30 September 2014

England: Liverpool and the ‘Ferry cross the Mersey’

Just like the old Gerry and the Pacemakers song, we took the ferry across the Mersey to visit the city of Liverpool – twice, in fact, from Seacombe (where we parked the car) to Pier Head, then back again late afternoon.

Luckily we set off relatively early, at 9am, to reach Seacombe by 10 for the 10.30 ferry. I say luckily because there was a long queue of folk waiting and thousands more wandering around the foreshore across the river. The reason was the Giants,  a small group of enormous puppets made and designed by French group Royal de Luxe and their director Jean-Luc Courcoult, which were on display in the city from 23 to 27 July and were leaving this very morning. There was to be a parade of the Giants through the city centre streets from 9am to 11-ish, then they were to be loaded on a ship at noon. We’d known about this but hadn’t expected so many people.

The ferry ride was good – it wasn’t just the standard commuter ferry but rather a River Explorer, so there was a commentary about points of interests (though we couldn’t hear well because of the buzz of chatter from all the excited passengers) and an extra stop on our side of the river before we crossed over the Mersey.

From left, the Royal Liver building, the Cunard building and the Port of Liverpool building

One of the Three Graces, the Port of Liverpool building
Victory tries to catch a Liver Bird with his laurel wreath!
Liverpool’s waterfront is impressive! Pier Head is dominated by the Three Graces, three huge beautiful buildings: the Royal Liver building, the Cunard building and the Ports of Liverpool building, magnificent monuments to Liverpool’s lengthy history as a seafaring and trading city. I loved the two huge statues of cormorant-like birds on top of the Royal Liver building, Liver Birds, the legendary birds that supposedly bring luck to the city.  

There are also newer buildings – the Museum of Liverpool, office towers and hotel edifices, and then the Albert Dock area, a series of huge brick warehouses, where sailing ships would have loaded and unloaded their cargoes in years past but which now house restaurants and shops, a branch of the Tate Art Gallery, a slavery and other museums, and apartments. It’s a great area for tourists and local visitors alike.

Some of Liverpool's wonderful old architecture

On arrival at Pier Head, we initially thought we’d hang around to see the Giants then found out that the parade had already finished, and we would have to wait for an hour or more for another glimpse of them being loaded onto their ship – not a particularly pleasant prospect standing on the hard pavement in full sun amongst huge crowds. (You can see photos of the parade here.) So, rather than wait, we went wandering the streets, a little aimlessly, with me marvelling at and photographing the buildings, their sculptural decoration – always a fascination – and the occasional pub sign – they will feature in a separate blog.

St George's Hall and the former Station Hotel

The Walker Art Gallery and the World Museum

After some meandering, we reached another area of amazing buildings, appropriately labelled the Cultural Quarter, where can be found the World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, the Central Library, and various theatres, the former Station Hotel and Lime Street Railway Station, and in the centre of them all, St George’s Hall. With its classical façade, this hall is impressive on the outside but within it is quite outstanding. As well as an old courtroom and the holding cells underneath, at its core is the most splendid huge hall. Its ornate decoration is superb – ceilings, chandeliers, statues, a huge organ, enormous stained glass windows at either end – all incredible!

Inside St Geroge's Hall

By this time we were hungry but the huge crowds meant most places were full – no, we did not want to wait an hour for the privilege of eating at a Jamie Oliver restaurant, thanks very much. Eventually, we found a place at Albert Docks, where we had pub lunches and enjoyed a welcome sit down.

Fun modern sculpture

The Three Graces reflected in the modern Museum of Liverpool

We explored the Docks and waterfront area, and considered taking the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour but tickets were £8 each which didn’t seem worth it. And, to be honest, I was feeling rather weary – I think my five weeks of constant sightseeing, both in Morocco and here in England, were catching up with me. So, we sat by the waterfront, enjoyed a cold icecream and a drink, people-watched and relaxed until it was time for our ferry back across the Mersey to Seacombe.

The Three Graces from Albert Docks

The refurbished old warehouses of Albert Docks
It didn’t surprise me to learn after my visit that Liverpool achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. Like Manchester, it is another city I would like to live in for a time – in fact, I would probably prefer it to Manchester because of its riverside and its being close to the sea and its plethora of amazing architecture and its wealth of culture and entertainment. Time to make a move?