My childhood and teen age is back in Kent. Then I went to Lancaster University, lived in Brighton for four years, then back up north: Bolton for a PGCE then Manchester, now for over twenty years. My relationship with the Mersey Valley has been slow and building which is now part nostalgia, regular enjoyment, and a long term photographic project.
I always used to go to Chorlton Water Park for a local walk, then about ten years ago went further: first to the River Mersey when I remember my first impressions. Surprise, because I hadn’t realised it was there; enjoyment because it was a river, weighing it up which was partly a feeling of being unimpressed. Yes, a river, but all you can do is walk up and down and it’s still the city when I like walking in Snowdonia, the Lake District, Pyrenees, Scotland. It wasn’t really the point.
The point of the Mersey Valley is a series of connected places and a river you enjoy on its own terms. Not for a walk as such, if you’ve been in Wales for a few days, but a place to visit for a different experience of nature. My favourite part of the Mersey is at West Didsbury where you find overhanging willows and in a good spring, a vivid fresh green I’ve seen nowhere else. Or perhaps I have, but in the mountains and hills it’s diluted with a bigger context.
The context for the Mersey is ten minutes away a busy road. It’s a green corridor par excellence with spring flowers I know like a back garden. Green alkanet after I cross the Didsbury entry stile, snowdrops under the trees five minutes away, primrose in two places at Chorlton Water Park, two years ago a bee orchid I’ve not seen since, yellow Welsh poppies and purple orchids at the Water Park and a corner of Chorlton Ees next to woodland. It’s a nature resource I’ve come to know well.
Alongside my four season walking and photography I’ve reflected on the theme of place in nature, or humans in nature, and how it’s possible to feel immersed in the fields and trees while simultaneously knowing you’re not. Of course you’re not; you always hear the murmuring rush of the nearby motorway and occasional sirens. I filmed some video once, focussing on a bright display of ramsons near Northenden, in woodland beside the Mersey. Sirens tore down the road as jarring reminder. Yet we live like that, if we live in the city, with horror and squalor and toxic conditions while dreaming, if you are like me, of hills and birds and quiet.
My photography project has two themes: the easy beauty found at the Mersey Valley and tiny people immersed in nature which is slightly more complex. We are small people in a big silent universe. In the mountains that can be alarming and dangerous as with a near death moment I had on an icy Lake District climb. If I slip, I fall, and die, I thought to myself; and gazed across to neighbouring Striding Edge thinking you not so much don’t care as don’t see me at possibly my last moment.
With my Mersey Valley photography there’s a reversal. You can’t get lost, won’t experience danger, hear the motorway, and I have photographed small people passing through which say: it’s like this imaginatively and symbolically.