Urban Foxes

Climbing in morgue fridges, falling down holes and getting spotted by a suspicious man with a garden strimmer. We went urb exing again. And it went well.

Mountain Ash HospitalAfter our successful Red Dress Manor adventure, the urb ex bug had bitten us hard and we wanted to go out again. We haven’t been ghost hunting since April and are having trouble finding places we can afford or places that don’t require Public Liability Insurance. Most places don’t even bother replying to our emails, so our planned summer of ghost hunting has turned into our summer of urb exing. We’d heard about Mountain Ash Hospital a few months ago and now we were going to explore it.

Mountain Ash HospitalThis time, we were prepared. As usual, we check with urb exing forums to see how recently people got in and if they had difficulty. We then scoped out the hospital on Google Earth, (which we didn’t do with Red Dress Manor) looking for places to park. Unfortunately, Goggle Earth was from 2009 – when the hospital was still open – but there was an orange Mini Cooper convertible in the car park. It’s like the hospital was expecting us. An urb exer had taken photos showing the road to the hospital was blocked, but Google Earth showed us what looked like a path from the roadside through some trees.

Mountain Ash HospitalOriginally built in 1910 as Mountain Ash Cottage Hospital, it opened as a General Hospital in 1924, with a grand opening ceremony that saw marching bands and hundreds of people. It seemed everyone from Mountain Ash had attended. It closed in 2011 when Ysbyty Cwm Cynon opened. Five years later, Mountain Ash General Hospital lies ruined. Ease of access has meant people have completely trashed the place. Windows are smashed, graffiti covers the peeling walls and not a single room is intact. There’s no indication of it being a hospital – no equipment, no wall signs, no rusting stretchers, no paperwork. Nothing that is usually found in abandoned hospitals. Even the copper pipes from inside the walls and the roofing tiles have been stolen. It’s a shame because half the fun is seeing the history of a place. Red Dress Manor wouldn’t have been the same without the insurance documents and exercise books. Plus places look creepier if they’re left intact. The Marie Celeste wouldn’t have been as famous had it been trashed.

Mountain Ash HospitalLaura saw on Twitter that in July, police mentioned there were neighbourhood patrols of the hospital. Considering how easy Red Dress Manor was, this worried us. We don’t exactly blend in. We wouldn’t have it so easy twice in a row. Whenever we have good luck, several bouts of bad luck always follow. Fate doesn’t like us having nice things. But we had a plan – pretend one of us was injured and we were looking for a hospital. Considering the regularity with which we’re injured, this was plausible. Or we could dress as doctors/nurses/patients and act natural. We considered dressing as Silent Hill nurses but we’d have trouble seeing and would probably get hurt. Plus, the way they move (awkwardly and only when hearing noises) would hinder our exploring.

Mountain Ash HospitalOur SatNav, Helen, directed us the wrong way. She said “turn right” as we approached a right turn. So we did. Only to end up on the A470 heading back to Cardiff. It turned out, she meant a right turn further down the road. Listen Helen, we take things literally. You tell us to turn right, we’ll turn right. Don’t tell us to turn right, if you don’t mean it. This is where misunderstandings and falling outs happen. Our brains weren’t wired for subtext and mind reading.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe turned around in Pontypridd and headed back up the A470. She’d cost us three miles then randomly spoke to us, saying “did you say something? I didn’t catch that,” indicating she may now be sentient. She sounded a little sarcastic, like we’d insulted her under our breaths so she was doing the whole ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear it, see if you say something different’ thing. After the tempestuous relationship we had with AA route planner, Helen seemed so different. Perfect, almost. Now we seem to be arguing all the time. She’s stroppy, she sulks, she blames us if we take her directions literally, if we go a different route to the one she suggests, or if we stop off for the toilet, she refuses to speak to us. We’re not sure these relationships are worth the hassle.

Mountain Ash HospitalAfter the slight mishap, we reached Mountain Ash Hospital no problem. We parked in a bay on the side of the road then continued on foot, heading up through the gap in the trees we’d seen on Google Earth. Though dressed in PVC (it wipes clean so is perfect for urb ex) and armed with cameras, it was clear we weren’t in the area for a casual stroll. The original road up to the hospital has corrugated steel gates with ‘private property, keep out’ graffitied on them. We knew we were in the right place. There was no-one around. We reached the top of the wooded slope and there it was.

