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Slowly Gathering Moss
February 18, 2009 1:46 AM   Subscribe

They call this “Sanctuary Wood” – for me it fulfils a dream. I’m sorry I trespass but if I had my dream somewhere like this would be my home and sanctuary. An urban-explorer and his girlfriend come across an abandoned caravan in the woods of Essex, then find they are not the only visitors...

(The contrast between the rather purple prose of the commentary and the plainly-written comments from the stranger is particularly nice.)
posted by mippy (34 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like this- good find!
posted by pjern at 2:02 AM on February 18, 2009


Though the majority were empty, I still unearthed several clues about the final inhabitant: a charcoal jacket (pockets full of nails), a pair of boots and, most interestingly of all, a diary from 1989 (unused, but it at least revealed how long the caravan had lain empty).

This sounds like the beginning of an ARG.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:03 AM on February 18, 2009


That was totally delightful!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:07 AM on February 18, 2009


Reminds me of the "Magic Bus" from that Penn directed movie about that McCandless fellow who died in Alaska.

But being England I'm sure Bum-stoke-ham-stead-wick-ford-shire is just a few scooter miles/Segway gimmits/ minutes walk away. Damp is beautiful.
posted by evil_esto at 2:07 AM on February 18, 2009


Love the photography too. Nice find.
posted by dabitch at 2:50 AM on February 18, 2009


Yes, very pleasant. Any location like that I've ever found has been one of the proverbial "porn in the woods" palaces. It's nice to see one given a bit of quiet reverence.

It reminds me of a house-hunting expedition a few years back, when I looked at a place that is just up the road, here. The old woman who owned it mentioned that the old, beat up travel trailer out in the yard could stay with the property if we purchased it. I was taken aback, as the trailer had clearly seen better days and hadn't moved in decades. She explained that it had been her place, where she could escape to when her husband became unbearable (as all companions do at times).

Though she was widowed I think she still took a cup of tea out there some afternoons--what to me at first glance was an ugly, mildewy eyesore was her sanctuary and a long-time friend.
posted by maxwelton at 3:17 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think this is somewhere in Essex. i read Into The Wild on a cold train home to London over Christmas, having seen the film a year ago. Reading about how close he was to civilization frustrated me all over again.
posted by mippy at 4:02 AM on February 18, 2009


Am I the only person who expected the other visitor to be a horrible monster out of Lovecraft, and for this piece to end with an epilogue written by a doctor at an asylum?
posted by facetious at 4:16 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


No Facetious, but you're close. Thanks to Bethesda Softworks, I know that you go into the little trailer in the woods to take a look and when you come out, the Raiders and the Super Mutants are going to be having a fire fight.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:22 AM on February 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Themselves, ten years later.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:45 AM on February 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Neat but BACK THE CAMERA UP SO I CAN SEE SOMETHING.
posted by DU at 5:10 AM on February 18, 2009


Probably because I've been up for about 20 hours now, but that was chillingly scary, reverent, fascinating, beautiful, mundane, and tense.

I mean, obviously, if it were visited by a strangler who happened to arrive at the same time as they did, it wouldn't have been posted... but, I can imagine what it must be like to discover this place.

Although, as evil_esto points out, it's the UK... the edge of the woods is probably two miles from town, and the trailer is probably only about two hundred yards from the edge of the woods. It must suck to have a country completely devoid of real wilderness; even as an American, I envy Canada. (Of course, at some point the world will be completely devoid of wilderness.)
posted by Netzapper at 5:14 AM on February 18, 2009


I lived in a caravan in the woods in southwest England for best part of two years as a youth. Fantastic time and no rent to pay. Was a two-mile walk along a disused rail line into town for work. Was made a bit easier by being able to shower at work which was the only modern convenience I'd have missed in winter.
posted by Abiezer at 5:15 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It must suck to have a country completely devoid of real wilderness

I get what you're saying, but even as densely populated as the UK is, there are still places where you can wander off and get lost and your body may never be found - the North Yorkshire Moors, the Scottish Highlands, parts of Wales, or the West Country for example. It also helps that, in general, the laws regarding public access across private land are the complete opposite of the US - it is very common to find ancient public rights of way (think: walking/hiking/biking trails and places you can ride your horse) across privately-owned fields and meadows. It has always seemed incongruous to me to drive around in the US and pass huge, uninhabited tracts of land that are fenced off and inaccessible.

