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Wilful Trespass: the Manchester urban explorers

Jim Gillette tells us why up is good even if most of us think trespass is bad

Published on May 4th 2010.


Wilful Trespass: the Manchester urban explorers

Confidential note : We came across Urban Explorers one day. They seemed mad rather than bad. Or maybe inspired. So we asked them what it is that makes them climb up buildings without permission. This is the reply. We're not condoning the activity just trying to reveal a secret side of Manchester life.

Climbing up to rooftops is reckless and irresponsible. At least it’s considered to be reckless and irresponsible in today’s sanitized world of Health & Safety. Rooftops are practical spaces though – people have to get up there to do maintenance, and, in the case of the urban explorer, people have to get up there to take pictures of the city they love.

I reach up with my arm and swing my leg above my head. It’s 5am on a Saturday morning and I still haven’t slept since waking on Friday morning. For most people of my age and background, this would presumably be the norm for a one-night stand. Except I’m with seven other guys and none of us are naked. We’re climbing buildings. Without permission.

The vast, corrugated roof of this well-known Manchester rooftop crinkles softly beneath each footstep. Danger is at the back of everybody’s minds as we look east towards the Pennines. Everyone is relaxed as we wait for the sun to peek around the hill and create the perfect silhouette of it as it does so. We take in this moment of beauty as the thick early-morning haze covers all civilization between that hill and our position in central Manchester.

When people find out that I do this they’re usually baffled as to why I do it. It’s moments like this which I use to explain my motivation.

Or maybe I tell them about later on in that morning when we were sat above somebody’s £1.5m city centre penthouse apartment sunbathing in the baking hot early-morning sun. We could have meandered onto their balcony and asked to join them for a cup of coffee had we been more bold.

We’re Urban Explorers and we seek out the normally unseen parts of man-made places. To a lot of explorers throughout the UK, this usually means a casual stroll. To a lot of Manchester’s explorers it means going out every night of the week and climbing any and all scaffolding in sight, pretending to be guests at hotels we’ve never set foot in before, and fast-talking our way past concierge desks.

Apartments and hotels are usually much easier than office blocks in terms of reaching the summit. Modern buildings, with their rational, linear infrastructure are a walk in the park compared to old buildings with numerous extensions and impossibly complicated floorplans. Each new building will no doubt bring its own problems – security guards, locked doors, alarms.

Climbing up to rooftops is reckless and irresponsible. At least it’s considered to be reckless and irresponsible in today’s sanitized world of Health & Safety. Rooftops are practical spaces though – people have to get up there to do maintenance, and, in the case of the urban explorer, people have to get up there to take pictures of the city they love. In terms of legality, we only ever trespass (merely a civil offence here in the UK). The general attitude of explorers is “Take only photographs, leave only footprints”. We know not everybody will agree with what we do. We accept this.

In his 1972 novel Invisible Cities, Italian writer Italo Calvino describes the fictional city of Berenice as having a rational, aesthetically-pleasing and functional identity. Though beneath this façade lies a hidden network of cogs and machinery propping up the charade. But it is only by knowing of this hidden network that you can truly understand and appreciate the complexity and the beauty of Berenice. I’d argue that Urban Explorers are looking for the hidden networks here in Manchester to get a better understanding of the city that we adore.

The city is a buzzing, living metropolis – a climbing frame for the adventurous. The entire city is full of man-made beauty. If you take the time to look around you, and find hidden spaces, chances are you’ll find more beauty than you knew existed - here in Manchester.

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29 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AgricolaMay 5th 2010.

I want to join this lot.

Lord of the PiesMay 5th 2010.

Great piece with some great pictures.

C 2 The GMay 5th 2010.

Inspiration stuff! These pictures are art in themselves. Have you lads thought about doing a exhibition? I would buy

Trevor MorteMay 5th 2010.

Naughty but absolutely brilliant.

Leigh ScottMay 5th 2010.

I am pretty sure if you asked the proprietors of the buildings you wanted to climb they would rather take you up as opposed to have you risking your lives,but hat would be boring wouldn't it?.would it remove the Batman (gotham city type feel) to the irresponsible exploits.Actually i'm probably just jealous all I do is book myself on tunnel tours!

Jason TaylorMay 5th 2010.

Yes Scoteee, asking permission really would be missing the point. It's the frisson of the naughtiness that gives the literal edge

BrianMay 5th 2010.

