I was born and raised in Easterhouse, a suburb of Glasgow. Not the kind of suburb you’re probably imagining, though. It’s more war-torn Sarajevo than Wisteria Lane. Housing is poor, unemployment is high, and it’s one of the most run-down areas in the city. But on the edge, where I lived until I was 16, there’s a vast, incongruous expanse of beautiful countryside. So despite growing up in the roughest area of one of Scotland’s biggest cities, the majority of my youth was spent surrounded by a swell of green.
But there was something awful in those woods. Something I’d fear for most of my formative years. From a copse of trees just a few miles from my house, two enormous spires rose into the air. These were the towers of Gartloch Hospital, a mental asylum built in the late 1880s. From my bedroom window I could see its terrible silhouette framed on the horizon. Every night as I drew the curtains I’d stare at it, thinking about the stories I’d heard at school of escaped patients and mass breakouts. All nonsense, but what if.
As I slept I’d have visions of the asylum’s deranged denizens rampaging across the fields, swarming the town and murdering me in my bed. And to make matters worse, every other week – usually at night – a chilling air raid siren would wail, echoing through the woods. I never did discover its purpose, but in my head it could mean only one thing: someone’s escaped. And they’ve got an axe.
The hospital closed in 1996. By then my childish fear had subsided, and I’d visit the place regularly with friends, exploring its eerie, gutted hallways. It’s an astonishing building, and an amazing example of Victorian architecture. But it made such an impression on me as a child that whenever I see it, my first thought is always of those fearful nights spent peering at the towers through a narrow gap in the curtains.
Urban explorers have taken a liking to the place, and there are hundreds of incredible photos on Flickr chronicling its sad decay.