alleged the owner used to chase curious night explorers with). It was pretty neat because they now offer tours around the place, though we weren’t allowed to enter any of the buildings or tunnels yet.
Bangkok is famous for its Sathorn Unique Tower. I was planning to go in, but I only caught wind of it just before I moved to England.
The most popular derelict place around Cambridge is the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, Hampshire.
Then there was Dover
I wasn’t expecting any architectural remnants on the SWC Walk 13, which was silly really since the Dover cliffs are especially famous for their association with England’s advancement through history. Dover was the gateway to France and the final wall of defense against invaders.
Bumping into a series of World War II installations and gun placements shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was. And my imagination was a five-year-old on a sugar high in an instant.
I pictured elderly soldiers mingling around the gun turret, lazily turning an eye to the distant shore of France in case the Germans began to attempt an approach. Another installation was a hideout in the zombie apocalypse, the next a faerie temple, the next a hay storage shed—wait, what?
Yeah, it seems a farmer re-purposed one of the bunkers as a shed. That put a damper on the adventure story line.
Still, while it lasted the bunkers had me in fits of excitement—and contemplation.
Some were starkly clean while others, for an unknown reason, had their rooms blanketed in litter. From what I could see they are popular party spots.
What I can’t understand is why people like to leave their trash everywhere. Would it be so hard to just bag the garbage and take it into town?
There were some clothes too, though I can’t imagine vagabonds—just a guess for the clothes—would like staying in these bunkers long, since so many curious hikers pass by.
Let’s shed some history on these Bunkers
So if I got this right the bunkers I wandered through were battery observation posts from WW2 (number 29 on this map). They were part of a larger complex including tunnels, a fortress and a battery plotting room.
In brief these shelters and long-gone guns were placed here because the then British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, ordered the army to respond to German Nazi Cross-Channel bombardment from France. He visited Dover in 1940 after the Dunkirk evacuation and was upset to find German shipping underway in the Channel.
More Cross-Channel batteries were placed in the cliffs to support the two already functioning guns nicknamed Winnie and Pooh. Apparently the names were inspired first by Winston and then by the British children’s book character Winnie The Pooh (it’s actually kind of unnerving how intertwined Winnie The Pooh’s history is with war—I suppose he was kind of a humorous break from the fighting).
As soon as the English side had armed up the two sides dove into the military equivalent of a snowball fight. Dover gained the name Hellfire Corner and the bombardment continued for four years!
I never did get to see France’s shoreline. The view was wiped out by fog. I wonder how the soldiers based at these posts felt about foggy days. Was it friend or foe?