For most people Liverpool means football and the Beatles, and that’s about it. This pretty much rules me out then, as I have no interest at all in either sport or mop-topped musicians. With a long weekend to be spent in Liverpool meant I would have to come up with something more than the obvious stuff. This is my brief notes on what I found worthwhile in the erstwhile town of Leiverpool (one of 20 spellings of the name).
To start out with, Liverpool is totally predictable when it comes to shopping. The city centre is attractively modern and quite splendid, but the selection of shops is utterly unremarkable, with most of the usual high street brands and not much more. No sense in wasting time around there then. Even Flannels, a shop that used to have a decent selection, appears to be more about designer tracksuit bottoms these days.
Menswear wise there is one small beacon of interest in the bleak sea. Weavers Door is a tiny shop with the usual list of brands. A couple of things set it apart though. One was discovering Hawksmill Denim and their nice USN work jacket, the other was how friendly the staff were. I spent an hour there just nattering, so even though I didn’t buy anything I still left with a good impression.
Lee at Weavers Door is also involved in another admirable local venture, the Independent Map Co. This is a quite simple fold-out map listing the locations of local independent businesses, ranging from coffee shops to restaurants to vintage shops and more. For a newcomer trying to find the interesting places to visit in Liverpool this was a really nice map to have. Hopefully it will take off and similar maps be published for other cities.
The independent Map led be to Bold Street, which I’d never really paid attention to before, mainly as it was obviously off the beaten track of the more touristy central area. It proved to be an interesting street though, both for the vintage shops and the street art to be found. At the top of Bold Street you can also find Bold Street Coffee, which became my caffeine provider for the day.
Always with an eye for the odd and unusual I was thrilled to find a site of local weirdness named Williamsons Tunnels. This is a system of semi-underground tunnels dating back to around 1860. Commissioned by a wealthy local landowner for a purpose that still eludes the group of local enthusiasts that are slowly clearing the tunnels of the accumulated rubbish and debris that have been dumped there. Mainly built using bricks in an old quarry, the system is comprehensive and well made, even though the tour itself only covers a small part of it. Williamson was obviously an eccentric with a plan, though I’m not sure we’ll ever comprehend his intent. The tour is charmingly carried out by volunteers to help finance further work.
Speaking of tours, there is a lot to be said for having a guided tour by someone who really knows the area. I was fortunate to have both a tour of the Albert Docks and also Lime Street Station. Both are areas of immense and not immediately apparent historical interest. Liverpool was for a long time the most important port in England, and part of the triangle that freighted slaves and imported goods from the USA. This ensured Liverpool enjoyed both goods and wealth. Incidentally, the company behind the Titanic had their offices there, but never got to experience the arrival of their boat.
The railway track running from Liverpool to Manchester could in many respects be considered where the modern railway system started, and every other rail a branch line of this. This is where Stephenson’s Rocket started out in 1829, terrifying the surrounding areas with speeds of up to 28 miles per hour (45km/h). Lime Street Station was a tour de force of structural engineering, with the largest spanning iron and glass roof around. A plan was in place to allow rail coaches to go all the way down to the docks so wealthy passengers could board directly onto the steamer to the Americas.
On the way down to the centre from Lime Street station you pass a magnificent library and one of the many museums (all free!) in Liverpool. The library is worth visiting if only to see the old part of the building and their collection of rare books. If in the mood for art, there is also a branch of the Tate Modern at Albert docks.
Speaking of magnificence, Liverpool has two quite remarkable cathedrals. One is the most spectacularly grim one I have seen, reminiscent of a set from Lord Of The Rings. The other is the most modern and ugly cathedral I have ever cast eyes upon. Each in their way worth looking at, even if only to confirm that when it comes to cathedrals Liverpool isn’t anywhere close to getting it right.
Apart from coffee I also spent a pleasant evening at The Shipping Forecast. While we had headed there hoping to experience excellent burgers, what really made the evening for me was the combination of an excellent DJ and some tasty cider. The burger turned out to be remarkable only in how long it took to serve and how inedible it was when I came to eat it. Others in our party reported that theirs was fine though, so maybe it serves me right for ordering the most expensive one on the menu.
Another nice bar was Grove, also in the same area. A nice outside seating area and entertainment provided by a local girl and her guitar. Grove has the strangest gentlemans convenience I have come across, as the entire wall the urinals are mounted on is glass. Is it one-way or not? We never found out, but the view while relieving yourself is into a nightclub. The evening I was there the place appeared full of hen-parties being entertained by a gentleman in ladies garb.
Speaking of hen-parties though, as far as I can tell this must be one of the big industries in Liverpool. The town was infested by groups of women in “hen do” t-shirts, angel wings, led-tiaras and the like, with an unfortunate bride to be carrying an inflatable penis or similar. The most remarkable aspect of the groups is how little fun everyone seemed to be having. That may have come later one, I guess, maybe in the guise of a slim man in a dress singing some ABBA or similar.
Perhaps the absolutely best experience in Liverpool came in form of a busker. This guy had it down to a true art, combining the flute with beatboxing. And leather the harmonica and beatboxing. I was totally transfixed by his performance. After a little research I found that his name is James Lyons and you can find more of his work on his Tumblr site.
And as a reminder of the undoubtable fact that Liverpool has greatly contributed to the world of music with more than the Beatles, I found this SuperLambBanana statue in Albert Dock decorated with the names and faces of famous Liverpool bands. I thought it quite appropriate to include the notorious haircut of A Flock of Seagulls in my pre-haircut selfie.
My only plan when arriving in Liverpool was to get a haircut, and from suggestions received on Instagram and Twitter, I had decided to try Barber Barber. This turned out to be a very much more old-school barbering experience than I’m used to. Upon arrival you take your place on the bench and wait your turn. There were around 8 barbers in action and sitting on the bench you could observe their technique. Edging up the bench you could start hoping who would be available when you reached the end. When it came to my turn I found myself entering the chair with a little trepidation, as with the overly loud music and very Liverpudlian accent of my barber it was a bit hard to actually communicate. I’m pretty picky about how my hair is cut, and I wasn’t all that full of confidence when cutting commended. It wasn’t until all was over that I thought to show him my previous cut, which would have been a better idea to do at the start. In all though it turned out to be a no more than average cut, as evidenced the next morning when I tried to recreate the style.
That concludes my Liverpool experience. Would I like to go back again? Yes. I’ll leave you with this remarkable piece of creativity I noticed on the windows of a boarded up house. The windows have been whitewashed to keep people from looking in, but some creative spirit has scratched lots and lots of insects into the whitewash, for a very effective, yet subtle, piece of art.