Hiding from vans, crawling under fences and getting covered in anti-vandal paint. Our urb ex adventure to Talgarth Asylum was…challenging.
Talgarth Asylum opened March 18th 1903 for 352 patients at a cost of £126,000. There was a public ceremony to celebrate its opening. It was built with a compact arrow design so two points could be reached quickly. Originally known as the Brecon and Radnor joint counties asylum, it became Mid Wales Hospital in 1932.
During WWI, many soldiers were admitted after suffering shell shock, and prisoners of war were also patients. During WWII, 67 male patients and 48 female patients were transferred there from Cardiff City Mental Hospital (now known as Whitchurch Hospital, where we go for therapy), which had become a war hospital. In July 1940, they decided to make Talgarth a military hospital and civilian patients were transferred to other mental hospitals in Wales. It returned to being a civilian hospital in 1947.
By 1955, two extra wards were added and in 1965, a treatment ward was built. It started closing in the mid ’90s and finally closed in 1999. The grounds house the hospital buildings, five family homes, a tennis court, cricket pitch and a chapel. Like most asylums of the era, it was self-sufficient, with its own water, heating and sewerage system. Patients grew the hospital’s food on the farm. Inside there was a recreation hall, dining room, kitchens and workshops, such a tailor’s, baker’s, shoe-makers , printing shop and 8 market gardens. Patients worked there as part of their rehabilitation.
In 1948, it became a NHS hospital, where they introduced art and occupational therapy and integrated the sexes. Some buildings were used for the Mid Wales College for Nursing and Midwifery and the Powys Drug and Alcohol Council. They also provided care for the elderly mentally ill, rehabilitation and continuing care, day care, reflexology, physiotherapy, ECT, chiropody and psychiatry. After its closure, patients were transferred to Bronllys hospital, which was previously known as the South Wales Sanitarium.
It was sold to the former chief medical officer for £227,000 and several buildings were sold off and converted to become Black Mountains Business Park. Due to the isolated location, this failed. In 2009, it was put up for sale. Most of the slate, which was worth £1 million, was stolen from the roofs and the gatehouse was sold.
We’ve wanted to explore Talgarth for years. After our failures at Denbigh Asylum, Talgarth became top of our list. But rumours of asbestos and tight security had always put us off. Then we started urb ex and became a bit more confident. We found people who had explored it recently and suddenly the cameras, security guard, guard dogs, fences and anti-vandal paint seemed a lot less challenging.
The trip started badly when halfway there, Cat realised she’d left the action cam at home. The camera DESIGNED for urb ex. She was furious with herself. The hospital is easy to find, with big pillars stating Black Mountains Business Park. There’s no gate. We parked much further up the road in a nature reserve and walked. That way, if anyone saw our car, they’d think we were in the woods. We even cemented that deceit by venturing into the woods until the family parked by us left. James Bond could learn a thing or two from our techniques. MI5 if you’re reading this, we are available for casual spy work.
We headed up a driveway and found ourselves in someone’s farm surrounded by ponies. They watched us, like they knew why we were there. Big signs on the fence stated NO ACCESS TO HOSPITAL. We were convinced they were lying but turned around anyway. We didn’t fancy being shot in the arse by an irate farmer as we scaled his fence and made getaways on the tiny ponies. We continued down the road and discovered the pillars further down.
Then we encountered our second obstacle: workmen RIGHT BY the goddamn pillars. We casually strolled past while a Range Rover drove through the pillars. We loitered, looking highly suspicious while we debated what to do: fetch the car and drive in or walk. Both ways meant walking past the workmen. And the Range Rover was yet to come out. We decided to use a tactic that has never failed: act like you’re supposed to be there and nobody stops you. It served us well in Las Vegas hotels, we were confident it would work well here.
