Just south of Greenock, in Inverclyde, western Scotland, is a derelict business park called Spango Valley, and an associated closed railway station. It’s just off the main road, and is a great example of the sort of industrial heritage I find fascinating. If you’re that way way inclined, it makes an easy introduction to urbex.
What is Urbex?
Urbex, or Urban Exploration, is the act of visiting and exploring places in urban settings, rather than climbing hills or biking through the countryside. However, more specifically, it’s taken on the meaning of exploring derelict and abandoned places in urban or suburban areas. Popular places for urbex include abandoned factories and warehouses, ruined houses, abandoned railway lines, and unfinished building projects. Visiting Chernobyl and Pripyat is a form of urbex, as are my wanderings through the remains of collieries in Kirkby-in-Ashfield.
Dead railway line that once served a coal mine in Kirkby-in-Ashfield.
Sometimes you can do urban exploration on tours, sometimes you just find it accidentally when you’re walking somewhere and end up coming across an abandoned site. However a lot of association with the term ‘urbex’ is around places closed off, often with fences, sometimes guarded by security, Many of these places are still owned by corporations, even if they’re nominally abandoned, and access to them is restricted/forbidden. This could be for safety reasons – to prevent liability if you fall down a mineshaft or break a leg jumping off a wall – or simply to prevent trespassing.
This blog post is not encouraging you to break the law in any way; stay responsible. What I will say, however, is sometimes the lines are vague. This is especially true of somewhere like Spango Valley and the associated railway station, because they would have been nominally publicly accessible when ‘live’.
What was Spango Valley?
Spango Valley lies just south of the A78, the main road along the western coast of Inverclyde and North Ayrshire, where the Gourock / Greenock urban area meets the hills. There is a small stream here and a couple of farms lie up the valley sides. Despite its name though, it’s mainly known for an out of town business park.
A car park in the Spango Valley Business Park
In 1954, IBM opened a factory here, and ever since then the area was most closely associated with them. Over the next few decades they expanded their operations here and the business park grew. At its height it was about a mile long and a couple of hundred yards deep.
It even had its own railway station on the Glasgow-Wemyss Bay line.
What was IBM Halt Railway Station?
IBM Halt, later simply IBM, is, or was, the railway station that served the Spango Valley Business Park. It opened in 1978, and was always an unusual stop. There’s a handful of similar stations around the country, including Lympstone Commando (in Devon) that serves a Royal Marine training centre, and Stanlow and Thornton (in Cheshire), which serves an oil refinery. Public access to these stations is technically possible but generally unlikely since there’s no actual reason to, and the access paths or roads are generally within the confines of the complex they serve. This station was known as IBM Halt because at the time of opening, the majority of the business park was owned by IBM.
When it was opened, its existence wasn’t acknowledged in timetables or station announcements. Trains stopped there but, in a way, it wasn’t an ‘official’ railway station, and it was only used on peak-hour services by those who worked there. It was eventually publicly acknowledged in 1986, and even given a full hourly all-day service, but even then it wasn’t a station you used unless you had to, It was kind of an outlier of a station – a liminal place, in a sense.
The remains of IBM (Halt) Railway Station; itself still pretty clear
As the businesses on-site began to move away, fewer people used the station. This, coupled with the increased levels of vandalism often seen in decaying places, led to Scotrail suspending their services to it in December 2018. Note that they didn’t officially close it, and they didn’t seem to have gone through the parliamentary measures needed to legally close it. They just stopped getting their trains to stop there. It is thus, in theory, still open. And therefore still accessible. Kind of.
What remains at Spango Valley?
Throughout the 2010s IBM slowly moved out, relocating to the east of Greenock. While new businesses moved in, it never seems to have been a popular place to be based, so over time less and less of the complex was being used. IBM had moved out completely by the end of 2016, and the entire business park had been demolished by late summer 2020.
I visited in the summer of 2023. The business park itself is now a derelict mess of broken concrete, cut-through chicken-wire fencing, generic rubble, and metal shards. I was not barefoot on this urbex adventure, you may be relieved to know.
One of the sites of buildings at Spango Valley
There’s three roads in to the business park itself (it’s quite a long space); all three are blocked off with a mound of rubble to prevent cars going through, and one of them has a huge locked metal gate, preventing access. Or would prevent access if someone hadn’t cut the wire fence next to the gate. The most westerly entrance was accessed by a large road junction complete with flyover; it was certainly designed to have been quite a busy working site.
By the entrance with the fence, there is a large sign saying if you want to go inside you need to call the security company, but on my visit there was no sign of any kind of patrol. I was expecting to get 20 metres in and chased by a guard dog, but I didn’t see anyone of anything, no CCTV, no patrols, not even a rat.
One of the entrances to the business park
Inside the complex you can clearly see where the buildings once stood – the foundations and layouts would make the whole thing look from above a bit like a floor plan. The roads are mostly obviously visible, and some of the car parking still has the delineations painted on the tarmac. It’s possible to walk on the remains of the walls, only two or three rows of bricks high, and walk through where the rooms once where. Places where office furniture once stood, drinks machines where people chatted, meeting rooms where people doodled in boredom. It all feels quite eerie, especially as you’re now standing in the open air with the grey skies above and the breeze hitting you.
Another demolished office block. Definitely an open-plan working environment
In fact, the hardest part was finding a way to get to the station, no signposts, no obvious access point, no maps, but I made it to the bridge (down a weird forest road covered in what might have been slate, which came off the main station car park and looked for all the world like it just went to a farm. Which, to be fair, it does), and looked out over it. It’s a single platform – the line is single track here, and it looks still in reasonable condition. However access to it has been specifically fenced off. The whole thing’s going to need a lot of renovation if they ever reopen it.
The bridge going over IBM (Halt) Railway Station. Access was on the right, where the fence is now
There is talk of doing this; the site of the business park has, as of late 2023, not been reclaimed and there’s a feeling of trying to regenerate it for businesses again. If this is done, Scotrail have said they’re open to serve the station once more. But as of now, it’s a wide open derelict space probably not even inhabited by rats.
For legal reasons, I ought to say I’m not influencing nor recommending you do this. Especially in a country that is not your own. Just because Spango Valley doesn’t seem to have security patrols doesn’t mean everywhere is equally as simple to access.
I am not a role model.