A votive offering or votive deposit is one or more artefacts displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for religious purposes.
Rarity of ‘place’, outside of an ‘urban exploring politics’ lens, would by default mean somewhere that is simply very uncommon for humans to tread, despite it being a man-made environment. But where is rare for the layman to tread may not be for the urban explorer. Somewhere is rare in urban exploring if the visitor count from the rest of the scene is low. Exclusivity can be argued to bolster value.
Or is this all a load of smug nonsense; merely primal chest beating? “I’ve been there, I found it, I did the legwork, I was the first to go there, it was epic, you haven’t been there, and I bet you can’t work out how to get there!” One can go further and add “I saw it when it was in such and such condition, when the x was still there, you saw it after it’d been molested!” etcetera. There is a ring of pettiness to it, but it is a commonly felt sentiment in the higher echelons of urban exploring when one has undertaken applicable work and bagged his rare stamp. We are all guilty of this kind of smugness should a valid manifestation of it present itself. The question is do we have a right to this sentiment? Is research, gauntlet running, blind risk taking and discovery unparalleled in its field not worthy of status and accolade in urban exploring; like it is in science, or mountaineering? It is a contentious topic. One visitor’s bragging rights may be the other’s apathy. Many see it as pointless to look upon rarity and low visitor count with a competitive lens. The first urban exploring author on record, Whipplesnaith himself, said in 1937: “A few climbers may be disappointed at not having the standard of their achievements labelled for them, but they can do this for themselves“. Nevertheless, later in his seminal book he dedicates a chapter each to a number of buildings which he considers amongst the most important venues of accomplishments in his field, and frequently references certain Cambridge colleges as ‘never done’ or ‘only done by a select one/two/three individual(s)’ to add to their aura. Duality of man – his modesty and his pride – keeps him on the fence for this debate. Originality in any activity is appreciated, but whilst replication is accepted as well as encouraged, it is seldom lauded. Urban exploring – by its nature of being a simple gathering based activity – is built upon replication. Only a few don’t get to be replicators at discovering a noteworthy artefact.
The paradox is that the number of artefacts available in urban exploring that have the physical qualities to cause a stir, become earmarked and accepted by the scene as good, or generally impress a wider audience, is fairly low, whilst the number of artefacts available to explore which are off limits to the general public or derelict, is endless. The number of never-before or rarely traversed good artefacts viable for urban exploration is extremely low, whilst the number of never-before or rarely traversed boring and unappealing artefacts is still, basically, ad infinitum. The standard for something to be ‘good’ these days is getting ever higher, and many of those yet to be explored are identified – groomed almost – as having potential for this status long before the first pioneer arrives out of a the growing crowd chomping at the bit for ‘fresh epic’.
The standard of what causes a stir is actually far more clear-cut than most explorers want to admit. If you ask every experienced explorer in Britain what the ten downright best artefacts ever to crop up are, you will probably get no more than twenty different answers, with at least five mainstays in everyone’s top ten – such is the apparent objective consensus on ‘what’s good’ and what’s not on the urban exploring menu. Everybody wants a piece of what’s good. Many; Pyestock, Cane Hill, no longer exist in physical form at all. Others; Mail Rail, Kingsway Telephone Exchange, still exist, their accessibility fleeting from year to year, yet due to their sought after status and their longevity they have organically lost their exclusivity factor over time as the hobby becomes more saturated. “I’ve been to ICI Winnington, it was epic!” You’re right, squire, but riddle me this: “Who hasn’t?” Sadly, even the most authentically epic site loses a note of its flavour to the conceited urban explorer if it receives too much footfall – not enough to stop even the snobbiest from making pilgrimages to see it for themselves, but it is no longer able to rouse certain emotions like a rare artefact can.
There is rare epic still out there. Some of it is yet to blossom; too deeply shrouded within active sites to make for viable exploration yet. Some is underground, entombed behind rock, concrete, or metal, perhaps never to see the light of day again but for a workforce with a pneumatic excavator working round-the-clock. Some is not yet discovered or known about. Some has been discovered, but word circulated within such tightly knit circles that the wider scene is oblivious to its existence. Some is well known about, yet deemed too hard to reach for all but a few. Each year will churn up at least one artefact which qualifies, but whilst some of these lose their rarity within a matter of months and are swarmed by the scene, others go totally unvisited for years since the discoverers.
