I was excited at the prospect of this day’s trip, if only because it involved starting a new map, as I moved from territory covered by OS Explorer 285 (Southport and Chorley) to a pristine 275 (Liverpool.) It was a pristine day too, with a low winter sun and fresh wind. For the first time I joined the Cheshire Lines part of the Trans Pennine Way, traversing Jubilee Wood (new Forestry Commission planting) where I saw a red squirrel skittering ahead of me, and skeins of geese overhead – which I tried to shoot photographically while a farmer tried to shoot with a gun. No evidence of success by either of us.
This was the litter-free part of the journey: for the rest of the time I spent on paths, amazing amount of trash decorated the surrounding trees, bushes, embankments and floated in water. This could have been annoying, assuming that walks are meant to fill ones eyes with non-human nature and attractive architecture – in which case discarded pop cans, snack packets, carrier bags (and larger items like mattresses and sofas) are a kind of disruption, like an editor’s blue pencil cancelling out the intended text of the journey. So I jury-rigged a metaphor to temporarily enable me to tolerate the trash-filled scene: imagining that the trash had been intentionally out there, like Tibetan prayer flags, objects praying through the media of fading inks, silenced messages, rust and rot.
This worked all the way until Childwall…
Glimpsing the Switch Island retail/entertainment complex through the trees, I decided to make a detour to see what fun could be had there at nine in the morning. There was no official way up to the road, but people had installed the logical connection by removing a paling from the metal fence and wearing a scrambling-track up the bank. Despite the flattened spikes on the two adjacent palings, I didn’t want to risk becoming a candidate for the One Ball Rally so I squeezed through the narrow gap (thank-you, hiatus hernia for limiting my food intake!)
There’s a branch of McDougalls at Switch Island, so I decided to go there for a second breakfast and legitimate slash opportunity. As I can never negotiate the menus with their complex Qabalah of upgradings and meal combinations, I opted to just say ‘yes’ to everything that was said, which resulted in me
spending an hour in the storeroom having bizarre sexual experiences getting a comedy ‘American’ breakfast of pancakes and sausage covered in syrup, a large coffee and a free mug. (McDougalls are so righteous these days, every surface is covered with free-range, fairtrade, rain-forest messages – they make an Anarchist vegetarian collective look like morally ambivalent lightweights.)
Studying the map, I decided to stay ‘topside’ on the roads for a while, to explore things with interesting names. What might ‘Hartley’s Village’ be, for instance? I remember Hartley’s Jam – perhaps there would be a Willy-Wonka-style themepark, with rides through lakes of bubbling conserves? The map also promised the National Giro Centre, which I did want to see. The Giro was my first bank, and I’ve had a few Giros in my time (specially when students could sign on the dole for every minute they weren’t actually in class.) I remember the paying-in envelopes with the Bootle address and the punning postcode (G1R 0AA) – as if to say ‘Heh – we are the Post Office – if we want a novelty postcode, we can damn well have one.’ I fantasised about presenting myself at reception, like Bart Simpson visiting the offices of Mad Magazine and demanding the ‘grand tour’ due to a lifetime subscriber. Perhaps the original staff would still be there – men who were the architects of public-sector banking – men like my father, with slide rules and Sandwich degrees, pioneers with propelling pencils… Of course, when I got there, I remembered it had become plain ol’ Alliance & Leicester years ago. (Though a street sign still points to ‘Girobank’ – it still exists as a kind of place, if only in collective memory…)
About this point I decided to remove my waterproof gaiters, as walking Liverpool streets dressed for a hike up Helvellyn might look odd. (Add crampons and an ice axe and I would resemble an invading performance artist.) Ironically, there was a billboard advertising the Lake District as a site of spiritual tourism, next to Rice Lane station – promising ‘Outer calm – Inner peace’. An attractive proposition, though I’d have to say on the whole I’m enjoying this trip as much as any walk in Cumbria I’ve ever done…
Cutting through a recreation ground, one of several big flat green open-nesses I encountered, I joined the Liverpool Loop Line, a disused railway. This was good territory for making big strides; I felt I was really walking now. Industrial estates gleamed in the sun, occasional church spires glimpsed through the gaps between them. The houses of a thousand people I’ll never know back onto the path. Still with my ‘rubbish is good’ filter working, I looked a numerous poured-paint marks as if they were artworks, a new alphabet, spelling out an oblique sentence on a green lane into the heart of the Culture Capital.
Sites of melted-down wheelie bins (easy to spot due to the distinctive purple colour used by the brand-crazy Council), fused into the tarmac with some surviving rubbish, were (to my benign view) the stuff of future archaeology…
Eight miles into the trip, I made a side-trip to visit John Davies up in Norris Green for a welcome cup of tea. This was great as John unwittingly inspired this trip, and I got some useful insights into the area I was walking through. Plus he came up with a great idea for using a microwave oven as a meditation timer, as handy alternative to these spiritual lifestyle gadgets.
Leaving John’s, I headed through Croxteth Park (a pleasant place of trees and avenues, one of the city’s lungs, and site of a desperate human tragedy) and rejoined the Loop. This was now cut into the ground, lined with trees and of course the trash and graffiti.
(I was enchanted at one point by the way WALKERS RULE had, by accident or design, become WALKERS ROLE – a big question for those of us on two legs.)
After a few miles I began to feel quite depressed. My rubbish filter had worn off and the litter just seemed annoying, and a lost opportunity for the city to look good. Apart from a guy drinking from a torpedo of White Lightning, I had seen few people not on wheels of some kind (bikes and, in contravention of various overlapping codes, a go-kart.) Strange cries came from an estate. Abruptly, I changed my plans. Rather than head down to Widnes and Runcorn, I would go into the city, and (eventually) cross the Mersey by ferry and walk down the Wirral. The one negative (a short distance not actually walking, so a slight cheat) was outweighed by many positives (interesting walking in the Wirral, a visit to New Brighton to compare with the original, a nice pub (the Abbey) minutes away from the path, getting off of the Loop.) So I plunged off on to the Trans Pennine Way’s ‘Liverpool Spur’.
I had a refreshing pint in the Abbey. (Just the one – a colleague believes I am visiting ever pub on the trip – not so! These days I have the physical drinking capacity of a nine-year-old anorexic gymnast, coupled with the thirst and enthusiasm of a 20-stone veteran CAMRA member, so I have to ration myself. But I felt I was due a drink at this juncture.)
The six miles into Liverpool traversed two more parks (Sefton and Princes), many streets, including Penny Lane where I met American students, and arrived, through Toxteth, at the vast Anglican Cathedral. Bells were ringing, perhaps in honour of the Archbishop who was speaking there that day. Light was fading, there were smells of Chinese and chips, garages were closing and off-licenses opening. I was tired, just plodding on, receiving fragmented impressions… beginnning to see the Mersey and the Wirral skyline; too much detail; flats on fire with the last of the light –
I used up my beer ration in Ye Cracke, a pub that manages to be both tiny and rambling (where ‘I Walk The Line’ was on the juke box, a guy drinking from a bottle of Pils was arguing with his sad-looking kid, 10 emo/goth kids sat with one drink and a man came in with hooky DVDs) and The Fly in the Loaf, a former bakery, now exotic beer emporium owned by a Manx brewery. Weary and bleary I sat in the window, watching cars, buses and people, pondering the contrast with the quiet stretches of the early morning’s walk. Thinking: I don’t know Liverpool much better, but I have breathed in more of its spirit.
Distance: Approx 19 miles
26 January 2008