The UK may be densely populated but it's not like the whole place is suburban New Jersey.
posted by kcds at 5:51 AM on February 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


It has always seemed incongruous to me to drive around in the US and pass huge, uninhabited tracts of land that are fenced off and inaccessible.

Me too.

Although, to be honest, while I'm sure I've seen plenty of that, I'm having trouble really recalling any of it. Aside from animal-crossing fences along interstates, most of the land I see fenced off is grazing land for livestock or simply somebody's "yard". I do admit that I find it aggravating when somebody has a giant piece of land (hundreds of acres), builds a house and garden in one corner of it, and then automatically puts up fence around the rest of it.

But, driving around in the UK, I saw rock walls everywhere. I do understand that the walls are simply what you do with the rocks in your field, but I find it hard to believe that they don't delimit boundaries. Am I to believe that I can simply wander across whatever farmland I find in England?

Also, the US does have rights of way. For instance, my aunt and uncle have the right to wander around the golf course behind their property (but not to play golf), because they used to wander around the clearcut that existed before they built the golf course, as well as the forest that existed before they clearcut it. That's not even ancient... just 25 years or so. Most states guarantee rights of way for "accustomed and traditional" uses of land--although in some places, e.g. New Jersey, there are very few such recognized uses anymore.

The UK may be densely populated but it's not like the whole place is suburban New Jersey.

I'm well aware. I didn't mean it in that way.

It's just that it seems to me that many of the woods that exist there are farmland gone to seed. As in, it's been cleared out before, some time in the 900's, and has been allowed go grow back. According to the wiki article on "ancient woodland", there's only about 3000km2 of it left. On the other hand, we apparently harvest three times that amount (10,000km2) every year in North America (including Canada and Mexico, I assume).

I feel like in the US and Canada, I can wander off into the woods, and if I go far enough, I reach someplace that I can honestly convince myself no more than a couple dozen humans have ever stood--whether or not it's true, I can feel that way. Whereas everyplace we went on the Isle of Britain, even when we hiked off into the woods, showed signs of human activity.
posted by Netzapper at 6:25 AM on February 18, 2009


Beautiful photography, lovely writing, amazing story, good post.
posted by scratch at 6:25 AM on February 18, 2009


I've come across places like this in the United States a few times as a wayward exploring child (without the almost poetic disembodied conversation of course). Most of them were hunting shacks on the back-end of large parcels of privately owned woods. More interesting were the old Appalachian homestead sites that were sometimes little more than a pile of old lumber over a rough cellar in the woods. I would dig around in their garbage dumps and find old patent medicine bottles. I've also found leaded toy soldiers, marbles, and more than my share of snakes. Of course this was on private property, but when you're ten, out in the middle of nowhere, and no houses within sight, you don't think of these things.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:37 AM on February 18, 2009


"The difference between Americans and the British is that in England, two hundred miles is a long distance. In the US, two hundred years is a long time."

In quotes because I didn't make it up. I haven't been able to find an attribution.
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:55 AM on February 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


The only objects on display were a fire extinguisher and a box of matches, and so I quickly started opening drawers and cupboards in the hope of finding something more personal. Though the majority were empty, I still unearthed several clues about the final inhabitant: a charcoal jacket (pockets full of nails), a pair of boots and, most interestingly of all, a diary from 1989 (unused, but it at least revealed how long the caravan had lain empty).

I am reminded of this very soothing and enjoyable recurring dream I have: Everyone has vanished. I walk the streets of an empty town and let myself into people's suddenly uninhabited homes and look through their stuff in drawers and closets- respectfully- and get lost in imagining what I'm learning about them.

