Seeking Asylum

Talgarth AsylumHiding 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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumBy 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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumIt 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.

Talgarth AsylumWe’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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumWe 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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumWe 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!Talgarth Asylum

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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumThen 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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumWe 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.

Talgarth AsylumWe 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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumWe 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.Talgarth Asylum

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.

Talgarth AsylumDownstairs 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!

Talgarth Asylum

chapel

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.

Talgarth AsylumWe 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.Talgarth Asylum

Lady in Red

Red Dress ManorBeing half naked in the back seat of a car while a man with a mallet threatens you sounds like the start of a teen slasher film. It was the end of our urban exploring adventure. It was going so well.

Red Dress Manor

living room

Over a year ago, Wales Online published an article about Calcott Hall, aka, Red Dress Manor. The once working farm was built in 1725 and was abandoned in the ’90s. Online articles say it was abandoned in the ’70s when owner Ellen Jones fell ill. Red Dress ManorHowever we found medicine bottles for a Francis Jones dated 1994 and a letter to Francis dated 1997. We had to go. This place was calling to us, whispering that it wanted us to explore inside it. And like sailors lured to their deaths by sirens, we obeyed. We kept our excitement in check by reminding ourselves that previous urb exing adventures never went well. We always got caught or failed to get in. Bit like the rest of our lives really – one adventurous failure after another, all packaged in hilarious stories to hide our misery. If we want to urb ex, we always check forums to see if anyone’s been there recently. They had. This was looking good.Red Dress Manor

We met our partners in crime, Laura, Jack and James, who join us on most adventures now and set off. We’d refreshed our rusty law knowledge and went satisfied that we weren’t breaking any laws. Trespassing is a civil offence and as long as you don’t damage the property or commit any crimes while there, you’re fine. If someone asks you to leave, just leave. We said to our mum “You didn’t try to stop us, tell us it was a bad idea or warn us to be careful.” Mum “I’ve given up now.” When we told our uncle about our adventure, he said “Hopefully one day you’ll get hit by the normality cloud.” Luckily we’re fast and have the motto “if you keep running, it can’t get you.”

Red Dress Manor

kitchen

It was all going so well. Except our SatNav, Helen, wanted us to take a left road. We were following James, who went straight ahead. Helen kept trying to make us do a U-Turn. When we disobeyed, she switched off data connection and sulked. She does this a lot when we ignore her. We should take her to meet our therapist, as she clearly has issues. Mid Wales is mostly mountains so internet signal isn’t great. Then Lynx (who has kidney issues) really needed a wee. There were no services. There hadn’t been any toilets for miles. She was desperate enough to go at the side of the road at this point but having recently had bad experiences at being semi naked in a public place, it was unadvised. Red Dress ManorWe eventually found a pub and pulled in, losing James and Jack. Toilets were for paying customers only. Cat had to pay £1.20 for a lemonade just so Lynx’s kidneys wouldn’t explode. We enjoyed our unnecessary drink slightly enraged. Though the cheerful barman seemed thrilled to have the three of us there. We were the only customers. Maybe everybody else was peeing in the bushes out the back. While we were there, Helen, realising we needed her help, switched data connection back on. We hit the road. To find services with toilets half a mile later. We met up with the guys in a petrol station further down the road and continued.Red Dress Manor

As we neared our destination, the road was closed. The only route around it meant going quite far out of our way to loop back around. Helen kept insisting we make a u-turn and drive through the road closure. Maybe she wanted to experience an action film lifestyle where we crash through barriers without scratching our paintwork.Red Dress Manor

We’d seen on a forum that tips for finding the house was ‘find the village, find the house.’ Kind of like ‘save the cheerleader, save the world’. We doubted this simplicity. Nothing in life is that easy. We were wrong.Red Dress Manor

Domgay in Llanymynech isn’t a village. It’s a long road with farms and a funeral director’s off it. We travelled the road. And found the house. It’s easily visible from the road. It’s stunning in its decay. We found a lane around the other side and pulled in. But there were gates and cows so we couldn’t park there. This was going to be a problem. Trying to hide an orange Mini Cooper convertible and a blue Ford Street Ka was not going to go well. We drove around then spotted a visitors’ car park. We parked there and went on foot to the house. One problem – we stick out. With a group of five people, including twin goths with orange hair and none of us dressed like country people, it was clear we didn’t belong here. Luckily there was no-one around.

Red Dress Manor

attic room

Cat found a gate blocked by stinging nettles that were nearly face high. No-one was keen on this. James then found a low fence topped with barbed wire. We’d pick barbed wire over stinging nettles any day. Cat ducked under the wire then held it up for James. He removed the loose top plank, making access easier. We crossed the field to the house. Red Dress ManorThe front door was boarded up but Cat spotted an open window. Six feet off the ground. We’re 5’1″. There was a ledge at our waist height, just wide enough for toes. At this point, she regretted her tight PVC trousers but luckily, our hyper mobility means we can get our feet to waist height. She climbed up, pulling herself up with the stable part of the window frame. We didn’t come dressed for climbing! James and Laura hate climbing so we were impressed they were willing to get in this way. Cat pulled them up then Lynx climbed up, followed by Jack. We’d actually made it inside.

Red Dress Manor

medicine bottle dated 1994

Normally, when things go well, we get suspicious. If we have a run of good luck, it usually means something horrible is about to happen. You can blame it on us being paranoid and having trust issues (both of which are true) but nothing ever goes well without being countered by something bad. Weirdly, it never happens the other way around.

