London’s UrbEx Pilgrimage

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Sunday Nov 7, 2010 Under Breaking and Entering, Celebration, Cultural Geography, Freedom

Beauty is a thing of might and dread. Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.
-Kahlil Gibran

Life is a pilgrimage. The wise man does not rest by the roadside inns. He marches direct to the illimitable domain of eternal bliss, his ultimate destination.
-Swami Sivananda


Certain sites of urban exploration are to be tasted, others swallowed and some to be chewed and digested. I have had a love affair with Battersea Power Station, my Dark Princess, since arriving in London. The first time I rode past on the train and saw her crumbing dark brick and creamy smokestacks shining in the afternoon light, I began to feel a powerful desire to get closer. Slowly, over the course of 2 years, I have gone back to her over and over again, on foot, crawling through tunnels, by boat. I have visited her on lonely late nights of contemplation, seeking advice and solace, in the evenings, in the days, through changes of ownership and constantly changing security measures, running around the control rooms playing hide and seek and laying along the chimneys with friends in London’s early dawn light waiting for the ecstasy of her grandeur to eventually fade, which it never does. I feel that we have, over the years, developed a complicated and passionate relationship to the point that I defend her liminal status as being the best place for her to reside. I want her just as she is, now and forever.

No man's land

With intention

Last year, a plan was hatched to watch the city’s firework display from Battersea Park via the chimneys of my Dark Princess. Ironically, because of all of the traffic coming to Clapham Common where I live for the epic yearly display here, I couldn’t get there in time. I have regretted it ever since, determined to let nothing stop me this year from attending what has become a sacred urban explorer pilgrimage.

Security is part of the game. They know we are coming. They know we won’t give up spending this night with the Dark Princess. Last night, the place was swarming with workers and patrols, a large tent in the middle shooting blue lights onto the interior walls as we slipped up the scaffolding. The tremors of fear and roaming floodlights only added to the passion of the affair. In the end, 7 of us made it in even as others were caught in the yard below with screams and footchases we could hear while hanging from the steel girders.

And for our persistence, the Dark Princess rewarded us with the most spectacular beauty imaginable, aided in no small part the worker’s light show they unintentionally put on for us (thank you workers!).


The night

For 30 minutes, we sunk into the bliss of a successful pilgrimage, eyes closed with the sky flaring behind our eyelids, one terrible rumble after another awaking our primal imaginaries, drifting into the night. The evening turned into a fervour of laughter and play as we ran into the city to wreak more havoc in our intoxication of passion. I let the night go with a heavy heart.

In revelry

The whole universe will glow


One Response to “London’s UrbEx Pilgrimage”

  1. Detroit: Beyond Ruination | Place Hacking Says:

    […] the largest and most beautiful ruins in North America, an icon of Detroit, even in death, much like Battersea Power Station in London. As Leary writes, Michigan Central Station appears to be a potent symbol of decline and the […]