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Pyestock Diaries

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Can You Guess Where I Am?

2007 - 2008

Marlon Bones in the plenum chamber of Cell 4.
21|04|2007 © Marlon Bones 2007

As we drove back from Pyestock on that dark May evening, I had no idea it would be my last trip. Spurred on by our successes, tentative plans were already being made for an eighth trip: Cell 1 & 2 would be the focus, being finally photographed extensively (which would include my first exploration of Cell 2) and I also wanted to focus on the Assembly Loading Bays and various buildings to the south of the Plant House.

Even though the sites we deal with are in transition and won't last in their current guise, there is a contradictory conservative streak in most urban explorers. Sites are considered to be in a weird suspended animation where only natural decay occurs. Vandalism, burglary, arson and the dreaded spectre of redevelopment are often viewed with outrage and shock, even though such events are common and should unfortunately be expected.

Iím no different and after several trips to a relatively unspoilt and unchanging Pyestock (with the exception of the odd spot of vandalism), I rested on my laurels. Not only were other sites beginning to interest me again, but I'd built up a huge backlog of pictures and narratives to sort, format and publish which were beginning to weigh on my mind.

By June 2007, Pyestock was one of the top urban exploration destinations and the site was crawling with people. We'd bumped into several groups on our explorations and judging from the "reports" circulating on various forums, Pyestock was being visited more frequently and by larger groups. Some pictures featured distressing images of cans of paint being thrown around the hard-standing behind the Plant House or smashed control panels; others mentioned stand-offs between individuals and security.

I was busy exploring other sites whilst the situation at Pyestock escalated but Marlon continued his weekend trips. He would often call, opening the conversation with "Hi Simon. Itís Marlon. Can you guess where I am?" He never tired of my increasingly surreal responses of either high security environments, sexual liaisons or a combination of the two. He was trying to lure me back, but Iíd fallen into the old urban exploration clichť thinking Pyestock would be safe for the next week, month and/or year.

Marlon's adventures at Pyestock started becoming ever more strange, eerie and potentially dangerous. Instead of coaxing me back, his tales made be reconsider ever going back.

His first tale was a spur-of-the-moment trip to the site with two experienced urban explorers in the dead-of-night. They probably navigated the way across the fields by the light of the midnight moon and were soon on the roof of the Air House by one o'clock in the morning. The site was not totally dark; as the active buildings on the periphery of the site were floodlit, and the street lights on their roads were still connected, there was some ambient light washing the darkened derelict core of Pyestock.

Having taken plenty of night-shots, the group decamped to the bowels of Cell 3 to continue photographic experiments with coloured lights and exposures. This included an impromptu test of the cell's unique acoustics, with the group humming, intoning and singing. It was while they were making this unholy racket that Marlon slipped outside to the surface of Cell 3 and realised there was a group of men walking around in the darkness.

It was one of those key moments when a previously friendly site becomes utterly threatening and confining. Marlon raced back as quickly as he could, limiting torch light for fear of being seen (although the cacophonous wailing mustíve pinpointed their location well) to tell the others. At that moment, everything was quickly and quietly packed up, and the group raced out their cell, making their way as fast as they could back to the perimeter fence and the safety of open ground, perhaps imagining shadowy figures always in pursuit.

Such nightly encounters didn't seem to put Marlon off permanently, and a subsequent trip featured a gathering late on a Friday night to sleep over in one of the buildings, and then start an exploration fresh and early the following day. With camp set up in a carpeted office in one of the buildings, the group went through the night without incident, although Marlon said they didnít get much sleep as it was so cold.

The next morning, they made their slow way to the Air House only to find Pyestock "crawling with people." Not the usual urban explorers ferreting from building to building, but officials of some sort. Six people were spotted hanging around the Air House before the intrepid, but unlucky, group of urban explorers decided to cut their losses, get back to base camp, gather their belongings and get the hell out of there.

They only made it half-way back across the site when they were spotted by a car patrolling the interior roads - probably in the same location our large group was spotted several months previously. In an almost comical twist, the car sounded a Colonel Bogey horn, its occupant shouted something, and the group set off at high speed, sprinting across Pyestock to the perimeter fence. But their access point had been spotted and they ran full tilt into a security guard who was waiting for them.

Well and truly busted, they were marched to the security hut for a combination of questioning and shouting. The furious guards concluded their interrogation by calling the police; who turned up and upped the ante. Unimpressed with their arguments about being interested in the buildings, the historical legacy, and the unique status of the site, the officer took a different, and more worrying, slant: "Are you terrorists?" Finally, thankfully, they managed to convince him otherwise.

The terrorism slant was truly horrifying. Could urban explorers be locked up for days without charge under the umbrella charge of the new, ill-thought-out anti-terrorism charges? An act of civil trespass on a derelict site suddenly took on far more danger if such charges could be brought. It was extremely sobering.

Even Pyestock was unnerved enough by that encounter to leave Pyestock off any future urban exploration itineraries. Reports continued circulating through the forums, painting an increasingly dangerous and uninviting picture: one urban explorer, separated from his group, was effectively mugged by two swarthy men who demanded his camera; other groups were quickly rounded up and handed over by security to the increasingly irritated police. The situation was reaching the final end-game and one which was always won by security.

As with any popular site with urban explorers, the end eventually came with an increase in security, vigilant patrols of the exterior and the prompt repair of any infiltration routes through the perimeter fence. "Reports" from the site almost ceased overnight. As described by the Goldilocks Triumphiate (see urbex|UK) the heat had been applied to Pyestock and the site had progressed from "just right" to "too hot."

Whilst such changes in status are seen as a challenge by some, it was too much of a hindrance for my genteel plans to photograph Cell 1 & 2 and the Assembly Loading Bays. Sites with tough security were not amendable to my style of documentative urbex; although the thrill seekers relished the opportunity to photograph anything within the perimeter fence to prove their mettle.

The final rushed explorations of these courageous few reported demolition equipment and plant appearing in the south western corner of the site. It looked like the final act was about to begin, and a veil of mystery descended on Pyestock as no-one ventured there again.

My hurried trip of May 2007 was therefore my last.

© Simon Cornwell 2008