Monday, 14 November 2016

Place-Hacking in Wonderland

Daresbury Hall in Better Times
(all other images provided by the author)

By Anonymous

There is a gap in the fence, my senses heighten. I feel fully alive as I plunge into the unknown on the other side...

Ruin porn, dereliction, decay, urban exploration and place-hacking have always interested me. It is hard to explain why, exactly, and up until this year this consisted of an occasional look at related photos and videos on the internet. I was interested enough to read the book Explore Everything by Bradley L. Garrett but was nevertheless an armchair urban explorer. I knew no-one else in the field, nor any groups in the area, and had no equipment apart from a torch, camera, and mobile phone, with no plans on the horizon.

Adventures start somewhere and mine started when an article in the local newspaper caught my eye. A cannabis farm had been discovered and busted at the derelict Daresbury Hall. I knew that Daresbury was a quiet area, and it was a sunny spring afternoon, so I put on my boots and went for a walk to see what I could find.

Daresbury is a typical Cheshire village situated in rural green belt just south of Warrington. It has one main lane with another leading off towards Hatton. It has a few houses, a primary school, a pub called The Ring O' Bells and red telephone boxes. It also has a connection with Lewis Carroll at All Saints Church, which has turned the area into a kind of heritage theme park, with a visitor centre at the church, a wonderland mosaic and a weather vane at the school, a Lewis Carroll walk around the fields, plus plenty of Cheshire cats.

Walking past the church towards Hatton, I see a fence covered in signs warning of security and guard dogs, which first alerts you to Daresbury Hall's grounds. It seems to be an unwritten law among urban explorers not to give too much away, or reveal how to gain access to a site so as not to antagonise the owners and have the way blocked. All I can say is that it was easy to get in. I had not planned to go in, but seeing an opportunity I just decided to go for it and was soon running across the no-man’s-land of the lawn and into cover.

After waiting for a few moments it looked like I had not been seen. I had the place to myself and so I came out of hiding, walking past the derelict out-buildings to the abandoned swimming pool at the back.

I spent a good two hours exploring the interior, not knowing what was in the next room or around the next corner. There was a lot of graffiti on the walls ranging from the disturbing to the childish: it looked like the place was regularly visited by the local teenagers as well as explorers. I later found out that the hall was used for zombie apocalypse events.

What was the appeal? Was it the ruin porn photography? Was it the trespassing - beating the system and getting in? Or being in a liminal place, a place with heightened awareness of time and transition, touched with an underlying melancholy? I was also exploring my own thoughts as I walked around.

A couple of weeks later another article appeared in the local newspaper. A mysterious fire had gutted the hall and it also had a planning application for development - it was a listed building.

A new kind of exploration has now taken over as the locals fly drones over the area...

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