At about a quarter to eight yesterday morning I kissed a snoozing Other Half, replaced the batteries in my torch and sped off to collect my GBF. It was exploring time again.
Our favourite derelict mental asylum is not long for this world. According to the massive signs on the outskirts of the site, the whole place is up for sale. According to the lovely people at Any Question Answered
the site has already been acquired by a developer, but I suppose the local authority has to at least make it look like it's a fair process.
It was a fairly bright morning. We both had plenty of layers on - enough so that the cold wouldn't be an issue. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of a huge site, absolutely freezing with at least a twenty minute walk to anywhere warm. Plus it always makes me want to do a wee, and while the GBF may pee in abandoned toilets with alacrity, I'm really not that sort of girl. We did a quick recce of the site first - checking our access point was still there (it was, and I rather suspect that it will stay that way - how GBF found it is beyond me - I think he may be psychic and there are no signs that anyone else knows it's there), and assessing previous entry points to see whether they might do as backup in a pinch. They were all strictly no-go, either repaired or too tight for anyone over the age of ten to squeeze through. Still, we knew we could get in regardless, so in we went.
The only access issue on this site is the ten-foot, spiked security fence. Once this is breached (and we never, ever cause damage in order to gain entry - as far as I'm aware that takes trespass from a civil action to a criminal one, and it's a line that I'm not prepared to cross) it's strictly an open-door policy as the hospital gently rots away. We had a good poke round and revisited some favourite spots, then took a decision to go back to the car and try and find access to the chapel, which lies some way away from the main site. This trip was a goodbye - we'd heard that security was being stepped up, and had seen some evidence on site that areas were being cleared in preparation for demolition or redevelopment.
In good spirits, we prepared to head back to our exit point. Coming round the side of a building we made our way along the exposed exterior wall, heading for the temporary shelter of the old Social Club, which would afford us clear views of the interior access road that security use to do their vehicular patrols.
I've been visiting this site since around September last year. I've made eight or nine trips, and have never seen so much as a hint of any security. Of course, the warning signs are posted (and the fence is a pretty clear indication that the site owners, English Partnerships, are not really all that keen on visitors, regardless of their intentions) and I've always been well aware that I'm operating slightly outside the law the minute I cross the line of the security fence. Regardless, I've always been fairly vocal about trespass being a civil action not a criminal offence, and that if I ever got busted on the way out of a location I would be pretty confident that I'd get away with a ticking off.
The minute GBF spotted the white van with the reflective orange strips slowly progressing along the internal access road around forty feet from our exposed position, any thoughts of bravado evaporated.
Fuck it, I thought. I don't want to get busted....
It all sort of descended into farce from that point on. We were totally exposed, halfway along the side of a building, with no cover and nowhere to go apart from back in the direction we'd come from. Once we recovered from the paralysis that struck the moment we saw the van, we just did a very conspicuous fast-walk back to the shelter of the courtyard we'd just left. Doing this meant turning our backs on the security van, which by now was in a line of view directly behind us. I was convinced we'd been seen and was waiting for a shout, or the slam of a door followed by running feet as our nemesis approached.
Crouch down, moaned the GBF as we shuffle-walked to relative safety. Behind WHAT? I hissed. What FOR? He's already seen us. He can't have NOT seen us. Fuck. What are we going to do now?
NO!! Just keep walking...
Gaining the cover of the corner of the building, we stared at each other. What now? This was a nightmare. We could see our exit from where we were standing, but we had no idea where the security guard was. We knew there was no other way off site. Had he done a routine circuit and left altogether? Was he waiting for us, just out of sight?
After ten minutes of blind panic, half-formulated plans and disbelieving giggles, we decided to make a run for it. Diagonally opposite us was our exit. Between it and us was a rectangular patch of overgrown land, fenced off for reasons unknown. We stepped away from the shelter of the building and headed for the left-hand corner of this area, planning to leg it straight over to the main fence.
Fucking, fucking hell! whispered GBF. He's coming back!
And there he was; now heading in the opposite direction, travelling extremely slowly, scanning the fence for signs of our entry point. It was too late for us to retreat. This time round, crouching down seemed a more sensible option. Changing direction, we stooped-walked-ran for the right-hand corner of the fenced off area.
Seen from above, it must have looked like a cartoon scene of characters chasing each other round a tree. As he headed past us travelling left, we moved right; keeping the overgrown area between us and him. Safe to say that, by this point, we were both in the grip of almost blind panic. I didn't want to get caught. I really, really didn't want to get caught.
As we reached the limit of our cover, we had to take a leap of faith. Once we stepped into the open we would be directly visible in the rear-view and wing mirrors of the security van. We just had to hope that it had moved far enough away for us to reach our exit before he could reverse and reach us. Go! we whispered to each other, and ran out into the open.
As I stumbled and lurched across the uneven, tussocked landscape, I kept my eyes fixed firmly on where we were hoping our exit was. As we always "close" the fence behind us after entry, it's always a worry that it will have been fixed by the time we leave. Hoping against hope, neither of us looking around, we ran. It was going to be fine! We were going to make it!
And then GBF's shoe fell off.
We stopped and stared at each other in utter disbelief. I have a vague memory of hissing leave it!! at my poor friend. He ignored me, retrieved his shoe and sprinted for the fence. Reaching our exit, he parted the palings and slipped through like a buttered snake. I was seconds behind him.
Reliving the day's adventures over a beer, we reflected that we were probably the luckiest people around that day. If we'd waited a moment longer, or gone a moment sooner, we would have been caught for sure. Our theory (there was no way we hadn't been spotted the first time) was that, on the second pass, the security guard was looking for our exit, confident that we'd retreated into the maze of the main hospital buildings. Once he found it there he would sit, waiting for us to leave.
We got away with it though. Makes a person feel alive. Happy days.