Great post!
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 7:05 AM on February 18, 2009


Am I to believe that I can simply wander across whatever farmland I find in England?

No, but there are very many recognised and enforced rights of way across many of these lands. Defining the limits of a field (of agricultural value) is important, but is not directly related to keeping people out, necessarily. Often more keeping livestock in or just pointing out where someone's land ends and another starts. If you stick to the footpaths, you are not trespassing on private land while you cross.

The presence of Ordnance Survey maps must be a bit of a stunning find for US people, based on the appalling maps I have found so far in the US and Canada. Admittedly, the UK is tiny by comparison, but the incredibly high detail on these maps that cover the entire British Isles in extreme detail makes walking around and finding these rights of way beyond simple.
posted by Brockles at 7:08 AM on February 18, 2009


I didn't get the Bethesda Squick from reading this, but I did get a great idea for a story where someone finds the caravan, finds the jacket with nails etc. and then disappears.

A year later, someone else comes across the caravan and finds the nail jacket, and some piece of clothing from the visitor who found the jacket, and then they disappear.

Creepiness follows.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:09 AM on February 18, 2009



It must suck to have a country completely devoid of real wilderness

Define 'wilderness'. There are areas of Scotland (and to a lesser extent Wales and a few pockets of England) that have had centuries of occupation, farming and tourism, but are still pretty remote (and scary places to get lost in). They're not 'pristine wilderness' like, say, huge swathes of Alaska or Montana are, but they're largely empty of people. A good example is the so-called Empty Lands of Sutherland at the Northern tip of Scotland, which were forcibly depopulated during the Highland Clearances and remain largely uninhabited. At just over 5000 sq kilometers, you could probably drop it into one of the Great Lakes and lose it, but walking there with just a pack and a tent, and it feels pretty damn remote.

But, driving around in the UK, I saw rock walls everywhere. I do understand that the walls are simply what you do with the rocks in your field, but I find it hard to believe that they don't delimit boundaries. Am I to believe that I can simply wander across whatever farmland I find in England?

The UK has a patchwork of laws about access. In general, in England and Wales, you are free to walk wherever you like as long as you don't cause damage and don't take the piss (i.e. tromping through someone's suburban postage-stamp garden or wandering onto live fire ranges when the red flags are up).

In Scotland, there's never been a trespass law as such. The access laws are defined by exception, rather than assumed inclusion, so it's assumed that you're grand to go where you like, except if you're doing one of these things. It's a good system.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:12 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone should create a Facebook profile for this caravan, so that anyone can visit it!
posted by orme at 7:20 AM on February 18, 2009


It has always seemed incongruous to me to drive around in the US and pass huge, uninhabited tracts of land that are fenced off and inaccessible.

Woody sez:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me."
posted by fogovonslack at 7:47 AM on February 18, 2009


Thanks for this.
posted by jessamyn at 8:44 AM on February 18, 2009


Haunting and quite lovely. This post made my day, thanks!
posted by dbiedny at 8:46 AM on February 18, 2009


This is great, thanks.

Related, sort of: the archaeology of a Ford Transit van. blog. blog2 (commentary). (dry summary)
posted by Rumple at 9:28 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think it's wonderful. I also think that if it were me, I wouldn't put it on the internet - because I feel sure that no matter how I tried to obscure the exact location, somebody would find it. And ruin it.
posted by taz at 9:37 AM on February 18, 2009


Maybe it had been inhabited by this guy's twin separated at birth..
posted by Bitter soylent at 9:51 AM on February 18, 2009


This is wonderful. Thank you, mippy.
posted by mojohand at 10:47 AM on February 18, 2009


"Don’t know, but if I win the lottery think I might buy a wood – one with a small green caravan in it."

me, too, unknown caravan visitor; me, too.
posted by batmonkey at 1:10 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


How wonderful and charming. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by dejah420 at 7:31 PM on February 18, 2009


Awesome
posted by fuq at 11:18 PM on February 18, 2009


Thanks for this post.
posted by lostburner at 10:11 PM on February 19, 2009


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