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!

« 2 of 4 »

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!
Gilkicker-021Gilkicker-059
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.

« 1 of 5 »

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”.

Hospitals

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.

Military

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.

Industrial

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!

Others

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.

Micheldever fuel reserve/depot

Retro post from : Autumn 2013

Micheldever-55
The railway goes under a tunnel; the A303 goes over the top of the hill.

Micheldever fuel reserve was built just prior to the start of WWII to store fuel for the RAF, most likely for Farnborough which is about 15 mins up the railway from it. Basically a set of 30 large tanks built in a former chalk pit and covered with a huge sloping concrete outward face. The fuel was moved by rail to/from the reserve which has its own siding, and the mainline to London runs straight past it. Thus as a kid I always used to look out and wonder what the huge military looking concrete hill/bunker was. At some point it started being used commercially and the depot was in more recently times labelled as being operated by Elf. Crack on *cough* a couple of decades from those childhood years, and I’ve travelled past the fuel depot innumerable times to/from town for work and always kept a keen eye on it. Over the years it was apparent it wasn’t active anymore with the largest building ultimately being breeze blocked up, and things increasingly looking derelict.

Micheldever-79
Waiting to have the tracking done, with the fuel depot in the distance.

I had to go and get new tyres on the Vee, and so that meant a trip to the “world’s busiest tyre site” … Micheldever Tyres. Hence, I decided it was time to finally go and take a peak at a site that I’ve literally looked at with interest all my life from the train. A quick search showed others had been there, and with summer undergrowth giving more cover and making scrambling down the chalk face where the concrete meets the hill feasible, I dusted off my exploring bag.

The resulting pictures are far from my finest work. My used and abused 18-55mm kit lens I’ve always used for exploring started playing up a few months prior to this visit whilst on holiday. It focussed when it felt like it, and even then wasn’t particularly accurate. Cue on-and-off manual focusing and fuzzy pictures.

Micheldever-24
One of the longer tunnels into the hill.

The site had been stripped of much of its wiring by metal thieves and smashed up a bit by local kids, but it was great to final have a look around after so many years of wondering about it. Disappointingly not many of the entrances go any distance into the hill. There are a few work rooms, a cross cutting tunnel between a couple of the entrances, along with a couple of longer tunnels. The tanks are marked as having been cleaned out in 1995, so it seems like it really was a couple of decades since it was last used. It hasn’t been noticeable as long as that – strange how some things fall into dereliction quickly, but others appear to be in use for longer than they are, taking years until their desertion becomes totally apparent!

As a present day update, it seems that National Rail are in the process of disposing of part the site. That surplus land appears to consist of the large flat area atop the tanks/hill, which had already been cleared of the few remaining concrete structures when I visited, which will be used for a bio-energy power facility with recyclable waste being brought via the railway. Also it appears that the freight yard/sidings, that have been similarly unused for some years, will be improved for use as a new freight interchange. There’ve been some heavily graffitied car transporter wagons “parked” in the sidings since 21st August 2009, a date clearly documented since seemingly it was an arrival of some excitement for local train enthusiasts as per this thrilling video.

« 1 of 3 »