I buy my £5.20 Saveaway Ticket from New Brighton station, Wallasey, and take the train to Hamilton Square. From there it’s a short walk to the Woodside Ferry terminal.
Everybody is queuing for tickets. I’m not convinced my Saveaway ticket is really valid, so I queue too. Without batting an eyelid, the lady at the desk gives me a ferry ticket. Additional cost? Nothing.
We’re ushered down a gangway and wait on the jetty. That wretched Ferry Cross the Mersey song starts worming through my head again. Then here it comes: the most brightly coloured ferry I’ve ever seen (even beats the Peppa-Pig pink of the Hamble Ferry)!
Once aboard, the ferry sets off – in the wrong direction. Oh no! It’s heading up the river instead of straight across. I’ve managed to get on the wrong boat and I’m on the cruise after all. Oh well, it’s too late now.
A recorded commentary starts playing. We’re advised to stay in our seats – not likely! I walk around and read a notice explaining why the ferry is painted so brightly. I’d heard of the Dazzle ships in the war before, but to commission Peter Blake to create a Dazzle design for the ferry was a stroke of genius.
The commentary is actually quite interesting. It focuses mainly on the Liverpool skyline, but I cross to the less popular side of the ferry and look at the Wirral shore. From here I can look back along the route I’ve walked and see the three ferry ports: Woodside, Stena Line, and Seacombe in the distance.
The ferry soon swings round and starts heading towards the Liverpool shore. The commentary explains the birds on top of the Liver Building may have been intended to be eagles, but the sculpture mistook the commission and crafted cormorants instead. And then relates various other stories about the birds, all of which can be found on Wikipedia.
The river ‘cruise’ has turned out to be mercifully short. And enjoyable too.
The ferry docks at Liverpool, where I get off and walk past a huge queue of people waiting to join the ship. It’s going to be crowded for the rest of the ‘cruise’.
There’s some sort of festival about to start on the quayside beside the Royal Liver Building. Food stalls are set up and there’s an empty stage with a program of local bands who will appear shortly. What a shame it’s too early for lunch and only the beginning of my walk, because I could have spent longer here.
Onwards. I walk along the quay – Princes Parade – past ships of all types, including quite a few grey military boats, one with a helicopter on board and some dignitaries either arriving or getting ready to depart.
After walking past the ships, I reach an area where new office buildings line the edges of old docks. It’s Saturday and everything has a quiet and deserted feel to it. (Reminds me of wandering around Canary Wharf at the weekend – a similar feeling of ghost-offices.)
From here onwards it is not possible to walk beside the water. Instead, I walk along Waterloo Road, which soon becomes Regent Road. I’ve left the scenic area behind. This is a mix of newly renovated blocks and old buildings in various stages of decay.
I come across a mural. The Fab Four and ‘in the town where I was born’. Oh no. A new earworm replaces Ferry Cross the Mersey. Now the awful Yellow Submarine tune is playing in my head.
(When I first came to England, aged 9, having lived in Kenya up until then, this was what the kids were singing in the playground. ‘We all live in a yellow submarine.’ The same line. Over and over and over again. For someone used to the intricacies and rhythmic complexity of African music, it was a mind-numbing dirge.)
I pass a rack of green bikes. The equivalent of Boris bikes?
The street becomes more and more deserted. On my right hand side, the occasional bright pub or café sits uneasily among rows of lock-up shops and empty premises.
On my left are high walls and security fences, beyond which I get the occasional view of abandoned docks.
Here, through a gap, I see a grand clock tower. What wealthy dock-owner or trader erected this? A monument to prosperity and wealth, and to a trading empire they thought would never end. Seems very sad to see it falling into decay…
… until I remember that much of Liverpool’s wealth came from the profits of slavery, and then I decide it’s karma.
I’ve been following a group of athletic young men wearing sports shirts, who are tailed by a couple of overweight men in suits. They’re chatting in Spanish, I think. A football team and their managers? They look out-of-place in this street, and then I notice they turn off into an old warehouse… no, it’s a modern hotel.
Onwards. The street is lined by tall walls, interspersed with stone towers like faux castle battlements. It’s weird. Another grandiose statement by the original dock owners?
And along the walls are signs, indicating the docks that once operated here. Nelson Dock, 1848. Ghosts of times past.
After passing the new hotel, any pretence at rejuvenation in this area peters out. But I enjoy this part of the walk. The old warehouse buildings are interesting. Some maintain their original features. They all look run down.
Now I’m passing Sandon Dock. No longer a working dock but turned into a sewage treatment plant.
There is light industry ahead. Tanks and chimneys. No other pedestrians on the street, just an occasional vehicle whizzing past.
On the other side of the street a car pulls up with two young men inside. I walk past and the car starts moving again, does a U-turn, and heads back along my side of the road, driving slowly. Are they following me? I’m wearing my rucksack and carrying my camera – and look very out-of-place here.
As the car gets nearer I’m gripped by anxiety. Having safely walked 2,600 miles around the coast, has my luck finally run out? Am I going to be mugged?
The car crawls past and parks just ahead of me. I look around for help. Nobody walking. Just a few cars in the distance. I’m tempted to cross the road, but worry that will be seen as a signal of weakness and fear. What should I do?
I keep walking, slowly, and draw level with the car. The two young men inside keep their heads bent. They’re studying their mobile phones. One points further along the street, and they set off driving again.
I suddenly realise what they’re doing. They’re not hunting elderly women walkers. They’re hunting Pokémon!
Onwards. I pass a recycling plant. Here the dock is in use, with tugs lined up along a wharf.
I pass a huge pile of metal scrap, made up of mangled box-shapes, like a pile of distorted washing machines. I love these places. Unfortunately, the security fences spoil the view and make for poor photography.
On the other side of the road is a disused petrol station. Now a car wash? Or has that faded too?
I reach Bootle. This is the area with the giant red cranes – the ones I could see yesterday as I walked along the north shore of The Wirral. And now the road ahead seems to become a private dockside road and I turn off to the right. Here I meet a busy dual carriageway, but the busyness is something of a relief after the emptiness of the previous road.
I’m hot. Tired. Thirsty. I take a few swigs from my water bottle but would really like a proper sit down and a snack lunch. There is nowhere to sit, and although I pass a few pubs, none of them look very inviting.
Onwards. I leave the main road and head down a road signposted towards Crosby. I must be getting close to the beach. Suddenly there are walkers on the pavement. The tone of the area has changed. Ahead is another dock – Port of Liverpool – says a sign. Funny, I thought I’d already been walking through the Port of Liverpool!
I walk past the port entrance, and now I’m in a pleasant residential area. Still the road is a busy dual carriageway and I was hoping to see a beach. Or a cafe. And then I spot a brown tourist sign (hidden by foliage in the photo below). ‘Antony Gormley, Another Place.’
Ah, I’m nearly there. I’m dying to see the Gormley installation, but I thought it was further north and didn’t realise it would be on the first beach I came to.
Quickening my pace, I turn off the main road and walk down a quiet street, which follows close to the edge of the docks and ends up running through an area of parkland.
To my right is a lake with boats and… is that a café? Yes. It is.
I’m torn. Should I continue straight ahead towards the beach? It’s on the other side of a line of sand dunes, hidden from view, and still perhaps a mile away. Or should I head for the café?
I decide to head for the café. From there it’s a short walk to the train station and the trip back to New Brighton and my car. Then I’m off home for a few days of rest and recuperation.
Crosby beach, and the Gormley art installation, will have to wait for another day. It will be something to look forward to.
This walk = 6 miles
Total distance = 2,626 miles