Liverpool – A Capital City!

“Why should you never swerve your car to hit a Scouser on a bike…?”  This is the beginning of a joke about Liverpool that I heard in the pub last week. I’ll tell you the punchIine shortly, but needless to say it is not complimentary of the city.  Incidentally the joker had never actually been to the city but it seems that here in Britain it is fair game to poke fun at Liverpool and the city still takes a good verbal bashing from the peoples of other areas of England.  So why was Liverpool named European capital of culture as recently as 2008?  What is the culture of Liverpool?  And what on earth is a Scouser?

Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008.  Flag.
Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008. Flag.

As a major port, Liverpool boomed during the industrial revolution from international trade and immigration from Ireland.  Lobscouse was the regional dish, a hearty Lamb Stew that was eaten by the Sailors and shipbuilders after a long day out in the cold dockyards and it is from this that the colloquial name for  Liverpudlian’s (people from Liverpool) is derived, Scouser and the name of the accent, Scouse.  By the 1980’s however the city’s heavy industries fell in to decline and in 1981 an area of Liverpool called Toxteth was the scene for some of the worst riots in England.  For many Brits, it is from this era that Liverpool and Scousers still hold their reputations, hence the jokes and stereotypes suggesting that Liverpool is high on crime and with many deprived areas.

Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.
Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.

So why was Liverpool named European Capital of Culture?  Well, Liverpool has bounced back from its eighties lows.  Aesthetically, Liverpool has always been very appealing; it is home to a number of iconic landmarks, as the only city in Europe with not one, but two Christian cathedrals, an elegant 18th century town hall and the stunning riverside Liver Buildings.  But in recent years this has only improved with the redevelopment of the cosmopolitan Albert Docks area, now home to trendy bars, boutique shops and popular museums and the addition of the “Liverpool One” commercial centre which offers some of the best shopping in the North of England.

But surely “culture” really lies within the people of a city and any city that has experienced the turbulent history that Liverpool has must have bundles of character.   In fact Liverpool has given birth to a hugely disproportionate number of Britain‘s best-loved actors, comics and TV personalities not to mention a few singer/songwriters that you may have heard of: John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool
Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool

The Beatles, of course hailed from Liverpool and catapulted the city into the international Limelight with their Mersey Beat and Pop/Rock sounds.  They were inspired by the city, it’s people and their humble surroundings such as Penny Lane, a quiet suburban street, and Strawberry Field, a local city orphanage. Indeed even the Cavern Club where the Beatles first performed together remains unassuming and fairly low-key. Today you will see a number of sculptures all over the city such as those of the Beatles themselves, the un-missable Yellow Submarine at Liverpool Airport and the, rather fittingly, little known statue of Eleanor Rigby sat alone on a bench tucked away on a quiet side street.

So if culture is about people then it is little wonder that Liverpool won city of culture in 2008; Scousers, are loyal and humble, abundant in personality and with unrivalled sense of humour even in hard times.  So, the joke I heard goes: “You should never Swerve your car to hit a Scouser because the chances are that the bike is yours…”.  However in reality this is an outdated view of this magnificent city – if you did knock a Scouser off his bike today he would probably get up, dust himself off, check your car wasn’t damaged and then offer to buy you a pint in the pub down the road. And if you don’t believe me, why not visit yourself!

Check out our blog from 2012 – 50 years of the Beatles.

 

England’s Top Five Cathedrals.

Following the discovery of Richard III’s remains under a car-park in Leicester, the body is likely to be re-interred in the grounds of the nearby Leicester Cathedral – a situation which, combined with the opening of a dedicated exhibition, has seen a twenty-fold increase its visitor numbers.  Leicester Cathedral, however, is just one of a number of English cathedrals which remain incredibly popular with visitors looking to explore their history, wealth of cultural artefacts and some truly stunning medieval architecture. But which are England’s most beautiful and interesting cathedrals?  Here are some of our favourites:

Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

A stunning gothic masterpiece, Salisbury Cathedral is a bit of a front-runner.  Built, as one of many English cathedrals after the Norman invasion of 1066, Salisbury is home to Britain’s tallest cathedral spire but also Europe’s oldest working clock dating back to the 1300s.  Visitors can view an original copy of the Magna Carta or climb the 332 step spiral staircase of the main tower, which leans almost two feet, and offers spectacular views over the city and the Salisbury Plain to Stonehenge and beyond.

