I am not particularly well travelled, but there’s something really exciting about seeing landmarks for the first time; particularly when they appear unexpectedly or when you least expect them.
These exciting moments probably stem from childhood car journeys; when that irritable boredom is lifted by the chance of being the first one to see the sea!
In the late 1980’s I over-nighted at one of those cheap and nasty $10 motels in San Francisco. Prior to leaving early the next morning, I looked around at the uninspiring block of buildings. Between the building line, through the mist, I saw no more than a glimpse of something reddish/brown and an unusual shape. It was the Golden Gate Bridge. I photographed this moment, but that was all it was; a photograph of a moment, meaningless to anyone else.
I first got to know Liverpool in the late 1990’s. Every year I had a few days there with work. My first stay was at a large hotel called The Atlantic Tower. Having arrived at night and dropped off by taxi, it was not until after breakfast that I ‘took the morning air’, on a 3rd floor balcony next to the restaurant. The balcony narrowed to a point. When I looked back I realised the hotel was shaped like the bow of the ship, unremarkable in itself except that the ship’s bow was directed towards the iconic Liver Building.
I say iconic. In fairness I probably recognised it from the opening sequence to the 1970’s sitcom ‘The Liver Birds’. Nevertheless it is a big building that would look impressive even without the two Liver Bird statues. I was looking at what was, until 1932, the tallest storied building in Europe. I was in Liverpool for the first time and I was now excited.
Adjacent to the Liver Building is the Albert Dock. For those who have heard of this but who are not familiar with it; The Albert Dock is a series of warehouse buildings around enclosed docks. As with most things in Liverpool, politics and lack of investment had left this area derelict and at risk of demolition.
The regeneration of The Albert Dock had officially started in the 1980’s and each year new things were happening. Its museums and art galleries will keep anyone busy for a weekend.
During my subsequent stays in Liverpool, I began to use the hotels at The Albert Dock. Initially the Holiday Inn Express and, from 2003, the Premier Inn. Both these are regarded as mid-budget hotels but I have to say that both are very good value for money and well managed. In addition, if you are lucky, some rooms have a real character of their own. I remember one room at The Holiday Inn which was on the rounded corner of the building, had windows down to floor level and gave a panoramic view over the River Mersey to Birkenhead. Another room overlooked the enclosed dock, and immediately below my room was a large green platform in the shape of the British Isles! Unbeknown to me, it was the ‘weather map’ used in a daytime television programme called This Morning ITV. Such is the size of the Albert Dock that hotels, restaurants, museums, offices and television studios, all co-exist! They also found the space nearby for the O2 arena and conference centre, complete with parking.
Moving onto my most recent visit to Liverpool this time with a couple of extra things on the ‘to do’ list. These involved Liverpool being synonymous with Football and Popular Music
All of our friends were from Nottingham and (it turned out) fans of the beautiful game. None of us had been to Anfield or Goodison Park, the home of Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs.
So on day one, with the sun on our backs, we walked the 3 miles from The Albert Dock to Anfield and then onto Goodison. And that basically sums the afternoon up. The walk was neither pleasant nor interesting, and, it has to be said, neither of the stadia were worthy of landmark or iconic status. The initial walk was through the modern shopping area of Liverpool One, then passed the Liverpool Museum and the statue in memory of the 96 Liverpool supporters who died at Hillsborough in 1989. From then on the route meant criss-crossing the A59 and passing derelict pubs, shops and houses. By the time we reached the Anfield Stadium, all excitement had long since evaporated.
Our walk across Stanley Park towards Goodison brought back renewed hope. A pleasant green open space with ponds. It seemed well used and reasonably well maintained, although it was a shame that the removal of litter is not more of a priority.
The area around Goodison had a better community feel, but the obvious lack of decent pubs and bars was disappointing.
A bus journey back into town was required.
The following day was devoted to the Albert Dock itself. The Beatles Story is one of those tourist attractions that I had previously resisted. It is situated in the basement directly beneath the Premier Inn. My daughter had joined us for the day and, although she was not born until the 1990’s, she certainly knows more about the Fab Four than I do. In the end, I am pleased to have increased my knowledge of the Beatles story. I was given headphones which narrated the story of the group, and guided me through various displays and themed rooms. I even stood at the cafe in the recreated Cavern Club and was served a cup of tea by a young looking Cilla Black (cut out)! There were a significant number of Americans who were from a nearby Norwegian Cruise ship. They were filming everything and I have no doubt that by the time they are back in the US, they will have convinced themselves that Mr Lennon is alive and well…. and back in Liverpool!
In the tourist areas of Liverpool there are many statues. The Beatles naturally, are on Mathew Street, the location of the original Cavern Club. There is a statue of Bill Shankly at Anfield; Bill was the club’s most revered manager. Around the docks there are a number of statues of horses. These are in remembrance of the working horses that, in times gone by ensured the economy of the docks.
There is also a very nice statue of…. erm….. Billy Fury!
I had heard his name before. I understand that he was a singer in the 1960’s. I only knew him from two 1970’s films called That’ll be the Day and Stardust. These were about a rock singer from that era and the lead actor was David Essex. Every teenage girl in the 1970’s loved David Essex, so every teenage boy took a girl to see the film. I think Billy Fury may have had a small part in it, or one of his songs was in it.
I will wind this post up now, but before I do, I need to bring it back with a reference to Nottingham. I had another great time in Liverpool. Like Nottingham, Liverpool is an old industrial city that has seen it’s economy change dramatically. Like Nottingham, Liverpool has had to adapt and to establish itself as a tourist attraction.
Liverpool’s history may have produced buildings larger than Nottingham’s, football clubs that are bigger than Nottingham’s, and a rock group that is bigger than any other; but Nottingham is just as proud of its history and culture. Literature rather than music has been the main creative export. Perhaps Nottingham is more modest. It has its fair share of landmarks too!
Those that visit Nottingham on a sporting pilgrimage will walk the two miles from the Old Market Square, through the Lace Market and by the canal to Trent Bridge. There they will see the river, two football stadia and a world class cricket ground. They will enjoy the walk and probably stop for a drink at a pub or restaurant of their choice. Who knows? They may in the future see statues to rival those in Liverpool. Not only of Robin Hood or Brian Clough but Peter Taylor, Alan Sillitoe, Lord Byron, DH Lawrence, Torville and Dean.
We may even save a space for Jake Bugg. The Americans will love him!