Clearly nobody could find Cortana though so …

I’ve not posted a technical blog entry in ages; I post one about the Cortana “listen mode” key change with the Anniversary Update; the next day I upgrade to the W10 Creators Update, and guess what … the shortcut has changed back! Yep, to get Cortana to pop up and listen (if you’ve not enabled “Hey Cortana” always on mode) it’s now back to being Win+C, well if you turn it on! Just typical!

Cortana shifted her number, but now I’ve found her again

I know that virtual assistants aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I really like Cortana. However, a while ago as my Cortana usage started to increase, I found that the Win+C shortcut that had previously popped up Cortana in listening mode had stopped working. Was something else I was running it blocking it? Nope, since it wasn’t working on any of my W10 machines anymore. I tried searching for a resolution, but all I found was articles confirming that Win+C was the shortcut. Until today …

Recently I’ve been looking to find out what I could do extend Cortana with skills, but that only really has relevance if I can talk to her easily. Hence I went looking for a resolution again and finally found out where Cortana had gone! With the W10 Anniversary Update Cortana moved “numbers” very slightly … Win+C became Win+Shift+C! Use those keys and she answers immediately! Not sure why I’d not found this previously but hey ho!

If you didn’t know, the other useful Cortana shortcut is Win+S (or Win+Q) to pop up the Cortana summary window.

I now also run Cortana on my personal Android phone (and naturally on my work Windows phone), and am looking forward to things like the Harman Kardon Cortana-powered speaker (albeit with worries for my wallet).

Fraser Gunnery Range / HMS St George

Fraser-Range-043I didn’t expect to particularly enjoy Fraser Range, but actually I did! Another one on my list for years, it was mostly ignored because I didn’t think there was much there. However, whilst it is totally smashed up, the sunlight and bright graffiti totally made up for that on the day!

Three bits of history …

Fraser Range’s military history – Fort Cumberland, which sits behind the site in Eastney, became the headquarters of the Royal Marine Artillery from the mid 19th century. The area around the fort was used for various training activities, and ultimately the Fraser Gunnery Range was set up between the the World Wars on the foreshore looking out to the Solent. A variety of naval guns were sited there, and later missile launchers too, enabling the practicing of various shipboard firing activities. When live firing was being undertaken, shipping had to be kept clear to a distance of nine miles out to sea! During the 1960s, the site also became the home of HMS St George, which was an naval officers’ school for senior ratings selected for promotion. The gunnery range closed in the mid-80s and the site was repurposed as a part of the Admiralty Research Establishment, with a focus on radar equipment and testing, and resulting in the construction of several large radar towers. In the mid-90s the ARE was absorbed into the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, and ultimately DERA itself split into public and privatized organizations, with the Fraser site falling under the privatized side as part of QinetiQ. The site was wound down and closed in 2006, and since there have been ongoing plans to build flats on the site, though long running wranglings including about access to the site mean everything has stalled. The remaining radar towers were demolished in 2013 in light of people regularly climbing them!

The second bit of history in fact ties with another of the site’s claims to fame. One of the wranglings mentioned above relates to public access to the beach area in front of the site. It so happens that the beach down to the waterline is legally owned by the site and so private, but practically the public have long used it. In particular it was famed for its unofficial use by naturists, and my wife has always referred to that end of Eastney as the “nudist beach”. Those naturists have been actively campaigning to ensure development of the site doesn’t impact their beach use.

And the third bit relates to another claim to fame, albeit rather a different one. In 1971 the site was used as a location for a Jon-Pertwee-era Doctor Who episode  – “The Sea Devils“. Titled “HMS Seasprite” in the story, the location is central to the story, and ultimately sees the Navy in a prolonged gun battle with the Sea Devils there. Indeed one of the Bofors anti-aircraft guns on the range was also used in said battle. Naturally in this world of YouTube you can see parts of the episode including the gun battle, and also a lovely bit of 8mm film recorded by one of the Naval ratings on site during the filming showing more of the guns on the range.

With access very publicly from the beach, and plenty of people about when I visited given the gorgeous winter sun, this was one of those bits of exploring where you just have to overtly look like a photographer and not care. Within moments of heading through the fence, I ran into a local guy called John. He explained that he usually sent his kids across to play on the site with some spray cans, but had come across himself that day to size up a wall for a large stencil. He was tired of seeing a particular bit of graffiti from his window, a large green penis, and wanted to replace it with something different! He was considering something suitably wry like “nude people this way” and a large arrow towards the beach.

Fraser-Range-019There are three main large buildings on the site, with the middle one being the most interesting. With a long corridor on each floor and lots of large windows out to sea, it was a surprisingly chilled place to be with the sun streaming in. As well as lots of graffiti of varying quality, though including some really nice pieces, people had run amok with loads of powered poster paint too! This gave some of the floors interesting coloured effects.