Mountain Ash HospitalAll the doors and windows are open or smashed. There’s no climbing, no fences, no barbed wire, you just walk in. So we did. We couldn’t believe our luck. We were finally inside an abandoned hospital. Then Laura fell down a hole in the floor. Lynx had called a warning as she went on ahead. A door partially covered the hole and as Cat was saying the warning, Laura plummeted, like a hanging victim through a trapdoor. It was hilarious. Only one leg went down luckily as the door covered the rest of the hole. She didn’t even cry out or swear during her descent. Jack was helpless with laughter, Lynx missed it as she was ahead but the moment Laura fell, Cat’s hero instinct kicked in and she dashed to save her, pulling her out of the hole and brushing her down. Laura had somehow managed to keep hold of her phone, which was impressive. And the whole thing was caught on camera.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe’d only been inside about two minutes. It was one of the funniest things that has ever happened on our adventures. And we’d left our first aid kit in the car. Tom had owned the crown of ‘worst accident on Calamityville’ after receiving a blood injury in Monmouth Shire Hall, (and is the reason we now carry a first aid kit) but Laura is the new wearer of that crown. We then covered the hole completely with the door to stop other explorers coming to any harm. We’re becoming responsible in our old age.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe headed upstairs, thinking if someone came, at least we’d explored up there. The roof has completely gone and most of the walls are missing. People had sprayed ‘Trump for Prez’, which shows the mentality of the taggers. There was also UKIP graffiti, which again, shows that the people who trashed the place operate on a subhuman level. One lot of graffiti read ‘I’ll be a better man today’. Not entirely sure graffitiing a hospital counts as an act of self-improvement but at least he seems willing to change.

Mountain Ash HospitalMore stairs led up to an attic area and we actually accessed the roof. We didn’t stay up there too long because we’d easily be spotted parading around on the roof of an old hospital and we didn’t want people with air rifles taking pop shots at us. It’s not a working hospital so being shot in the arse with a pellet would really sour the adventure. Our first aid kit doesn’t contain tweezers. (Note to selves – add tweezers.)

Mountain Ash HospitalThe main building wasn’t as big as we expected. There weren’t any large wards that you’d expect from an old hospital. As Cat and Jack were in a small room, a man walked past with a strimmer slung over his shoulder. He stared at them almost in acknowledgement of fellow rule breakers. Cat quickly turned away, applying the ‘if I can’t see him, he can’t see me’ method of hiding used by small children and kittens. Jack didn’t see him. Lynx had spotted the small boy with him but not the man. We thought he might have been part of the neighbourhood patrol we’d heard about, but he didn’t call out or tell us to leave so he was obviously exploring the place like us.

Mountain Ash HospitalBut we kept a closer eye on the windows after that. We left the main building and headed to the other buildings. We always feel exposed outside. We can be seen much easier and have nowhere to hide. And with our cameras, excitement and fabulous dress sense, there’s no way we can pretend we’re there to act as security to keep out pesky kids. There was no hint of what the other buildings were, as again, they’d been stripped bare. One housed the rusting generator. Then the final building was the one we’d most been looking forward to.

The morgue.

Mountain Ash HospitalIt looked nothing like a morgue. Only the fridge was still there, though the door had gone. Who would steal a morgue fridge door? How would you get that home? There’s no way to nonchalantly walk down the street lugging a fridge door. Graffiti on the side of the fridge read ‘dead as fuck’, which is at least true. Well, you’d hope people put in the fridge were dead. We took a photo then in true goth style, took turns to get inside and lie on the rollers. Mountain Ash HospitalSadly, unlike in Newsham Park hospital, there are no slabs to lie comfortably on. And the rollers made manoeuvring around inside a tad tricky. But if we see a morgue fridge, we have to get inside it. The way we have to pat every cute animal we see. As Oscar Wilde said “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Mountain Ash HospitalWe wandered around the outside of the hospital and luckily, the man with the kid had vanished. Maybe it wasn’t a strimmer he was carrying. Maybe it was a chainsaw, and a group of horny youths were about to meet a grisly end. Though we’re not sure Mountain Ash Chainsaw Massacre would be a hit. Hoping he wouldn’t return with the police and some angry neighbours, we headed back inside the main building to find our way out. Mountain Ash HospitalWe’d taken some ghost hunting equipment with us but our K2 battery died and we’re always so paranoid we’ll get caught that we don’t like staying longer than necessary. We like to explore every single part in case we’re asked to leave, whereas when ghost hunting, you need to stay in one place for EVP sessions and calling out. Though we did ask for any doctors to come and take a look at Laura’s leg. None responded so maybe any ghost doctors don’t work weekends.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe still can’t believe it was so easy. We half expected the police to be waiting for us when we reached the road. You’d think that two successful urb exing attempts would give us confidence. But it makes us suspicious. Fate must have something nasty planned for the next adventure. Maybe we’ll be eaten by a guard dog, or worse – the Wrong Turn cannibalistic hillbillies. Maybe we’ll be thrown in jail and be Big Nora’s bitches before lights out. The possibilities are endless.

Cat and Jack reached the road first and hid behind trees when cars came. We waited for all cars to go then casually strolled out and returned to the Mini. There was no letter on our windscreen and no angry man with a mallet threatening us. Now for our next adventure. If you don’t hear from us again, we were mistaken for horny youths…Mountain Ash Hospital

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