A relaxing Ryanair flight from the wonderful Ireland West (Knock) Airport brings us to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Unsurprisingly, it would be the first of many John Lennon references over the following days.
A bus (impressively, it wasn’t named after any of the Beatles) then took us to within walking distance of our accommodation, the centrally located (but apostrophe-less) Hard Days Night Hotel.
And so began our January break in Liverpool…
In footsteps of ‘Fab Four’
The location of the Hard Days Night Hotel – which is heavily (but tastefully) Beatles-themed – really is perfect if your aim is easy access to many of Liverpool’s leading attractions and amenities.
It’s barely a two-minute walk to the legendary Cavern Club… and a vibrant, nostalgia-fuelled strip of Beatles-commemorating bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Walk in the opposite direction from this fine hotel and you’re into the heart of the extremely impressive Liverpool One Shopping Centre, complete with over 170 outlets (and a buzzing atmosphere).
Meanwhile, it’s just a 10-minute walk to the aesthetically pleasing Royal Albert Dock, which overlooks the famous River Mersey. The ‘Albert Dock’ is home to a number of museums, galleries, bars and shops, and is now one of the top tourist attractions in north-west England.
Before exploring ‘Museum Central’, we took a ‘Magical Mystery Bus Tour’ (Spoiler alert: There will be many more Beatles’ references in this column). This was very enjoyable, taking guests to Penny Lane, ‘Strawberry Field’ and other landmarks mentioned in Beatles’ songs, and including stop-offs at the respective childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
With our excellent guide (a Liverpudlian who told us he can claim ancestral roots to Michael Collins) being full of interesting facts about the greatest rock/pop band of all time, this was a fascinating trip in the footsteps of cultural icons. Passing an undistinguished looking cemetery, our guide casually informed us that John Lennon’s mother (Julia), TV personality Cilla Black and comedy genius Sir Ken Dodd are all laid to rest there (unforgivably, the driver didn’t give us an opportunity to hop off the bus and pay homage at Sir Ken’s grave).
Later, a ferry trip – ‘Cross the Mersey’ as the great Gerry Marsden sang – was relaxing and informative, our guide there informing us that 75% of Liverpool’s population claim some degree of Irish ancestry. A statistic that was only slightly surprising, for this is indeed an ‘Irish city’ on UK soil.
Tonight, after a meal in one of the many nearby restaurants, we literally followed in the footsteps of John, Paul, George and Ringo – enjoying a great night in the atmospheric Cavern Club, where the Beatles were discovered by Brian Epstein (who would become their manager). Over a short space of time, the Beatles played 292 live gigs in the Cavern nightclub, situated in Mathew Street. There are lots of lifesize statues of the Beatles, and one of another Liverpool icon, Cilla Black.
Still a live music venue, the Cavern is a historic and evocative link with the Fab Four, and if you’re visiting Liverpool you really should try to get to it.
When the energetic live band finished tonight, the Cavern moved on to a playlist of familiar classics. In front of us, a youth of about 19 years of age was with his grandfather (we got chatting to them later), the elderly man a sprightly enough gent who was coping with the noise, his evident tiredness, and the incoming beers… by living in the moment and simultaneously going back in time… enthusiastically hailing each familiar classic song that he recognised. As the hits reached a crescendo, grandson and grandfather embraced, the two of them clapping and singing along, cherished memories forming live from the Cavern.
Royal Albert Dock
There are excellent museums at the Royal Albert Dock, with admission to all free of charge. The topics covered range from Liverpool’s role in transatlantic slavery (Liverpool’s ships and merchants dominated the transatlantic slave trade in the second half of the 18th century) to a section on the city’s Titanic links. Needless to say, there’s a superb ‘Beatles Story’ museum there too!
Later, the pubs are lively, with live music blasting from the various establishments in Mathew Street. We join the revellers, all of whom are very friendly. The pint is very reasonably priced (ranging from £3.50 to £4.50).
As the winds began to rumble over the Mersey – but before the full ferocity of Storm Isha struck – we joined throngs of visitors at the ‘Museum of Liverpool’. This venue celebrates ‘Liverpool and its people’ with a fantastic series of tributes to the city’s numerous cultural, sporting and entertainment figures over the years. Liverpool and Everton football clubs feature prominently.
Much to my delight, there was one exhibition entirely dedicated to the great, late Sir Ken Dodd. ‘Happiness!’ celebrates the life and career of the legendary comedian, with many of his original costumes, awards and personal writings on display.
In the afternoon, we popped into a lovely local pub for lunch. The Liverpool supporters began to gather to watch their team’s Premier League game away to Bournemouth (live on Sky Sports). I too had the day’s big game on my mind. Hence, my laptop was propped on the table, ready for the afternoon’s sporting drama. The Liverpool fans cheered the league leaders on to a routine 4-0 win. Our eyes remained on the laptop…and St Brigid’s v Glen.
Long and winding road…
Our flight to Knock was delayed by nearly two hours, almost of all of which we spent standing in a tedious (and tiring) boarding queue. Worse was the plight of four ladies who had been told at Liverpool Airport that their flight back to Dublin was cancelled.
Stranded, they ended up flying to Knock instead, and now had to find their own way back to Dublin (presumably by hiring a car). It was only 3 pm, but it must already have felt like a hard day’s night.