Winchester Cathedral.
Near to Salisbury, Winchester Cathedral was once the site of a small Anglo-Saxon church but was later transformed in to the magnificent cathedral that still stands today.  Guests once flocked to here to visit the final resting place of St Swithun, whose remains supposedly offer healing qualities to the sick, whilst visitors today are more likely to enjoy the exhibition dedicated to Jane Austen who is laid to rest within the cathedral grounds.

Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral Stained glass windows.
Canterbury Cathedral Stained glass windows.

Possibly England’s most renowned cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral is currently basking in the limelight following the recent enthronement of a new Arch Bishop of Canterbury.  The cathedral has been the destination of pilgrimages since the middle ages and the murder of the then bishop Thomas Beckett as related in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Today’s pilgrims come in the form of tourists who flock to see the magnificent 12th and 13th century stained-glass “Miracle Windows” and the cathedral’s surrounding medieval structures such as the monastic ruins and the revived herbarium.

York Minster.
The seat of the Archbishop of York, York Minster’s importance in the Anglican Church is second only to that of Canterbury.  The Minster is the largest medieval cathedral in Northern Europe, dominating the York skyline and, from the 602 metre tall central tower, offers stunning views over the surrounding countryside towards the Dales and Moors.  Guests can enjoy the intricate gothic architecture and the world’s largest area of medieval stained glass in a single window.

St Pauls Cathedral.

St Pauls Cathedral Interior
St Pauls Cathedral Interior

Burnt down twice in its history, most recently in the Great Fire of London of 1666, St Pauls Cathedral as it stands today was a 35 year labour of love of architect Sir Christopher Wren.  And its magnificent dome remains an unmistakable feature of London’s iconic skyline today.  At the time of building, the dome was the second largest in the world, behind only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and in the interior is painted with intricate frescoes of the life of St Paul.  Visitors today can explore the cathedral from top to bottom from the crypt through the whispering gallery to the Golden Gallery at the very pinnacle of the dome.

These are five of our top selected English Cathedrals but there are many more besides.  In Wells the towering cathedral dominates what is essentially a small town, Lincoln Cathedral appeared in the “Da Vinci Code” film, Durham Cathedral enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status whilst Liverpool boasts no fewer than two cathedrals (both Anglican and Catholic).  If you want to explore England’s cathedral cities then why not tailor-make your own tour by contacting us here.

Happy Birthday Tube You!

Some of us may take it for granted, some people complain about it as they make their daily commute, but it should be remembered that the London Underground is the oldest subway in the World and last week celebrated its 150th Birthday!

London Underground or "Tube" Train
London Underground or “Tube” Train

Amazingly, the London Underground’s first steam engine chugged through the tunnels between Paddington and Farringdon way back on January 10th 1863. However, within days of this maiden journey, the single line was carrying tens of thousands of people each day and had become one of the busiest routes in England.  Built to ease congestion on the busy London streets above ground, the tracks were originally laid by digging long trenches, constructing the tunnels and then refilling the ground above.  Over the years the construction became more sophisticated, with the famous English engineer Isambard Brunel assisting in developing much deeper tunnels and extending the network across London.  The trains themselves followed suit, modernising from steam engines to electrified lines by the late 1800s.  Previously run as separate entities, and giving us the interesting line names (such as Bakerloo, Jubilee and Metropolitan) that are still so familiar to us today, by the 1930s the lines were all brought together under one publicly owned management system and the London Underground or “Tube” as we know it today began to take shape.

Roundel Logo of London Underground
Roundel Logo of London Underground

A century and half after the first journey, today the tube boasts 270 serviced stations, around 400 miles of track and up to 3.5 million journeys made every single day!  Whilst many choose to complain of high-prices, overcrowding and old-fashioned trains, it is undeniable that the London Underground is not only an essential part of the city but has also become an iconic part of the fabric of London and an attraction in itself.  The roundel logo (the red circle with the horizontal blue bar across its centre) and the schematic tube map (whose basic layout remains almost the same as its original design in 1931) have both become famous symbols of the city.  And the tube stations and their unique names have featured in art works, literature and music across the years.

London Underground Map
London Underground Map

Throughout 2013, the London Underground’s anniversary will be celebrated with the release of a special two-pound coin by the Royal Mint and new honorary stamps issued by the Royal Mail so if you’re over here on your travels, don’t forget to look out for them.

Love it or hate it the underground is an idea that has caught on; today there are around 160 subway systems in cities across the globe all following the trend that was set by London more than 150 years ago.  With its role in city life more important than ever and with extensive investment planned for the coming years, who knows what the tube could look like in another 150 years time?