We walked past the workmen and up the private road. This was daring. There were witnesses. We lamented our lack of chloroform and other knockout gasses. James Bond would’ve been prepared. The hospital greeted us like a stonework Tantalus as it stood smugly behind its palisade fencing topped with barbed wire. The Range Rover was parked beside the chapel, opposite the main entrance. It was empty. We doubted security or urb exers would have a Range Rover – they’re usually used for school runs. We walked past. The main entrance has no doors but does have palisade fencing. We continued on. Then heard a van. We darted behind a bush but Jack and Laura weren’t as quick and were convinced they’d been spotted. We hid until the van drove away. We’d barely begun and our nerves were getting shredded!
We toured around the hospital. There was absolutely no way in. Every wall, roof and fence had coiled barbed wire. The main hospital was more secure than a bank vault. But we don’t give up. To quote Fallout Boy, we don’t know how to quit. Then another van drove in, with dogs in the back. Again, we darted behind another bush. Jack definitely got spotted. The van stopped. We stayed very still, hearts pounding. Was our adventure over before it had begun? Then Cat saw he was looking straight at us. He’d stopped just past the bush. We now looked very suspicious. We were trapped. He could see us standing behind the bush looking dodgy. Cat took photos of the building behind us. The longer we stayed, the worse this looked. We had no choice. We had to leave the bush. So we strolled out, taking photos and filming, acting like we hadn’t seen him and employing our ever faithful ‘act like you’re supposed to be there and no-one stops you’ rule.
The van driver called out. “Excuse me, what are you doing?” Lynx “Just having a look around.” Cat “Our relative was a patient here many years ago so we wanted to see this place.” Lynx “We’re doing our family history and wanted to see where they were held.” We already have done our family history. Jack had come up with the relative story earlier. It was the perfect cover. The van driver drove off. Was that the security everyone was so worried about? It seemed too easy. Did he believe us or was he going to fetch the police? Maybe our D&D roleplay is proving useful in real life. Well, it went better than our D&D roleplay, which usually ends up with us being arrested.
Then we found a way in to one of the outer buildings. This one was right by someone’s farm. We donned our asbestos masks and crawled through the base of the door. And were immediately hit by an eye-watering stench. Was that faeces or our hopes of access rotting? Jack thought people put the stink there deliberately to keep people out. It almost worked but if this was the only building we could get in, we had to brave it.
Turned out we were in one of the additional ward buildings, as we found a ward office upstairs. Every floor was coated in moss. This was one of the safest buildings, which says a lot about the dilapidated state of Talgarth. As is our rule, we explored upstairs first. A small Care Bear toy sat on the stairs. Didn’t think Care Bears were the urb ex type, as they’re against rule breaking.
There wasn’t much to see in the ward building, just empty rooms with the carpets and curtains left behind. As we left, we realised were covered in black anti-vandal paint. Us and Jack had it all over our hands and it stained Jack’s grey hoody. We didn’t see the paint and there was no signs warning it was there. It’s around every window, board and doorway. Another van passed us. We didn’t even attempt to hide and he didn’t stop. The Range Rover woman returned to her car. She’d been walking her dog.
We wandered around looking for a way in to the main building. There was a wooden flap that said oil. Cat was doubtful and wondered if it was a way in. The flap was right. She was now standing in oil. Then she went down steps to what turned out to be a storage room and for the first time, we didn’t have torches. So she took photos using her camera flash to guide her way around and make sure she didn’t imitate Laura by falling through a hole in the floor.
We found another building and circled it. Rooms were filled with junk furniture. The base of the windows were open but smeared with anti vandal paint. And the gaps were roughly one foot high. We decided to use our skinniness to our advantage. Cat found a table in the undergrowth and put it below the window before climbing up. Anti-vandal paint was everywhere, but this is why we wear PVC for urb ex. She slipped through the gap easily. Lynx followed. We’re like tiny gothic ninjas. Jack and Laura didn’t want to attempt it so stayed outside while we explored.
