I’m in awe of ruins. Urbex is, like, my passion. Libraries with ivy growing up through the shelves, asylums with overturned trollies, broken window panes, graffiti scarred corridors – somehow the ghosts tell fewer lies than their lit up ancestors. When I saw on the local news Dove Hill had closed at last, and the land it was built on was up for sale, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t dance on its godforsaken grave.
It’s a long drive from where I am now, but it isn’t hard to get in. The potholed track, the spiked fence – there’s a means to an end, if you’re determined. I’m like the prince in Sleeping Beauty, hacking through the brambles. The main building, a ginger bricked sanatorium, still stands, Samson blinded by chipboard. A portacabin sags gently over asphalt. Brightly coloured animals are painted on one wall. It was the school. The plane trees send candyfloss spores over everything. The pylons march through the fields like they always did, sightless, grim.
Back at the wards, I hoist myself onto the sill of an opening, listening for security, but all I can hear is the wind toying with the plane trees, the rooks startling in the spinney.
I’ve made it, against all the odds. Dove Hill hasn’t. Don’t wake it.
Dove Hill took children in the days when Savile was a DJ and benevolent, and ‘cared for’ meant ‘controlled’. Still does, if you’re unlucky. I know of a child who would love to do his homework, but whose home has no pencils. Who will come for him? Will it ever be OK?
Things I accepted then seem wrong, now I’m free. Not illegal. Simply wrong. Daily medication at the hatch. Shouts and screams, fights in the corridors. Whispers, a watcher at the door.
Cecelia was seven when she was admitted, half bald with malnutrition. Cured by curses, tears mixing into rivulets of dinner. Discharged fit, forever ruined. Josh had a temper; they baited him like a dog. Eva ran and kept running. Over the wall and into the mist soaked fields, taking her chances with whatever was out there. They brought her back in handcuffs, but she kept running. I hope she got clear.
I admired Eva, but I was afraid. I did what I was told.
I can’t hug other adults. Hugging was therapy, and they yelled if we refused. I don’t trust adults at all, even now I am one. Tell no one.
I’m standing by the office and the ceiling’s dripping into a glaze of water puddling across the lino. There’s nothing left inside, not a single filing cabinet. Forms, official accounts. The wind whistles through the empty wards.
Whoever owns the words owns the power. They wrote us down, pathologised us.
But I am standing here today. Trespassing. Free.