The moment that I step off the tarmac pavement onto the beaten earth towpath, the world closes in. I move to the side as the two cyclists pass, trundling into the distance, but slow enough for me to frame them for human scale in my shot. To be honest, I've been tracking them a while, from behind me, thinking about the best place to bag them. And they've obliged.
The world closes in. By this I mean the way that the tall beech trees bring you down in scale. They remind me of my correct place in this landscape. The rustle of new leaves filters the breeze, just as they filter the early summer light that sneaks through the canopy onto the still water below.
Spring seems to have left the last of itself floating on the water. Seed heads, flower cases, grass and pieces of vegetation pulled from the bank or loosened from wet roots. There's not a lot of flow to the canal, so hundreds of insects dance above the khaki brown water here.
Sometimes a man sits on this tiny private mini dock, fishing from a plastic patio chair. But not today.
I turn around. Look. Pretty lovely view here. And as I look, I look up. I'm being watched.
"This is my patch!" the sharp eyed crow is saying to me, perched atop golden green leaves, king of his world.
I'm breaking out of the canopy shade now. Beech stands give way to potato fields and horse paddocks. Hazy morning sunshine sparkles through feathery bullrushes, where ducklings fizz about on the hunt for tiny scraps for breakfast. A few weeks ago, as I passed this spot, torrents of water rushed down from the copse of trees on the hill. A water pipe had burst and was carving a new river through the potato crop.
It's interesting how age reduces the severity of man made things. As rust and sentimentality grow, we begin to find objects pleasing and welcome in some parts of the natural world. I always wonder exactly what use this little crane has, stuck out in the middle of nowhere, permanently looking to lift these heavy wooden beams. At one point it would have been shiny and new, cutting edge technology. I wonder if walkers would have hated it then, feeling it was a 'modern' blot on the landscape.
A few moments later, a fisherman has taken up a spot on the river bank. No rods needed, no poles and wheelbarrows full of kit. Just a sharp eye, a sharper beak, stillness and the mind of a predator.
As he decides it's time to move to fishing grounds new, I wonder if this is the same heron who stole the fisherman's catch ?
I pass a small Christmas tree planted in a bowl shaped area of the bank. I wonder whether this was once on a narrowboat, or maybe even planted by Kenneth Thomas ? It could have been because slightly further down the bank-side I find the old shelter that he called home for many years. It's a peaceful spot and in earlier Spring surrounded by Bluebells. I walk on.
The canal cuts through the countryside, acting as a major highway, with small paths branching off onto public footpaths and trackways. Every time I see a new one, I wonder where this route could take me. I might not venture up this one today, but I'll make a mental note to have a nose around another day.
I pass beneath another red brick hump backed bridge and in front of me appears the Daresbury Science Park. I'm less interested in the brains and discoveries within this place, more in the patterns of buildings, fences and trees. The sunlight helps to add highlight and shade as I look for patterns and geometry.
He's ahead of me again, that Heron. He's not caught anything yet and waits until I'm really close, crouching down with my meagre 50mm lens to take a shot. He's bold, tame or just not bothered.
I creep ever closer, focus (manually) first shot, wind, second shot, wind again and then on the third shot he's off, giving me the perfect composition. Muscle memory from over 30 years of using this camera is all coming back.
As I leave the Science Park behind, I take a final glance backwards. There, to the right is the Daresbury Tower. I've been to the top of it once. Its full circle view giving an amazing panorama over Runcorn with Liverpool, Cheshire and, if I remember correctly, glimpses of the Welsh Hills. And at night, when lit with ice blue accents from the window slit at its head, it looks a little like a Tripod from The War of the Worlds, or perhaps The Iron Giant with two electric eyes.
I silently thank the cyclist who's given me another bit of human interest and scale for my shot.
I've been over Keckwick Hill Bridge many times, its little hump part of the journey when collecting the 9 yr old from his child minder after school. It has a tree, perfectly placed for being framed in its arches and reflections. But this time I'm not going under it. My walk is about to end as I climb up the grassy bank and arrive back on the road. I want some height for my final shot.
I turn around to frame the little green and yellow houseboat who's owner puts out a water bowl for passing dogs wherever he moors. He moves his home every few days, so you never know exactly where you'll find him next. But today he's found a great spot to be living his life.
I'm done now. I rewind the film back into the canister. Pop on the lens cap and head for home. Now to send off my film and wait for the results. I hope I like them. I hope you do too.
Note: All the photo's here were shot on film, then scanned. High resolution prints are available to purchase, just email me if interested.