Rarity, then, would seem to have good reason to be an attractive quality in urban exploring. Furthermore, it has a wide-reaching audience. For the photographer or the big-game hunter, he has a head-turning photo of something unprecedented, with no competition on the subject matter. For the historian or architect, he has documented heritage that would have otherwise been lost. For the local completionist, he feels like he, and he only, has the keys to his city. And for the technician, he can rest assured he has earned the right to measure his achievements in his field the way Wipplesnaith leaves him to. Rarity bolsters everybody’s causes in urban exploring, and frankly, the only reason one might desire to relieve a n artefact of its rarity is because they know their friends would like to have the opportunity to see its wonders too. The classic car collector wants to acquire a rare model because it’s valuable, and he probably wants to take his friends for a spin in it too. It all makes sense.
But then again, no, it doesn’t, because urban exploring fundamentally lacks a facet that all other collection-based activities – where rarity is also sought – do: ownership. And this is the urban explorer’s bizarre little secret – which all his peers understand but one ‘not a part of this niche’ does not: he feels a primitive sense of emotional ownership towards artefacts which he has no relationship with besides illegal visitation. Spelt out like that it comes across as frankly embarrassing, but somehow it feels natural, and I would challenge any urban explorer to deny a point they felt an emotional reaction to news that their favourite, quiet locality had been barged in on by an undesirable third party.
There is ample evidence to suggest that great swathes of the scene are downright annoyed by a high visitor count to ‘good’ places. On popular forum and social media platforms, a post or discussion about a derelict place in urban exploring considered good, but one which has recently received a deluge of visitors, will be riddled with comments about ‘the tourbus‘. Who’s head should roll at letting the cat out of the bag to the masses about such a place whose previous footfall was controlled to managed portions of the scene, the vandalism and molestation accrued by the interior of the place, and the snowballing number of photos from passengers on ‘the tourbus’ strewn over social media of said place are bound to come up. This phenomenon is often a case of a simple flavour of the month: a ‘good’ place by objective merit which has become easy to access, and is frequently on the lips of the whole spectrum of the scene: “so-and-so said he went here and it was well easy, and look how good it looks”. Others lose rarity, or are graced by ‘the tourbus‘ over a longer period of time, and become some sort of rite of passage. Many of these places are still enjoyable and lovely to visit, of course, but if one were to really write home about them to the sharp end of the scene, one would be mocked. Rather, the much larger, lower class of explorer waxes lyrical and broadcasts about visits to such places as if it has accomplished a remarkable feat. This hobby is oh-so easy, fellas. We are putting one leg in front of the other and sightseeing round obscure and abandoned bits of man-made object in a highly civilised, free and developed nation state. What’s the harm in giving standing out a go?
Some artefacts of sumptuous quality in UK urban exploring, however, just don’t seem to get barged in on, or become flavours of the month. Far, far from that, in fact. They are so seldom visited, perhaps not even by more than a few desirable third parties, privy to the operation and invited to replicate. The limited number of artefacts in British urban exploring that are strong performers in most if not all objective measures of quality, and remain very rare, are an intriguing portfolio in themselves, and a few I would argue even get close to the likes of the previously discussed ‘greatests of all time’; your Pyestocks and Spring Quarries – although most don’t quite. But that’s exactly what these artefacts aren’t: previously discussed. They are enigmatic and eclectic. They are foremost interesting.
Votive Offering is a piece of literature which focuses on rarity in urban exploring as a concept, through use of storytelling and contextualisation in example case studies. It contains a collection of a baker’s dozen artefacts – specific artefacts or localities to be found or reached within an overall site. These artefacts are comparatively less travelled within their respective sub-scenes for their own reasons, and can be considered seldom, or in some cases never before reported from compared to other physically comparable artefacts. Votive Offering does not so much as argue why they are, or were, rarely or never visited, but leaves that for the reader to dwell upon. It does however describe the experience of travelling to and from them, and what the artefact has to offer in terms of sights, sounds and significance. They are by no means the most epic artefacts within their sub-genres, but they all hold up reasonably well in that department. The portfolio is in no particular order.