Why does she do it? ‘To document these places before they’re gone,’ she says simply. Although she seems like the adventurous sort, at one point comparing her hobby to going off into the woods to explore as a child, Dron almost seems to look on it as if it were a public service. In many ways it is: while plenty of the empty spaces she revisits regularly may have some level of listing from Historic Scotland (Dron refers to them as ‘Hysterical Scotland’, indicating a relationship which isn’t always entirely cordial), current financial necessities must make it hard for the Governmental body to observe and maintain every single property in their portfolio.
So Dron and other like-minded Urban Explorers seem to treat what they do almost as if it were an unofficial inspection job, informing Historic Scotland if any sites undergo a marked deterioration, campaigning with owners and developers to save certain buildings and regularly updating the online Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland, a bible (though not a comprehensive one) for Urban Explorers in Scotland. The fact is, though, not everywhere can be listed or saved, and Dron compares the experience of returning to buildings to watch them crumble to that of watching an old friend die slowly.
‘Many of these buildings are unique,’ says an anonymous respondent to the Abandoned Scotland email address on behalf of the group, ‘such as the twin towers of [Lanarkshire former asylum] Hartwood Hospital. In modern days you would rarely see such a building being erected and so many of them could be renovated and put to use for modern purposes. However, it all comes down to cost. It makes you wonder, if a little more effort was made to maintain them in the first place then what could the possibilities be for their future?’ ‘It’s to do with economics, of course,’ says David Johnston, highly regarded in the interlinked worlds of exploration and restoration following his decision to buy Angus’ stunning Balintore Castle following a compulsory purchase from its absentee landlords by the local authorities. ‘But Councils could help by bringing in compulsory purchases to allow individuals with good will to rescue these buildings.’
If Dron has a pet building of her own it seems to be the 16th century New Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, the clifftop-clinging remains of which apparently inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula as much as Romania’s Bran Castle. It’s this kind of tourist-friendly heritage which she says can be exploited in order to save and regenerate these buildings, the oldest of which she loves as much as she hates modern architecture.
Our final stop is Dunmore Park House near Airth, a well-preserved shell of a building which has been partially demolished for redevelopment. Dron shows me the underground warren of tunnels used for housing slaves and the telltale signs of a ‘soft floor’ in the nearby stable blocks (check the lower floor ceiling for signs of damp first), and explains how she wants to raise awareness of urban exploration as a means of maintaining contact with our heritage. She tells me she much prefers older buildings in the country away from the bustle of the city. ‘Although there is an underground railway station in Edinburgh,’ she begins. Oh yeah? Where is it? She laughs. ‘Now that one really is a secret!’
Veranique Dron’s Flickr feed is at flickr.com/people/kylie6470clanurbex. Find more information at facebook.com/AbandonedScotland 24 THE LIST 17 Nov–15 Dec 2011