It was a bright, sunny day and I was sitting opposite Charlotte talking about a new project. I'd had a shoot cancelled and I was at a loose end. With my brief catch-up almost complete, what I needed was an adventure.
When you prep for a shoot you do all the research, planning and kit-preparation needed so when it's cancelled last minute, you end up in a bit of a strange place. Having time freed-up on such a beautiful day is great, but I'd ended up feeling at a bit of a loss. I'd been looking forward to this particular shoot for a while (it involved dresses and the Peak District - what's not to love) so it was especially annoying.
Having had a good catch-up with Charlie about a new project, I decided to go explore a location I've been meaning to scout for few months; Stalybridge. More specifically, the Micklehurst Loop.
The Abandoned Micklehurst Loop
Originally laid in the 19th century, the railway track connected Diggle to Stalybridge at a time where people and goods needed to make their way down south in droves. Come the 1960s, the warehouses, stations and yards were closed and the rails were lifted, leaving the structures to rot and decay.
Since this time, Mother Nature has taken hold and wrapped her fingers around the brick, concrete and wood left behind. Shells of structures remain, leaving only cues of busy industrial use and remnants of recent visits from explorers like myself, and anyone who's decided it's a decent place to get somewhere quiet.
I arrive at the first building, a warehouse beside the road I've parked in that's tall and sealed shut, the doors welded shut and sprayed with warnings like 'big dogs inside'. Once I have a scout around I follow a path running up a hill, taking a trek through some woods and trying to ignore the smell of smoke from the bushfire on the hills.
Paths are littered through the woods and I find them often overgrown or hampered by fallen trees. They connect the dormant, sometimes eerie buildings that both hide and loom from the woods. It's so rare you find something like this in the UK, usually buildings are cleared to make way for their successor or to preserve a level of safety, but it's not the case here. In the main, everything is present and ready to be explored.
I come across leftovers of an overhead track, a single section that's been severed at both ends and sits restful atop a few crumbling concrete stays. It's particularly odd that this has been left in place, like a decapitated snake that's had it's tail removed and left to rot. Everything seems solid, but they'll be a day this'll keel over. The draw to get up there is huge, but there's no route without ropes. And the knowledge of how to use ropes. Long story short, it won't be me.
There's a big station house here, there's fences but they're broken and open, only a cursory warning of safety implied. It's big, quiet and dark and it reaches up four floors into unaccessible, broken floors.
All the Nope
Aside from the rails, everything else seems to remain. The paths are littered with gate posts, towers, sleepers and everything in between, giving you a clear picture of what every part of the trail was in its former glory.
As I'm crossing a half-buried bridge and stop for a breather (it's 29 degrees, don't judge), I spot a patch of bricks down an embankment towards the river. I pull myself down through the trees and another abandoned scene emerges - this time something which feels like a water plant. There's a huge brick stack close to me and further down it opens to a wide brick and concrete structure.
I make my way down and discover the entrance to a tunnel that's long, dark and curious. The message beside the doorway reads 'free hugs' with an arrow inviting me in. I stand there for a while and soak it in, there's a cool breeze coming from within and I'm half-braced for someone/something bursting from the darkness. Once I assume all is safe, or that whatever is watching me from the gloomy interior is giving me time to enjoy a false sense of security, I get snapping.
This structure is right next to the river and the point where it feels like a canal, with a loch holding a higher water at bay. Looking out to the river, it's a beautiful scene with a happy couple and cyclists enjoying the day - I return to the horror film scene, get some more shots and head back up the bank.
Finally, I reach a bridge that trails over the main path I'm on (once the railway). I climb up and the structure feels futile now, all paths connected and equally as overgrown and benign to any trains piercing their way through the countryside.
Thanks to my friend Ben who's a Copywriter in Manchester who first discovered this place and was kind enough to give me a ton of guidance in getting there and what's to see.