Road trip Big cat on the prowl in Merseyside
MY phone rang. The Lake District was now off the schedule. It was minus 16 degrees celsius west of Keswick, with the wind chill factor, and the lane to my favourite B&B near Derwentwater had become a snowdrift. Plus the Range Rover I had been testing had been swapped for a Jaguar XJ, a lovely beast but not ideal for driving through deep snow.
We were sitting in the Royal Suite of Blackpool’s Imperial hotel, in the very room where Harold Wilson’s Cabinet convened to deal with a national crisis during the Labour party’s 1964 conference. Churchill had also stayed here, along with every postwar Prime Minister.
It was also the suite where the Beatles had rehearsed and slept before heading down to Abbey Road to record A Hard Day’s Night. I balloted the troops, PierreMarie (11) and Alexandra (10): “Shall we drive to Huddersfield to pay tribute to Harold Wilson’s birthplace or shall be go to Liverpool to see the Beatles museum?”
Once I had explained who The Beatles were the vote was unanimous, so after visiting Blackpool’s wonderful Sea Life centre at shark feeding time we headed south along the Pleasure Beach, parallel with the splendid tramway. We passed the South Pier and Yates’s Wine Lodge, a fabled conference watering hole in the old days, about which I’ll maybe write another day.
We headed cross-country towards Merseyside. The back roads of Lancashire were not ideal for testing the full power of a 3-litre turbo, capable of hitting 60 in less than six seconds before surging on to 155mph. So we glided regally past Southport, Formby and Crosby before hitting the outskirts of Bootle with its famous docks and acres of red brick tenement housing. Despite the regeneration the car stuck out a bit (it’s the model the Prime Minister gets chauffeured in).
Since there were no plasma screens in the back of the XJ the kids were especially attentive to their surroundings. “It is very different here,” said Alexandra, who lives in Cannes. “But the houses look warm.”
Light snowflakes dropped and I was glad to be in the cockpit of the XJ Portfolio, with its heated soft grain leather “18 way” seats with their five different massage programmes and a Meridian surround sound system that would challenge the acoustics of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. A small kingdom of pamperdom that made me feel a tad ashamed, given the poverty of this great city’s past.
Liverpool itself has changed dramatically since the days I used to visit when I was a student in neighbouring Manchester. Back in 1979/80 it was a down at heel sort of place and the docks were about as alluring as the vieux port in Marseille or Tiger Bay in Swansea. Now they are full of galleries, museums and restaurants. The grim old pubs where you were considered a Nancy if you had a packet of crisps with your pint of Higson’s, have morphed into something else. Foaming pints have given way to Dry Martinis and Manhattans and the rough hewn, home-brewed locals are smartly dressed and upwardly mobile.
We arrived as the sun set over the cobbled environs of Ropewalks, an
Liverpool has changed dramatically in recent years, and while the waterfront benefits from a modern sheen it’s still evocative of the city’s rich maritime heritage. Below, Mark is pictured with the highly impressive Jaguar XJ