Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey to Liverpool

Some laughed when Liverpool was recently picked European Capital of Culture for 2008. “Culture! What culture?” they scoffed. “Apart from the Beatles.”

Those cynics should join me here on the Royal Daffodil (the ferry on which Ringo Starr worked briefly as a bartender), listening to the Gerry and the Pacemakers’ hit from the ’60s, Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey, and admiring Liverpool’s Three Graces – three classic waterfront buildings – and the restored Albert Dock retail and museum showcase. They’d change their tune.

Liverpool, once a byword for poverty, is today a sparkling Athens of the North, with more buildings listed by the government as worthy of preservation than any British city apart from London.

And it’s fun. I’d take the disbelievers to The Philharmonic, the city’s grandest Victorian pub, affectionately called The Phil. A sign in the bar reads, Ladies! In order to ensure privacy for our male customers, ask a member of staff before entering the gents’. The gents’, with grand roseate marble urinals, is historically listed.

At the Maritime Museum, I was moved to tears by the evocation of conditions on thslave ships that transported millions of Africans to the New World. Another horror, the wartime bombing of Liverpool docks, in which as many as 1,000 people were killed in a single raid, is evoked in a Spirit of the Blitz exhibit until June 30.

But ever and always, Liverpool is The Beatles. On the Magical Mystery Tour, I visited Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the Cavern Club and other Beatle landmarks. The biggest treat, though, came the next day touring the homes where Paul McCartney (now Sir Paul) and John Lennon grew up. The National Trust has restored both houses to 1950s style.

“Come in and have a seat,” said John Halliday, who lives in and looks after 20 Forthlin Rd., a humble row house where Paul lived from the age of 13 until he achieved Beatles fame. In the tiny living room where Paul and John wrote songs such as When I’m 64 and Love Me Do, Halliday, who even looks like Paul, told stories about their early days.

At Mendips — donated to the Trust by Yoko Ono — where John lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, we saw the teddy bear little John would carry off to bed and, on the bedroom walls of the teenage John, posters of Elvis and Bridget Bardot. It’s a charming and intimate peek at the Beatles’ past.

Liverpool is less than three hours by train from London. For information on passes and tickets, visit www.BritRail.com.
For more information on Liverpool and the National Trust, visit www.visitliverpool.com and www.nationaltrust.org.uk.