QUINTIN LA KE
Heavy industry contrasts strikingly with humanity as the roving photographer heads towards Liverpool
The roving photographer comes across jokers and heavy industry up North
Properly in the North now, folks I pass on the path greet my “hello” with a “how do”.
I leave Chester by following the canal path, past a cascade of locks and Roman walls leading to the Wirral Peninsula. Neston feels bereft, having a quayside but no sea: it’s been silted up and replaced by a salt marsh.
The raw humanity of New Brighton, immortalised in Martin Parr’s The Last
Resort, is nowhere to be seen. On the beach sits a cluster of obedient school kids with lanyarded teachers hovering over them. The concrete is smooth and extensive, and a large Morrisons dominates the promenade.
I can see the Liver birds across the Mersey – what a thrill to see Liverpool so close! Pedestrians can’t take the tunnels (although drunk revellers try getting home by that hazardous route regularly), so it’s two more days through heavy industry to get to Liverpool via Runcorn.
I’m enjoying overhearing ebullient Scouse wisecracks. In the space of a few minutes I hear: “Yer such a lazy bastard,” “Get yer finger out of yer ass,” and “Social media is shite,” all delivered with grins. I have more random and enjoyable conversations with strangers than anywhere else on this journey.
Further south along the Mersey from Birkenhead, a city of chimneys emerge as oil refineries merge with chemical works, which in turn blend into power stations. Pedestrians are not welcome here, and a map doesn’t help much: I reach many dead ends manned by security guards and am forced to walk on the verge of main roads to make any progress.
At early morning in an Ellesmere Port corner shop, a girl in a Superman dressing gown and fluffy slippers tells me she’s “never been so tired in my life, mate – turned 19 last night”. Somewhat wearily, I move into the landscape of chain link fences and chimneys, where the air has an acrid smell and milky blue water fills the ditches. Approaching Ellesmere Oil refinery signs inform me: ‘No photography. No stopping. No sat nav.’ CCTV cameras twitch at regular intervals, but I walk on.
My eyes water as I pass downwind of the nitric acid and ammonia plant at the Ince fertiliser works. Emissions and steam swirl around, hiding and revealing chimneys and structures I enjoy photographing. The chemical smell blends into the stench of a vast landfill. I’m grateful for a lapwing’s bobbing, squeaking flight, which seems miraculous amongst the pylons.
No photography, no stopping: the industry south of the Mersey isn’t a welcoming place for the photographer.