We found ourselves in the living room. It was mostly intact, apart from papers and receipts scattered everywhere. This was a theme. Previous explorers have ransacked the place, tossing fifty years’ worth of paperwork (we’re not kidding – there was an exercise book from 1949) and clothing all over the floors.

Red Dress Manor

our entrance/exit

It was such a shame. The house would have had a far creepier atmosphere had everything been left as it was when the Jones family lived there. A photo from a girls’ grammar school sits on the fireplace. We ventured further inside, keen to keep away from the window so we wouldn’t be seen. There were two further living rooms. Both had massive holes in the floor and trees growing inside them. We didn’t enter them. The kitchen was safe. Here we found the letter to Francis and the medicine bottles. There was also a car insurance certificate dated 1973 for a Morris Marina. There are two in the garages. A green one and an orange one. We had three Marinas growing up so have a soft spot for them.Red Dress Manor

An old Aga cooker sits in the kitchen. The doorway leads down to an outhouse and a basement, which has several other rooms leading off it and stairs heading up to the bathroom. Up there was unused farm medicine and a bathtub that was in serious danger of falling through the floor. Do not stand on that floor. You will get hurt. There was an old record player with a record still on it: The World of Winnifred Attwell from 1969. We left the basement and headed upstairs, keeping to the sides of the stairs just in case. While we’re a skinny bunch, we’re still heavy enough to plummet through stairs and cause ourselves mischief. Weirdly, the house didn’t have a creepy atmosphere. It still felt like a home and we didn’t once feel uneasy or feel like we shouldn’t be there.Red Dress Manor

On the next level are five bedrooms. The one has the wardrobe where the famous red dress used to hang (hence the manor house’s nickname). Unfortunately, the dress is no longer there and neither is the photo of the woman wearing it (believed to be Ellen, though we found no evidence of an Ellen living there). Instead, there is a knitted replica of the dress and photos of some guy wearing it. It looks like photos taken from a horror film. Another bedroom leads off this one, with random shoes, clothes and more paperwork covering the floor. All the paperwork is addressed to Mr William Jones and Miss Francis Jones. Father and daughter probably. And there are trees growing up through the floor. Nature seems to be reclaiming the house. One of the other bedrooms has rotting suitcases on the beautiful bed and more paperwork over the floor. Tax bills mostly. The other bedroom had a Geography exercise book on the bed, with the name William Jones on it from 1949.

Red Dress Manor

bathroom

The next level up was the attic rooms. These really weren’t safe, with holes in the floor and ceilings. One of these seemed to be a children’s room, with an old dartboard, skipping rope and doll’s house furniture. And more tax bills. There were also old newspapers with Jack’s birthday on them but many years before he was born. One of the rooms had a hole right by the doorway and most of the way across so we didn’t venture in there. Wooden steps led up to another level but the bottom two had rotted off and the rest didn’t look that stable. Cat climbed onto the third step but it didn’t feel very secure so she didn’t risk venturing up.

Red Dress Manor

outhouse

We returned to explore the lower levels then left, after an hour in the house. James and Cat heard a car as we reached the window so ducked back. A Jeep drove past as Cat was half out the window. We headed around the house to look at the cars. However between us and the green Marina were cows. And they were eating, which meant the farmer couldn’t be that far away and if we walked past, they might start mooing and alert him to our presence. Being arrested because we were betrayed by cows would be a low point in lives that haven’t seen many highs. We reluctantly left the car unexplored then found the orange one in a locked garage. As we neared the hedge, another car approached so we ducked down like ninjas before climbing back out over the fence and replacing the plank we’d taken down.Red Dress Manor

Our first successful urban exploring adventure! We couldn’t believe our luck. Finally, after over a year, we got to explore it. We didn’t fall through floors, get Tetanus or get marched out in handcuffs. Things never go this well for us. There had to be something lurking around the corner…

We returned to the cars to find large notes on the windscreens – Please do not park here again. Fair enough, though it was a visitors’ car park and it said you park there at your own risk. It was now boiling so Cat decided to remove the lace jumper she was wearing under her vest top. She’d just stripped off her layers when a man approached with a mallet. He was the type of guy you would cross the road to avoid. Face of Crimewatch. Cursing, Cat ducked down just as he reached the car. Another incident of being half naked in public not ending well. Red Dress ManorHe knocked on the window with the handle of the mallet then said “if you park here again, I’ll phone the police.” Bit harsh, it’s a public car park. Lynx “Sorry, we didn’t realise.” Mallet Man “It’s not that, I know where you’ve been.” Umm…is that supposed to be a threat? You know where we’ve been? So do we. And it was awesome! We weren’t committing an offence. We noticed although he’d spoken to James and Jack, he didn’t threaten them with the police or say he knew where they’d been. Clearly he enjoyed threatening those of a female variety. Nice try. We don’t scare easily. A Mini Cooper trumps a mallet in the weapons stakes.

We had no SatNav now so drove around for ages looking for a pub. Every pub we found was closed. We eventually found one and logged on to the WiFi while pub dog Holly joined us at our table for the duration of our drinks. We now have a taste for urban exploring and already have our next location planned. Let’s just hope men with mallets aren’t lurking nearby.Red Dress Manor