The Un-Space Exploration Committee

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Q) What is un-space?

A) It is the labelless car parks, crawl tunnels, disused attics and cellars, bunkers, maintenance corridors, derelict industrial estates, boarded-up houses, smashed-windowed condemned factories, offlined power plants, underground facilities, storerooms, abandoned hospitals, fire escapes, rooftops, vaults, crumbling churches with dangerous spires, gutted mills, Victorian sewers, dark tunnels, passageways, ventilation systems, stairwells, lifts, the dingy winding corridors behind shop changing rooms, the pockets of no-name place under manhole covers, and behind the overgrow of railway sidings.

Q) Who are the Un-Space Exploration Committee?

A) They map and chart and explore and research un-space.”*

People say it’s a small world, but maybe they don’t look beyond the things they’re shown – I’m still finding secrets in London- let alone everywhere else- and there are still places I haven’t visited that I would love to see. Iceland, for one. Next year’s looking good for exploring too… *cough* Romania *cough*
Though I usually travel solo, I went on an urbex adventure as part of a small team last year.We spent four days driving around Belgium and though I had seen a few pictures of the locations we wanted to visit, I was happy to keep things a surprise and trust the more experienced team I was travelling with (model and photographer partnership Jade Stacy Maria and James Kerwin, and fashion and urbex photographer Magpie Tommy) who were pursuing ‘bucket list’ locations.

So our first stop was the second-hardest to get into- an old cooling tower we climbed about 40 feet of concrete to access. Everything- metal troughs, mossy concrete blocks and rickety old wooden walkways rippled out from the central well like a slightly sinister zen garden.

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(Photo by Magpie Tommy)

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(Photo by me)

Above the well, the roof opened into the sky and the funnel effect amplified every sound we made. For a few minutes, two buzzards circled overhead calling to each other- the central structure acted like a microphone and their screams echoed around us too. As there were birds strewn across the floor in varying stages of composition (mostly pigeons and a woodpecker), I could imagine this place being a hunting ground for the pair.

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(Photo by Magpie Tommy)

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(Photo by me)
CSI: Avian edition…

As far as man made structures go, only cathedrals have succeeded in making me feel this tiny- but cathedrals welcome you even if the pews are hard. This place felt as though I stood in an oasis that was merely tolerating my presence. It was so, so still.

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(Photo by me)

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(Photo by Magpie Tommy)

When you’ve finished a location- especially one that’s hard to get into and a little tense to be in, you (okay I), got the giggles with the rest of the team. Anything from James’s parking, the Australian satnav (called Bruce) and memories from previous adventures. We’d been up since the early hours and were more than a little sleep deprived, not to mention adrenaline-filled, but a short while later we pulled into a semi-deserted car park to visit a secret double helix science fiction staircase.

Of all the places I knew had been optioned, this was actually top of my list. It was hidden in a dilapidated building with an active, busy office nearby. Creeping along behind walls, I imagined the workers seeing a disembodied backpack bouncing along as I demonstrated my spectacular hermit crab crouch-run.
One thing about seeing photos of places like this- you only see the most photogenic angle. Graffiti has often been photoshopped out, dust and detritus cleared away. There was quite a lot more tagging than we expected (I have no problem with true graffiti art but why do people have to scrawl their names everywhere??) and I learned here that if all of the photos of a location have been taken from the same angle, it’s probably because that’s the best or only angle. I went exploring while Jade had her picture taken and found bright open office rooms, strings of plastic everywhere and a pretty view of some silver birches in an enclosed island of greenery. I don’t know who used to work here or what this place was for so I’m going to keep imagining the Umbrella Corporation and don’t tell me otherwise! 😛

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(Photo by Magpie Tommy)

I think at some point along the way we must have been starving as my next memory involved a rain of crisps, getting near-paralytic with excitement at seeing an old European friend again (‘Chocomel’) and the plain-croissant-related woes of our resident vegetarian. (Belgium’s usually good for veggies but service stations aren’t).

Out next stop was going to be The Big One as far as the team were concerned but it wasn’t to be. This was mostly due to an angry French man with a shotgun. Slightly dejected, debating and map-checking for other locations, we hit the road again. We didn’t find another location but we did find a rainbow.

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(Photos by Jade, and me)

As I collect rainbows, this brightened me up even as the team slouched back to the hotel, Mexican food, and suggestions as to how much lego our French firearm fetishist should go and stand on. The debate continued: a lie-in and safer travels, or an early morning one-time-only risk? We went to sleep at midnight undecided on what to do but a few short hours later, I was dragged out of bed by one leg…

Miranda

TO BE CONTINUED.

*Quote from “The Raw Shark Texts”, by Steven Hall. It rocks.

Here’s an illustration from the book… and a photo by Magpie Tommy. Slightly coincidental? 🙂

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