Preface: I have a interest in abandoned places. I think this is due to two reasons – firstly, there seems to be very few of these in Australia; secondly, I wonder what the planet will look like if humans disappeared. I haven’t done too much urbex, but the few places that I have visited I have truly enjoyed – Gunkanjima, Skrunda-1, and to a lesser extent, Kayaköy in Turkey.
Back to Grain Tower Battery. I had heard about it from a friend and work, and it sounded both easy and difficult to access – that is, if you have access to a motor vehicle, which fortunately I still did. It also sounded like a floating fortress, like something out of a Miyazaki film. It was like Mont St. Michel, but industrial.
The initial building was constructed in the mid-19th century for defence against a possible French invasion. Later it was modified and further fortified during WW2.
As the fortress sits in the middle of a river, it’s only accessible (on foot) during low tide. Fortunately low tide was at a convenient time, so made the hour-or-so journey out of London. I actually arrived an hour-or-two early and found that the fortress was already sitting isolated on an enormous sandbank.
I put my boots on and got ready to go explore. I noticed that there was another group making their way across to the fortress, making slow and careful progress across the exposed riverbed. I walked down closer to explore, including the remnants of some wooden piers/jetties. I took one step out onto the sand and nearly lost my shoe. This might have looked like sand, but it felt like an intense sticky mud. I was a little worried about walking across the 500m gap.
Thankfully there is a partial brick path that connects the fortress to the shore. In places it’s been buried (or washed away), but there is still a solid foundation a little below the surface, so I didn’t sink more than 50mm into the mud. Later on, I saw groups in gumboots/wellingtons, and was a tiny bit jealous – not that I needed to be, my hiking boots held up just fine.
The trail got better the closer I got to the fortress. Though, the temptation was there to step off the trail to get a different angle for a photograph. But, each attempt was met with the mud sucking my leg into an abyss.
It was quite easy to see the different eras of construction, with the original squat fortress now being covered in additional structures, as well as a neighbouring dormitory-style building. Also interesting were the enormous anti-submarine chains that still clung to the building – they stretched across the mouth of the river and were raised/lowered to prevent/allow access.
It was a little surprising to find that the fortress was completely open, with no signs of locked doors or anything else restricting access. To gain entry, you had to climb a ladder that had certainly seen better days. It bent and swayed, though thankfully didn’t buckle.
There wasn’t a great deal to see inside the tower, but it was still fun to explore. Thankfully it’s reasonably free of graffiti and destruction, though there are clear signs of people spending time here – such as glow-sticks hanging from walls, scorched camping chairs, and makeshift toilets.
Most of the building appeared solid, but the metal railings were severely rusted and flimsy. Climbing the narrow outer staircase to the upper observation deck made me feel a little nervous, especially with the intense wind that was blowing. The two guys that had been standing on top of the roof were now inside and out of the howling winds. I had asked how they climbed onto the roof, and like I’d assumed, they’d used a combination of the rusted railing and the equally rusted door. For once, I was satisfied with not climbing to the very top. These guys, once they finished smoking, then climbed back down the outside of the building, instead of using the stairs. Oh, and the flag is a poppy – not a Japanese flag as I first thought from a distance.
Back inside on solid ground, away from the chilling winds, there were a few more aspects to explore, including the footings of gun placements, as well as elevators that brought the shells up to them.
With the winds came the occasional bout of heavy rain, which I could see falling all around. It was still just before the predicted low tide, and more people (including families with children in gumboots) were slowly making their way across the muddy pass. I was worried about the skies that were continuing to darken, so made my way back to solid ground on the shore.
I had actually parked near another gun emplacement on the banks, so before the skies opened, I had a quick investigation. I’d always wanted to run through a wheat field, and while this wasn’t actually a ‘wheat field’, it felt close enough, and knowing that it wasn’t going to do any financial damage to some poor farmer, I went about fulfilling my dreams – it was fun, but the hidden barbed-wire fences and marshy ground put a dampener on the free-spirited adventures.
It wasn’t much longer until hail and snow started falling with vengeance. I was glad to be back inside the warmth and safety of Gunter, though less excited to be driving back to London.