Aesthetically pleasing photos, but do we really need shots of these self important mavericks perched at the corners of buildings looking pensive? Get over yourselves.

AnonymousMay 5th 2010.

Have a look at the forum called http://www.28dayslater.co.uk for loads more photos like this from all over the world. I go on there quite regularly and there's a lot of Manchester ones.

DescartesMay 5th 2010.

Are you joking? Getting on top of a building is no easy task, particularly if you try and get permission from the owners. Liability insurance for one can result in an instant no. I missed out on the tower tours Confidential put on, but surely red tape was an issue with locations, whereas breaking in would've been much easier?

Captain Jean Luc PicardMay 5th 2010.

Lostinthepost needs to discover their inner child. It's official

AnonymousMay 5th 2010.

Why are the pictures so small when you click them? I wanted to see them in their full glory but no, even the blurry food shots are usually twice the size.

AnonymousMay 5th 2010.

If I find you sunbathing on my rooftop whilst I sit on my balcony I'll simply call the police and have you removed.If you want to go climbing over stuff go the the Peak District or Lake District but not my apartment thanks

DescartesMay 5th 2010.

Anon you should tell them where you live so they know

BabystrangewaysMay 5th 2010.

Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!!!!!
Big up Jim Gillette and the Manchester Tourism Bureau.

BabystrangewaysMay 5th 2010.

FYI, 'Dibigo', there are quite a few fully grown *women* exploring the city, climbing scaffolding and surfing lifts. We've been all over your balcony already mate and it's not all that.
p.s. Everyone knows that geeks get the best girls, and boys. :)

Leigh ScottMay 5th 2010.

Hey Babystrangeways - if you're one of these explorers then the strangeways prison rooftop is one pictures i'd offer you kudos for.Now there's a challenge - getting in there to take a picture from atop a place few of us will ever see.

I can see the judges comments now.

"You are charged with breaking, entering and trespassing on the grounds of Strangeways prison, therefore I sentence you to,well, a month in Strangeways prison!

Smyth HarperMay 5th 2010.

They're, like, so hip and cool. Yawn.

NuikMay 5th 2010.

Ooh there are a lot of bore on here today. Keep climbing lads and lasses. Keep us on top of the world.

TomMay 5th 2010.

Smitty - in spite of your sarcasm: yeah, they are actually. What do you do that's interesting or unusual? You boring, bitter loser.

Smyth HarperMay 5th 2010.

Tom - ouch. I'll have to have an extra cup of Horlicks tonight while listening to the Archers omnibus to get over your devastating put down.

Smyth HarperMay 5th 2010.

More seriously, I merely had a little pop because I think it's a pretty juvenile activity and actually quite dangerous. Going 24 hours without sleep before carrying out a reasonably hazardous activity is, bluntly, stupid. And Mancon, in what comes across (imho) as an attempt to look groovy with the cool guys, publicising this daft activity, perhaps encouraging others to do it, is pretty irresponsible.

KokaMay 5th 2010.

The tourism bureau is inspiring. Manchester is one of the greatest cities in the world. Its about time we saw more of it. keep up the good work ppl.

Nick StreetMay 5th 2010.

Stop being so boring and lighten up a bit, exploring the unknown is so much fun! Ask teh manchester tourism bureau :p
Anywho! Big up JG, Babystrangeways and all the usual suspects :)

Raaaaassssss,

NickUK x

leigh17026May 5th 2010.

Chill out and enjoy the city fans walking out early again!!!

Jimmy HalfwayMay 6th 2010.

Great article mate! I feel like im going to have to get myself out there a little more once these exams are over and get out of drains haha.

But yeah, excellent read and as usual excellent photographs!

Tom (not the one previously)May 6th 2010.

Interesting article ManCon, and can agree with the previous comments about not being able to properly see your city unless you take the risk of getting up high. Went to the top of the carpark in Shudehill off the back of Schofield's article a few weeks back and the city looks so different from up there, couldn't recognise some places.
For those criticising that this is appearing in ManCon for the wrong reasons, I believe this a worthy article and if anyone does try this off the back of reading this then so what? They know the risks and should accept the consequences.

BabystrangewaysMay 6th 2010.

O Dibigo! If only you knew.....

Smyth HarperMay 6th 2010.

I've just come back on to see if my avatar's working...

Nick ThompsonJune 17th 2010.

Abseil off buildings. It's the latest craze!

Hit up the Manchester Tourism Bureau to see more!

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