We found a social room and cartoons drawn on one of the walls. There were large laundry containers, unused syringes still in their packets and lots of furniture. All the doors at the back of this building were wide open. We found what looked like air raid hangars filled with junk. Toys, filing cabinets, a VHS player, cassette tapes and a child’s bike. We explored around the back of the building and found a fence to the main building. With a gap underneath. It’s what looks like an old stream bed or drainage channel. It had concrete slabs in but after a brief check, we realised if we could shift the slabs, we could crawl under. Never mind urb ex, this was more like a prison break. Step aside Schofield, there are new tattooed prison breakers in town.
We returned to Jack and Laura and relayed our plan. But we needed to find another way around, rather than through the windows. We climbed out and headed for the main entrance to see if we could squeeze under the fence. Bear in mind, we were standing in full view of the hospital, discussing how to break in. Yet nobody threw us out or called the police. Cat got her head and shoulders under the fence in the main entrance but there is one major issue with being female urb exers – boobs. They get in the way of crawling under low fences. She squiggled out and stood up. She was filthy. Again, this is why PVC is perfect for urb ex as it wipes clean.
We tried the church. No way in. We returned to the building with the narrow windows. This was our only hope. Then Cat discovered that the green metal fence that blocked off the building, went into a hedge. And there was a small gap. We battled the holly bushes and all squeezed through. We shifted the concrete blocks and by lying flat and belly crawling, managed to wriggle under the fence and into the gardens. We hoped there was no guard dog here as there was no way to make a swift exit and our pride would never recover from being dragged out of the hole by dogs as we’re wriggling free.
Then we found a low open window. This was the easiest part of the whole adventure. We were in the main building! We’d gone to Talgarth expecting to be thrown out by security, chased by the guard dog or arrested. And yet we were standing inside the main building. As long as you get past the fences, there is no problem accessing the main buildings.
And then we saw why they’ve gone to such lengths to keep people out. It’s dangerous. We kept our masks on the whole time we were inside the buildings due to the asbestos risks. There are signs warning of it all around the hospital. We’ve seen people online who’ve gone in without masks. It’s not worth it. We bought a bulk box so they worked out at less than £1 each. We’d rather look a little ridiculous than get cancer.
Downstairs the buildings aren’t so bad except for a few holes in the floor and some side walls missing. But upstairs, every single room has fallen through to the one below. At one point we walked along a corridor and every room either side of us no longer existed. We left that bit. We explored another corridor that had half collapsed and the moment we felt the floor sink, we bid a hasty retreat.
In one building we couldn’t even get upstairs as the roofs had collapsed on every stairway. For some reason, we felt really uneasy in the main buildings. Normally once we’re inside, we feel safe, knowing no-one can see us. Outside is where you’re in danger of being caught. And there was no way anyone could see us in here. But we didn’t particularly like being in there. We felt really nervous. Heart poundingly nervous. We’ve never experienced this in any location we’ve been in, not even when we’re ghost hunting. And we’ve slept in haunted jails!
We explored a bit more and found the enormous dining hall with the stage! This is what we mostly wanted to see. The stage is pretty much intact and the skeletons of chandeliers hang from the ceilings like gibbet cages. Weirdly, there’s hardly any graffiti in Talgarth. Probably due to the difficulty of getting inside.
We didn’t explore all of the main buildings. We’d been at Talgarth for three hours and seen maybe half of it. But we were felt we were starting to push our luck. We’d already been seen a few times and questioned once. While we wanted to explore the rest of it, we felt it was best to leave before we were thrown out. And now we know how to get in, we can always make a return trip. Providing the security people don’t read this and block up our bolt holes.
We left without encountering anyone. Which is just as well considering how dirty and paint covered we were, there was no way we could hide what we’d been doing. We strolled casually back past the workmen and returned to our car. We’d heard that locals deflate urb exers’ tyres at Talgarth so we took a foot pump with us but our tyres were left alone. Probably because we were parked nowhere near the hospital. We left victorious. Talgarth was one of the toughest locations in urb ex and we conquered it. Now we’re unstoppable…
Oh and anti-vandal paint comes off in the bath.