Fraser-Range-028Other interesting parts in this building were a small lecture theatre with a projector room and curious angled screen. There’s also a nice staircase up to the second floor, with access beyond up to the roof if desired. It was also clear that the building had been used for emergency service training given tell tale triangles cut out of the walls.

Fraser-Range-078The building nearest Eastney is frankly rubbish! The second floor is a great example of what happens when crap suspended ceilings collapse! The main thing of interest in here is evidence of there having been an anechoic chamber of some sort with piles of pointy foam!

The furthest building down towards the entrance to Langstone Harbour, was the range control tower and of slightly older heritage, but mostly just pigeony.

Fraser-Range-052So let’s be honest, it wasn’t the architecture or there being much left around, despite the interesting history, but mostly about chilling in colourful derelict buildings with the sun streaming in and the sound of the sea outside! Just don’t go there on a rainy dismal day!

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Fort Gilkicker

Another of the many on my “being meaning to visit for years” sites, Fort Gilkicker is an excellent example of the numerous Victorian-era Palmerston forts that ring the strategically important naval port that is Portsmouth.

Whilst most certainly not from Portsmouth myself, as a regular visitor for many years I’ve always loved the Palmerston forts. They’re hard not to notice ringing Pompey as they do, along the top of Portsdown Hill, to a lesser degree on Portsea island itself, out at sea with the four sea forts, and in their greatest volume on the Gosport peninsula. I’ve visited many officially, and a few unofficially. I even semi-seriously considered buying St Helens Fort when it was offered for sale privately in 2003, but Mrs ® Andy was less keen!

Gilkicker-016Fort Gilkicker is located out overlooking Stokes Bay and hence, unlike the others on the Gosport peninsula that defensively face east to protect Portsmouth from land attack, actually aimed out to sea to protect the deep water anchorage in the bay. It was built 1863 and 1871, and is semi-circular in shape, originally with 22 casements facing seaward and with a parade in the middle. The semi-circle is closed across its diameter by a barrack block with a single central gate into the fort. Those casements initially held large muzzle loading guns firing outward through armoured doors in the thick granite armoured walls, similar to those at Hurst Castle. Gilkicker-051Also there were five large guns on the roof. Magazines for the ammunition where on ground level, with lighting provided via lighting tunnels from the parade, and with inner and outer tunnels around the circumference of the fort. Various lifts took the munitions up to the guns.

Between 1902 and 1906 Gilkicker’s armament was significantly changed, and this also saw the granite front wall of the fort covered with an earth bank along with the armoured doors of the guns on the tier of casements. This meant that the only guns were now four breech loading guns on the roof. The larger two of those required small extension platforms to be built off the top of the walls, that are now notable for their perilous condition (hence the scaffolding) overhanging the parade! Over the following years Gilkicker’s defensive role continued to wane, with its last large armament being a Bofors anti-aircraft gun on the roof during the Second World War. During D-day Gilkicker was used by a signals unit. Post-war the fort ultimately became used as a plumbers workshop, before being bought by Hampshire County Council and used a build materials store.

Stokes Bay is the sort of place that typically we’ve visited once or twice a year for a wander. In particular when the boys were a bit younger we’d come down and watch the New Year’s Day swim from the nearby in shore rescue station. I always kept a bit of an eye on Gilkicker, and would normally clamber up the earth bank to look over the fence at the top. Gilkicker-086The fort passed into the hands of a developer with plans to convert it into luxury homes, and to some degree the fort was occupied and secured. A few of my friends did explore it to a limited extent, but with the fence looked after, originally security on site, or at least cameras and alarms, it just sat on my list. Marketing days were held, and the plans looked very interesting with importantly the earth bank due to be removed to expose the original granite walls allowing the residences to have great views out to the Solent through what were originally the casement gun doors. Then clearly everything stalled with the financial crash and so on.

So to now! The conversion plans still exist, and there were reports of development being due to restart last year. However, when I had a quick search recently to see the current state of play, it seemed that actually rather than restarting, the attention shown to Gilkicker had dropped further. It was no longer secure, and so for a while was busy with local people having a look around and naturally became a hang out for “youths”. Indeed if anything I was going to be very late to the party, by about six months! Cue a crisp winter’s day and me on my lonesome wishing dog walkers a good morning.

Exploring Gilkicker was initially an edgy experience, for one very simple reason. Whilst the fort is empty and increasingly derelict, it does still have an active radar installation on its roof. This makes a continuous sound as it rotates, as well as (on a sunny day) casting a moving shadow across the scene. It took me a little while for my “explorer senses” not to react to that particular sound and movement!
Whilst the casements at Gilkicker are mostly stripped back, a highlight that remains is a shell lift up to the roof level. There are also two remaining ammunition lifts down on the magazine level. Something I’ve not seen extant at other forts I’ve visited.

