The months between the start of the year and the official start of Spring can drag (I’m not counting this recent unseasonal burst of sunshine as Spring quite yet). Usually, I book a few days away somewhere sunny to recharge my batteries and seek inspiration from foreign climes. This year, though, I decided to stay in the UK and discover some parts hitherto unvisited.
For my first foray, Liverpool was the obvious choice: I’m a dedicated fan of The Beatles, have long been fascinated by industrial history and I love Helen Forrester’s books which tell of her childhood in Liverpool during the Great Depression.An invitation to visit my friend, the designer Lucy Jones, at a Meet The Designer Open Day event in the rather fabulous Mooshy La La’s AttiQue provided the perfect opportunity to book a train ticket and head up North.
I’d read Twopence to Cross the Mersey, and with Gerry and the Pacemaker’s song Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey ringing in my ears the first thing I did on arrival was to book a Mersey Ferry trip. (The ferry operates between Liverpool and Birkenhead/Wallasey on the Wirral Peninsula). Not only do you get some historical context - ferries have been used on this route since at least the 12th Century – but many major sights can be seen from the River Mersey.
I was fascinated to learn that during WWII, Liverpool was the most heavily bombed British city outside London. The city was a prime target for attack because, with Birkenhead, its 'twin' across the Mersey, it was the country's biggest west coast port. Every week, ships arrived in the River Mersey bringing supplies of food and other cargoes from the USA and Canada. Without these supplies, Britain would have lost the war. The bombing was aimed mainly at the docks, railways and factories, but large areas were destroyed or damaged on both sides of the Mersey.
From the river and Pier Head, you can admire the stunning skyline and The Three Graces, which are the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard building and the Port of Liverpool building. More information can be found here. I took a moment to take in the new large-scale sculpture, Liverpool Mountain by Ugo Rondinone, pictured below.
And, of course, pay my own homage to The Beatles, immortalised in their home town. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an opportunity to sample the music scene, but it was good to be reminded that this is where The Beatles was born and where they last performed together on the 5th December 1965.
From Pier Head, my next stop was the world-famous Royal Albert Dock, a complex of historical dock buildings and warehouses in Liverpool. Easily accessible, it is beautifully restored, and has The Beatles Story, the Tate Liverpool, the Merseyside Maritime museum and some lovely restaurants, cafes and shops.
I was delighted to see for myself the iconic Liver Birds. The real Liver Birds (not the sitcom!) are a type of cormorant - one of the most majestic water-birds - and they have been a symbol of the city for over 800 years. I love their depiction atop The Royal Liver Building. One male, Bertie, who looks over the city, one female, Bella, who looks out to sea, both ‘guarding the city’ and marking its skyline since 1911.
From the city centre, my next stop was Penny Lane in the borough of Wavertree. Although it is part of pop history, thanks to The Beatles 1967 hit, there isn’t really much to see in Penny Lane itself. My destination was just around the corner, Mooshy La La’s AttiQue. This a really interesting vintage shop, a real Aladdin’s cave of beautiful vintage clothes, jewellery and artefacts. I could have happily spent several hours there, but I was eager to discover what else Liverpool had to offer and I wasn’t disappointed.
One of the best ways to get to know a city is to spend time in the bars and restaurants, soaking up the atmosphere and sampling the local delicacies. Regular readers will know I enjoy food and no trip to Liverpool would be complete without sampling a bowl of scouse. To my mind, scouse sounds like the name of a bird, but of course it is the accent and dialect closely associated with the city of Liverpool. What I didn’t know was that it was also a stew. The word comes from "Lobscouse", commonly eaten by sailors throughout northern Europe. It was mostpopular in seaports, such as Liverpool, made with beef or lamb, potatoes and carrots and usually eaten with either pickled red cabbage or beetroot and a large chunk of bread and butter.
I’ll happily confess to eating several bowls of this delicious warm and comforting dish, and can recommend former coach-house, The Ship and Mitre, a few steps away from Lime Street Station - perfect for a last feast before heading back down to Oxford.
My Liverpool Must-Sees
The Anglican Cathedral
To get a real birds eye view over Liverpool from up high, you can either visit the Radio City Tower or go up the tower of Britain’s biggest Anglican Cathedral. Despite being scared of heights, I madeUll it to the top of the Cathedral and was rewarded by an outstanding view over Liverpool, to Cheshire and North Wales. It was sunny and bright, and I can honestly say that, despite my fear, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Ullet Road Unitarian Church
The Ullet Road Unitarian Church, as beautiful and interesting on the inside as on the outside. This Grade 1 Listed church first opened in 1899, when its congregation was filled with rich Liverpudlians, shipping magnates, politicians and academics. It is modelled on a medieval parish church and combines a neo-gothic style with touches of medieval design. Its stunning beautiful stained-glass windows were designed by prominent Pre-Raphaelite designer, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and made in the William Morris workshops. I've tried to capture its rather Gothic splendour, below.
The Bombed-Out church
The Bombed-Out Church stands as testament to history to the spirit of Liverpool.It is aformer Anglicanparish church, St Luke’s, and has been in the heart of the city since 1832. It was bombed during the May Blitz of 1941 but lives on as a living war memorial and creative community hub with food, craft, music and even cinema screenings. Check out their website for upcoming events.