QUINTIN LA KE

Heavy in­dus­try con­trasts strik­ingly with hu­man­ity as the rov­ing pho­tog­ra­pher heads to­wards Liver­pool

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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.

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