It was also nice to find a couple of spiral staircases up from the inner magazine tunnel to the casements above. The magazines themselves were all stripped but there was still nice signage on both sides of the various issue hatches between the magazines and the inner tunnel.

Gilkicker-096After working my way around both the casements and the magazines, I headed over the barrack block. Again very much stripped, but on a gorgeous sunny day the corridor which ran the length of the building, complete with smartly framed gun loops out towards the rear of the fort, had some great light.Gilkicker-136

Interior done it was up onto the roof level, which practically has less to see with just gun mountings remaining, before ultimately heading out of the fort.

Despite the amount that the fort has been stripped back, with things like the gun lifts and of course full access to everywhere, it was probably the most original Palmerston fort I’ve been in. Heading back down the earth bank at the front, it was great to see three of the four Palmerston sea forts in the distance resplendent on such a lovely clear day too.

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Crookham Court School – video

A quick video from the footage I took on my second visit to Crookham Court School. It’s the first video I’ve made with my new wide angle 10-18mm lens and naturally shot at the wide end of that. I rather like the distortion that brings and how much more apparent it is on moving images, give a slightly more surreal perspective as you pan. Given the ending shot there was only one bit of music for me to finish things on, but in keeping with the other music used I absolutely had to find a very particular sort of cover version!

Crookham Court School – take two

I first explored Crookham Court School last year, bemoaning how I’d missed my chance since the main house was well sealed at the time and the only route I found in was worryingly one way. I’ve a vague recollection of reading that in the intervening period the site had had some temporary travelling visitors, and when I checked ahead of a work journey up the A34 it was clear from a number of other reports that the house was very much accessible, and suffering as a result. As it happens visiting Crookham Court was actually my plan B, but when my plan A (the Pianoforte Supplies factory in Roade near Northampton) turned out to literally be mid-demo, I was damned if I wasn’t getting any exploring in on the way home!

Crookham-2-005Wide open is an understatement, but that’s very much come at the cost of the lovely (albeit with a horrible dark history) manor house getting totally trashed. The largest space is the open hall in the middle of the building, with a wide staircase up to a hanging landing around it, though that landing has a little bit of added edge given the fact that the bannister around it has been totally removed. There are few signs of metal theft in the building, but I reckon that’s mostly been lead off the roof rather than pipework and wiring – huge radiators remain and there’s no obvious piles of cable insulation. Hence most of the smashing up of things is down to pure vandalism!

Crookham-2-069Generally speaking, the numerous rooms are pretty empty and stripped of most content. An obvious standout though is the library, which is still full of books. It is a big old place though, with room after room, interspersed with things like bathrooms. A few slightly sketchy floors too, and with holes in the roof it’s only going to get worse! I did particularly like the fact that one of the internal courtyard areas at the heart of the building along with the service areas are beautifully tiled with white glazed bricks. All-in-all the whole building was beautifully light throughout too, helped by those internal courtyards and lots of glass! I’d also heard it said that the school had its own fallout shelter … err, that’s a large walk in fridge folks!

Crookham-2-099I worked my way up to the top of the building, before coming back down another staircase and ultimately, having covered the service areas, heading down into the basement area accessed through the the courtyard where the roof had totally collapsed. The basement had clearly been a recreation area for the pupils with gym equipment, a dark room, several lounge areas including an awesome Ghostbusters mural (since I’m clearly not afraid of no ghosts!) and then … above me I heard voices. Given that it was more than one person, it seemed most likely to be other explorers or at worst a bunch of kids. I’m usually super quiet when I explore on my own, but rather than sneaking out, I thought “sod it!” I made plenty of noise coming up out of the basement, and was aware of the voices trying to get away from me. Seemed rude not to find them and say hello therefore! I quickly tracked them down to the natural furthest point in the building, helped by the fact that somebody had strong after shave on, where they were hiding! Three photographer dudes with some professional full frame kit, who explained that most evenings the “caretaker” did visit the site with his dogs. A nice chat later, and I left them to head up to the roof whilst I headed home!

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All my old exploring videos

Over the years I’ve enjoyed making exploring videos, though my principal medium has always been photography. Hence my videos have always been recorded on my main camera as an afterthought, mostly from the days when I used a Sony bridge camera but more recently on my Canon DSLR. I got out of the habit though when I moved exclusively to Mac since iMovie wasn’t good enough and I never got on with Final Cut despite it supposedly being the “industry standard”.


The Mount was a local hospital that I kept an eye from when it closed to when I was possibly the first to explore. It’d formerly been an TB hospital. I finally got to use In the House, In a Heartbeat from the film 28DL.

