A short guide to Urban Exploration

So what is Urban Exploration?

Urban Exploration (or Urbex for short) is: ‘the activity or pastime of exploring man-made structures, especially abandoned buildings and areas not generally open to the public’.

Exploring and photographing derelict and abandoned places isn’t a new thing, however it’s really boom in popularity started around 2010 when it started to shift from obscure hobby on internet forums to a well known past time. It’s boom is mostly due to awareness spreading through the internet and social media, spreading onto Youtube and Facebook.

Is Urban Exploration Legal?
The answer isn’t black and white, it falls into a legally grey area. Walking into an abandoned place and taking a few photos is essentially legal, but with quite a few caveats.
 
Pretty much everywhere is owned by someone, a company, an organisation etc. This means that by going into an abandoned place you are by definition trespassing.
 
In the UK, trespass is not criminal offence, rather a civic offence. Which means that if you trespass on someone’s land, they would have to take you to court and prove that your trespass caused them or their property damage. This is normally an expensive and lengthy legal process which is normally never worth it for trivial trespass.
 
However this becomes criminal if you:
  • Break in and damage the property (Criminal Damage)
  • Refuse to leave if asked (Aggravated trespass)
  • Stealing property (Theft)
  • Are spraying Graffiti (Criminal Damage)
  • Assault a security guard (I mean this is just assault!)

Avoid doing any of these and you should be fine!

The only exceptions to this are sites that are protected under law as ‘Protected site’ and entering is Criminal Trespass.

These sites include:

  • Railways
  • Nuclear power stations
  • MOD land / Military Sites
  • Some Government property
  • Ports

 

So if I don’t break in I cannot get in trouble?

Even if you don’t break in, and take extra care to follow the old ‘Take nothing but Photos, leave nothing but footprints‘ mantra, you can still get in trouble if caught.

On site Security can catch you and be quite unpleasant. The police can be called and it’s entirely possibly to be carted off to the local police station for a chat if you are unlucky. The likelihood of this leading to any charges is very very slim, as long as you haven’t caused any damage etc.

If you are caught by on-site security or a land-owner, don’t be a dick, be polite and leave if asked. Sometimes if you are lucky they will be very nice and even allow you to stay and take more photos!

How dangerous is Urban Exploration?

The hazards vary depends on where you are exploring, but yes, Urbex is dangerous! You should understand the structure you are exploring before diving head first into it.

  • Are the floors stable?
  • Is the roof dodgy and likely to fall on me?
  • Is there asbestos?
  • Is the air safe (mostly applies for underground sites/mines etc)
  • Can I fall and cut myself?
  • Is there water hazards?
  • Are there any dangerous chemicals?
  • Is there stray electricity?
  • Are you likely to encounter violent locals or squatters?

These are things that you may not know before entering a site, but you must be careful to look for when exploring!

It mostly falls under ‘Common sense’ and a bit of planning. It’s impossible to mitigate all the hazards, but with some knowledge and planning you will reduce the risks.

  • Don’t explore alone or without someone knowing where you are.
  • Go prepared with the proper equipment and clothing.
  • Be quiet, slow and subtle – Running around shouting will not only get you caught quickly, and you can easily hurt yourself!
  • Plan ahead, know the way in and out. Do recce trips if you are unsure.
  • Work out the best time to enter. Sometimes entry might be only possible when it’s very quiet, late at night or early morning.
So what do I need to bring?

Essentials:

  • Sturdy shoes
  • Clothes you don’t mind getting mucky
  • A good torch(s)
  • Mask (for places with dusty air or potential asbestos)
  • A phone with a decent amount of charge (in case you need help!)
  • Drinks and snacks (more so for longer explores, but having water in your bag is pretty crucial!)

Photography equipment:

  • Camera (and lenses, Wide angle works best)
  • Tripod
  • Spare batteries
  • SD card(s)
How do I find derelict places to explore?

Explorers are understandably reluctance to hand out locations to people they don’t know or trust. This is to stop places getting trashed and burnt down, something that happens alarmingly often. 

This means that if you are new to urbex, and want to find some locations, it’s encouraged to put in a little leg work in researching places local to you.

 

You can do this either:

  • Search on an exploring forum (28dayslater, Derelict Places etc)
  • Scouring Google Maps
  • Old maps
  • Just exploring the local area