Urban Explorers Venture into the Abandoned and Unknown

A growing group of people in Britain have taken to breaking into abandoned buildings and facilities. But they're not breaking in to steal things, or to squat. They just want to check the places out, which they call "urban exploring".

"Criticised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents as "dangerous and irresponsible behaviour", urban exploration – as those who partake like to call it – is becoming popular in Britain. It is also a growing headache for the security firms who police many of the sites that are routinely targeted. The main online forum for explorers has signed up 3,000 members since its creation in 2005, and up to 100 new members join every week.

Each weekend, groups of enthusiasts don exploring alter-egos and head for the myriad abandoned asylums, hospitals, factories and ammunition dumps that, unknown to most of us, are scattered around our cities and countryside. The scene is renewed by the regular addition of buildings and factories that are abandoned each month. Enthusiasts monitor local newspapers and radio stations for any sign that a place may have recently become unoccupied – a factory closure, a bankruptcy, plans to regenerate a site.

It may be illegal to investigate them, but such buildings are a fascinating, if dusty, window into a bygone era. The explorers use aliases to protect their identity, adding to the movement's mystique. Many are photography enthusiasts who post artistic pictures of their latest daring exploits online. Others are in it purely for the thrill, clambering to the top of towering cranes or exploring the network of sewers and storm drains beneath."

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