Possibly the most famous derelict grand asylum in the UK, when I explored Cane Hill I could finally use All the Madmen by David Bowie given the strong (but never confirmed by Bowie) linkage between the two.

And then there was West Park and the padded cell. Too much footage and the ten minute YouTube limit back then meant split screen mayhem.

Harperbury was a pretty dark and dismal place, partly because of any early start on a gloomy day.

Ahh CMH! A wonderful place with quality dereliction in both the maternity unit and the main hospital with its monster main corridor. This video was originally carefully edited with a superb Black Sabbath track, but back then it seems Ozzy and boys weren’t into getting some revenue from YouTube ads and I was forced to change the soundtrack to some sort of spooky royalty free music.

Ironically we rushed to Severalls because redevelopment/demolition was due to start. It’s still there now, eight years later! A simple editing trick and a favourite track from Kingston Wall.

My very first exploring video, a favourite place to mooch – Hellingly – and the gorgeous 1992 from my favourite Blur album.


I popped in to Longcross Barracks without any prep on the way back from West Park. I didn’t even know where it was, but somehow managed to find it. It’s one of those interesting videos that attracts comments from service personnel who were stationed there which is awesome.

One of the most visible landmarks over Portsmouth, I still to this day can’t believe they demolished the art deco beauty that was Portsdown Main!

A couple of ROC posts from a journey home in the Vee through Oxfordshire.

One of the few WWII remnants left in the New Forest.


Born and bred on the south coast, an opportunity to go and clamber around some dock cranes was not be missed. A excuse to use Shipbuilding too!

Another favourite … Pyestock! Nothing else like it anywhere, and sadly no more!


Another one that attracts cool comments from people who used to work there, or stayed there, or even had their wedding receptions there.

And finally another local one – I used to go swimming in the La Sainte Union pool when I was a lad.

Graylingwell Hospital, Chichester

Retro post from : February 2011

After not getting out exploring properly for a year or two, when some meetings got cancelled at the last moment and I found myself with a couple of days vacation to use up just before the end of my holiday year, I decided to take a day off and make a solo visit to Graylingwell Hospital. For years it’d had been very well secured, with sensible regular security, some exterior sensors and the simplest of security techniques – screw every door and window down tightly with angle iron from the inside.

Originally called The West Sussex County Lunatic Asylum, a pinched bit of history reads “The hospital was built between 1894 and 1901 as a lunatic asylum for the pauper agricultural population of rural West Sussex. Since then it has been a prominent part of Chichester’s rural (and later suburban) landscape, particularly its tall brick keep-like water tower.” It was the real deal, and some friends had recently discovered the stripped padded panels and cell door from a padded cell in the tunnels.

The site had just started being redeveloped/converted with work on the admin building and water tower when I visited, and this is why it was suddenly explorable. Sure you had to avoid the builders, but when they started work they had to undo a lot of the original internal physical security.

Graylingwell-182It was seriously pissing with rain, and so wasting 15+ mins looking for entry wasn’t perfect. I’d had a chat with a friend who’d been there a while back, but the way he’d used was sealed. I almost gave up; then I just got bold and found something in plain view of the fence and was in.

It’s was funny old place. In many ways it was awesome to have a fully formed and increasingly derelict asylum to explore but, where it’d been broadly modernized and stripped of the more personal stuff when they cleaned out, in the end it did feel a bit samey. However, it did have a particular stand out area!Graylingwell-001

I knew the hall was good, but didn’t realize just how good!

Graylingwell-037Behind the stage curtain, the stage was ace with almost a full fly and left with all its equipment and lighting! Being on my own I resisted the urge to climb all the way to the top though!

And then down the back, in keeping with most large asylum halls, there was the all important projection room, again with everything still in it including various films! Awesome stuff!Graylingwell-057

At some point they’d clearly divided off part of the hospital as some sort of admin/training/IT unit, with plasterboard walls across the original corridors. Elsewhere there were things like the patient bank and library, a pharmacy, very pigeony but empty kitchens, the stores which had a bit more left about, and finally something which more directly showed the hospital’s history – an ECT suite, with rooms nearby that better fitted the pattern of classic small exclusion rooms.
When I explored Cane Hill a few years previously it was a very rainy day, and my friend I did it with was really spooked by it. Graylingwell was much much noisier with water pissing in all over! At times it was daft inside, because even though the roofs were complete, it was pouring in. Indeed I took a load of video and on play back I don’t need a sound track because the rain is ever present and so loud! When I’m exploring on my own I’m very quiet (and enjoy the solitude), and whilst rain masks sound even more, it does make for an edgy explore since you likewise can’t hear other people! Thus ever corner had to be taken with that bit more care. Still an awesome way to spend a day on my own, quietly find my way about!

Want to see how it all turned out once converted and more? Take a look.

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