Chateau Miranda; an urbex holy grail, was demolished last year. I was lucky enough to visit before it was finally destroyed.
Back in 2015, I went on a week-long urbex adventure in Belgium. It was my first major, multi-day exploring trip and while my friends each had a different place that we’d been dreaming of seeing, I think we all knew that Chateau Miranda was the ‘holy grail’, partly because it sat under constant threat of demolishment and partly due to the infamous reputation of its security guard(s)…
We were nearing the end of our first full day of urbex aka urban exploration (which involved climbing a disused overgrown cooling tower and sneaking into a nondescript office building to see a futuristic double helix staircase) and we’d hoped to pass by the castle on our way back, just in time to catch what photographers call “the golden hour”; when the light is especially flattering and warm. We’d parked in the nearby village on the off-chance that we’d find our way in quickly but just as the first tripod came out the car, a van pulled up. It contained a large angry French man with a gun.
There was no way we could hide what we’d been planning- so many people have tried to sneak in that security knows what they’re dealing with and seem to have developed an ‘urbexer sixth sense’! None of us could string a coherent and respectful sentence together in French so we lied through our teeth, told him we just wanted to see the pretty scenery but okay, fine, we’ll go. We got back in the car under his watchful death glare and drove off. Our debate started ten minutes later: should we return early in the hope that there would be a different guard, or just acknowledge that we weren’t going to make it? It continued for most of the night.
At about 1am, a decision was made: we’d try again. We pulled into a layby outside the village just as the sun was rising. Dividing packs and snacks, we began the vertical hike to the castle. The nature of urbex often means sneaking around and quickly learning the difference between nature sounds and noises that mean you’re about to get thrown out rather, um, emphatically, but this hike was the most tense of all.
The woodland and overgrown brush surrounding the castle was waking up and every rustle had the four of us snapping to attention like meerkats. Still, as the castle took shape in the mist, we could see we’d actually made it, and there would be a good few places to post lookouts from. Still, we approached from the back just in case- and startled some ghostly deer away into the mist. The relief was instant; if the guards were here, the deer would not have been. We made our way across the main entrance and turned to look at the famous view; out in the open, fearless at last.
(Photo by me)
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I try not to read too much into the story of a building in case it influences my experience exploring it, but as we set up base camp under the shelter of the roof, I correctly guessed that it had most recently been a school. It looked like Hogwarts at the end of book seven (or more accurately, Beauxbatons, if Harry Potter’s final battle had taken place there) with chairs, broken desks and messages scrawled across the disintegrating walls. Parts of the original architecture still remained in the form of the ceiling and stairs; huge pieces of history looking down on the dust and rubble covering the floor. Knowing only that Chateau Miranda was not long for this world, the detritus across the floor reminded me of the old skeleton carvings in churches which say ‘as I am, so shall you be.’ There had been so many threats of demolishment over the years, none of us know we were seeing Chateau Miranda’s final months and soon enough the ceiling would join the floor; dust to dust.
It was an odd and unpleasant feeling remembering that even if the skeleton of Chateau Miranda was allowed to remain for urbex and guided tours, eventually nature would succeed in reclaiming it and the only thing that would eventually remain would be the ugly plastic detritus already lying, surrendered, on the floor.
(photo by Magpie Tommy)
I wouldn’t find out the story of Chateau Miranda until I returned home. As I plan to tell it in one of the magazines I now write for, I’ll give you the brief rundown…
Chateau Miranda (also known as Chateau de Noisy- I’ve stuck to one name for consistency) was built after the French Revolution by the Liedekerke-Beaufort* family, as a family home overlooking their ancestral lands. A battle did actually take place there- the Battle of the Bulge- and in WWII it was occupied by German forces, until the 1950s when it was renamed Chateau de Noisy and opened as an orphanage and home for sick children. It remained this way until the 1970s when it became more of a sports camp, well-known in Belgium. Eventually the Liedekerke-Beaufort family decided to have it redeveloped into a hotel. Costs rose, investors were not forthcoming and Chateau Miranda was abandoned in 1991. Since then, fire, storms and nature claimed parts of the structure and vandalism did the rest. Despite petitions both formal and informal, Chateau Miranda was demolished last year.
(photo by Magpie Tommy)
Everyone in our team had specific shots they wanted to get except for me, so I had a chance to explore on my own. It was only a few months before that trip that I learned about the value of not constantly snapping away with my camera so I fought the urge to photograph everything I saw and instead wandered, soaking up the atmosphere. I got my camera out for just a couple of shots- the Gormenghast-like outside and the view from the roof. (The castle is also owned by the Liedekerke-Beaufort family).
(photo by me)
As a photoshoot for two of our team progressed, part of the castle looked like a strange dressing room-outfits draped over chairs and framework, conspicuously clean against the dust. It was then that we heard footsteps approaching. The four of us grabbed handfuls of outfits and scattered in different directions. I squeezed into the gap between two walls and crossed my fingers, watching the one floaty skirt nobody had managed to scoop up, willing it to disappear into thin air.
Most urbexers I know are very good at hiding. I had no idea where my friends had put themselves and so I stood there feeling very exposed, waiting to see if it was surveyors, the police or yesterday’s gun-toting friend. Of course it was another group of urbexers who we startled as we all emerged. None spoke English amazingly so in a terrible mixture of French and German, sounding like Yoda, I warned about the security guard.
“Ssssssh. There is a man. Man is angry. *waving a pretend gun around* Not now, not today but….. angry man. *pretend gun waving* Quiet, must we be. Quiet like mice. Ssssssssssshhh… *thumbs up*”
“Aaaaaaaah. We understand. Quiet mice. *mimes tiptoes* Merci danke.”
It was barely mid-morning and yet as scrambled back down the vertical woodland slopes, it began to feel as though days had passed. Another time, another world.
(above photos by Magpie Tommy)
Beau = beautiful
Fort = a castle