Lots of explorers are careful in the way they explore. Most of the time, if we explore somewhere, we go in, we explore, we leave. The legality of what we do is often considered a grey area. While urban exploring itself is not illegal, the owners of the land that’s being explored usually do not like urban explorers as they throw health and safety to the wind when common sense isn’t used (not how we do things at Discover.re). Rarely does it happen that anyone in urban exploration gets caught, provided you’re careful. On this one occasion, we were given a good scare and plunged ourselves into the dark of night to ensure we didn’t get caught by the MOD.
This house we wanted to explore is Elizabethan, it lies just on the border of MOD land and is extremely easy to access by foot, as in: two minute walk after passing the ‘MOD land’ sign. Zero fences, zero gates, zero people, this was easy, almost too easy…
Entering the field to approach the house, we pass by a waist high single bar gate that blocks vehicles into the field but not people. Beyond that, we noticed the entire building was fenced off with a very heavy duty gate right at the front. We split our team into two, one half went around the perimeter of the fence anti-clockwise and the other half, clockwise. We’d meet the other side and keep our eyes peeled for ways in. Upon meeting up, we started to discuss ways of potentially scuffling under a loose section of the fence to get in.
We were judging our potential entry point when suddenly: A metal clang. It sounded close. ‘Lights off!’ A voice quietly ordered behind me. We immediately shut off our lights. We had a good idea of what that noise was: it sounded like it was the metal gate we walked by as we entered the field. I stared into the pitch black to try and see who, if anyone made that noise.
No movement, no lights, nothing. Whoever was close, if someone was there, clearly didn’t want to be seen either. ‘Psst, Neil!’ A voice hissed behind me. I snapped my head around, but no-one was there, all my teammates had started to rocket in the other direction, away from the noise, the guy who called for me, gestured for me to run. I turned back towards the gate, but quickly decided: If someone was there in the dark and they were security, I didn’t want them to catch me near MOD land. I turned and bolted into the night with my teammates.
We ran through the dark, trying to be as stealthy as possible, constantly looking over our shoulder. After a couple of minutes, we paused to catch our breath; one of our teammates who had researched the area pulled up a map to see if there was another way out of the area. I watched the darkness from where we’d just run from, keeping an eye out for movement, but saw none. We decided to continue forward, pass through a small wooded area then we’d end up back at a main road which would take us back to where we’d parked.
We walked across the open grass between us and the treeline ahead of us, breathing a collective sigh of relief at the excitement of almost being caught. We reached the thicket and started shambling through them, crossing over a stream as we made strides through the woods, we eventually found ourselves with a small barbed wire fence to our right leading us forward the way we needed to and guiding us through the maze of trees.
I heard a shuffling to our left; I shone my light in the direction of the noise.
There was a high viz jacket in the distance. The long, silver reflective stripes brightly reflected the light I shone at it against the dimly lit brown of the trees and orange of the autumn leaves. ‘Lights off!’ I quickly hissed. We killed the lights and hit the floor, squatting amongst the prickly bushes. Turns out, others in the team had seen a torch light not too far away at the same moment I saw the high viz. We crouched there in absolute silence, watching the void of the night, waiting for a sound, movement, anything.
We only knew one thing: someone was close.
Waiting for a clue as to who was out there and/or where they were moving was agonising. As I crouched in the thorns, I started to think: If my light hit a security guard, they definitely would’ve seen it and quickly started to bear down on us. The typical: ‘chased-off-during-an-explore’ story is that the guards are quick, familiar with the land they’re guarding and they are always easy to identify and see. However, these guards weren’t shining bright lights and shouting towards us. They were being stealthy. Which is when I suddenly realised:
This isn’t a chase… It’s hunt and we’re the hunted…
No-one made a sound. For a while, I didn’t dare breathe because of how close I thought this other person was. No-one wanted to do anything that would potentially give away our position. The temptation to quickly flick my light on to see if the jacket was still there, if it had moved, or if I’d been mistaken, was slowly eating away in my head. The ‘hunted’ thought clawed away inside me, niggling away at me, telling me I needed to find out if this was, in fact, the case. Just briefly flicking on the light would quickly clarify how much trouble we were in, but the risk of giving ourselves away was too great. I remained silent and still in the inky black of darkness the brush was kindly providing us.
After what felt like ages of waiting for a sign, under hushed breath, we debated continuing down the fence, but we reckoned whoever was out there saw us moving in that direction and was likely moving to cut us off, a theory supported by shuffling noises coming from further down the fence, while potentially just the sounds of the forest, we didn’t want to go to confirm that. We could go back on ourselves, but chances are: this person wasn’t alone and if we went back the way we came, we’d run into someone.
We took our final option: climb over the short barbed wire fence that we were backed up against and try to reach the road that way. We helped haul each other over the ripping wires in absolute darkness and took off away from the woods. We kept looking over our shoulders, but once again, we saw no evidence of anyone coming after us. For a moment, I considered if we were actually being chased, or if my brain had over-thought this entire situation, but you can’t mistake a high viz jacket for anything else in the middle of the woods. We pressed on. After crossing a couple more barbed fences, we finally found the road and cautiously made our way back to the safety of our vehicles.
As I type this, it’s been a couple of days since this happened. Plenty of time to reflect on what happened, plenty of time to think: ‘Were we just being paranoid?’ or ‘Were we just on edge and ran into the dark at the first noise we heard?’ Say for example, that we were caught: It wouldn’t be our first run in with security at a place. During my first outing with Discover.re, we had a run-in with a guard. He was blunt and firm with us, but ultimately, just escorted us off the site and watched us to ensure we did drive away. For all the things the guard had the potential to do, it was ultimately a very light encounter.
Even after a couple of days, I still think someone was after us and these guards weren’t going to let us off lightly if they caught us. It was the first noise (the gate clanging) that set this chase in motion. If it was just this clanging noise and this noise alone that had happened to us that night, I would’ve chalked this whole story up to us being paranoid. However, it’s fairly difficult to chalk up paranoia as the reason we all heard the same noise, then, why I very clearly saw a high viz jacket and the others saw torches moving through the woods.
So, why do I think they weren’t going to let us off easy? I simply keep coming back to the question of: ‘why were they trying to sneak up on us and potentially cut us off?’. It’s a fairly big question, admittedly, it rides on the fact that I saw one thing and the others saw another, but both seem to land on the same answer: someone was in that woods with us. Most stories we’ve heard about being chased by security involve lots of noise and lights in order to scare away the explorers, but not these guards. Like us, they were keeping to the dark and not being obvious, which I use the word ‘hunting’ us instead of just trying to scare us off the land. I’ll probably never know why they were ‘hunting’ opposed to ‘purely chasing’, I’m not sure I want to find out either.
Only time will tell if I ever find an answer to that question.
Last Updated on 19 November 2021 by Michael