Our introduction to said friendliness was a taxi driver who found us (Cressida, Alex and I) peering despairingly through the rain, in the dark, at an Albert Dock map searching for Parr Street and our hotel. He scooped us up, led us up ‘up town’ to the Parr Street Studios (‘Och, you’ll never find that, luv – just follow me…’) and then refused to take any payment/ (‘Arr – you’re just soft…’)
We had gone to Liverpool for the Allergy and FreeFrom Show North, Cressida to represent the FreeFrom Food Awards, Alex, the FreeFrom Skincare Awards. But rather than staying in one of the ten thousand chain hotels (Premier Inn, Jury’s, Raddisson, Novotel…..) around the docks, we had opted for the Parr Street Studios – a rather famous recording studio in the centre of town. Not only do they also have two live venues on the ground floor, but 12 hotel apartments/rooms on the second floor – and are staffed by more delightfully friendly Liverpudlians!! This meant both that we got to sit in on some great live music before heading for bed, and that we were right in the middle of town so that Cressida and I, who are both alarmingly early risers, could go for early morning walks to explore the city – including the cathedrals!
Liverpool’s two twentieth century cathedrals are testament either to the strength of the city’s religious feeling – or to its’ grandees wish to be remembered – or both. Positively lowering across the city at each other, both are gob-smacking impressive, one for its sheer size, the other for its originality and its glowing stained glass.
The Anglican cathedral, perched on the top of a disused quarry was started in 1904 and finished in 1978 and has the largest everything… It is the largest cathedral in the UK, one of the five largest in Europe, it has the largest organ, the highest nave….
But while its sheer size does take one’s breath away, that is not its only charm. Its red sandstone walls and arches, commendably uncluttered by the usual paraphernalia which adorn cathedral walls, do soar magnificently and its proportions, for something so massive, are gracious. Its position is spectacular and its green copper roofs contrast stunningly with the red sandstone.
The cathedral is also remarkably practical in its approach to maintaining itself. I was surprised, on my first wander by, to hear heavy rock echoing through the main doors. Further investigation revealed that the cathedral had been hired out to a music award for its presentation party and the nave was full of banqueting tables and chairs while a stage was stretched across in front of the choir on which some of the ‘acts’ were rehearsing. Meanwhile, one side chapel had been converted into a shop with a balcony coffee bar, while another was a fully fledged restaurant. (Their website has a ‘venue hire’ section which would do a city livery company proud.)
A further charm of the Anglican cathedral is St James Garden , a green ‘moat’ which surrounds the cathedral on three sides in which the headstones of Liverpool’s worthies are positively piled. A perfect place to walk your dog and to note, sadly, how many children of the good burghers of the city predeceased their parents by many years, often not making it beyond childhood.
Over on the other hill on the other side of the city centre sits the Roman Catholic cathedral, a more recent arrival than its Anglican rival. Thanks to the determination of Archbishop Heenan and the genius of Sir Frederick Gibberd, it opened, to much acclaim, in 1967, a mere five years after building started in 1962. Its circular design (no worshipper is ever more than 25 metres from the central altar) ‘expresses the new spirit of the liturgy then being radically reformed by the Second Vatican Council’, according to the cathedral’s website.
Sadly, our busy morning did not allow for more than the most cursory circumnavigation of the side altars (each a different shape and height, some open, some closed) and we were too early to get down into the spectacular Lutyens crypt, all that is left of the original 1930s plan, which was incorporated into the Gibberd design and which has just been reopened to the public.
But our early morning walk was not all cathedral. The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and, opposite, the splendid high Victorian Philharmonic Dining Rooms complete with, what we are assured are the UK’s only Grade 1 listed Gents’ loos!
Rodney Street, and then, down by the dock, the famous Liver Building and Albert Dock itself which houses not only a Tate Gallery but the Liverpool Museum, the International Slavery Museum and the Merseyside Maritime Museum. And, next door, the Open Eye photography gallery with a really excellent exhibition of the work of the Liverpool-born photojournalist, Tim Hetherington who was killed in Misrata in Libya in 2011.
And yes, I did manage to visit all but the Liverpool Museum – but only because, in return for driving us up there, paying and wielding the video camera, I was allowed off the stand every now and then for ‘cultural improvement’….
Meanwhile, Cressida and Alex (off visiting Skincare Awards exhibitors when I took this picture) had an excellent show – along with a seriously buzzing few thousand visitors (we were told that more people had come through the door on Saturday than in the whole show last year) – and lots of busy exhibitors.
All the ‘regulars’ were there – Amy’s Kitchen, Alara (we bought some wonderful superfood smoothie ingredients from them…), Clives (delicious) Pies, Doves Farm , DS Gluten Free, Eskal (of the peanut-free ‘peanut butter’), Fria from Sweden, Goodness Direct, Hale & Hearty. Koko and their coconut milks, Nairns and their oatcakes, Perkier, Prewetts and both BFree and PureBred from Ireland. Venice Bakery with their ace everything-free pizza bases topped with MozzaRisella dairy-free ‘mozzarella’, Warburtons and Wellfoods (very much in home territory) and lots of gluten-free beer…. Green’s, Celia lager and Estrella very much in evidence. Plus, of course, Sainsbury and Tesco – both long term Allergy Show supporters. (It was, in fact, one of the Tesco guys who told us about the Grade 1 listed loos….) Plus a nice sprinkling of new manufacturers: The Honest Carrot, Panjaban with their cook-in curry sauces, Afia’s samosas, the Chuckling Goat with their goat kefir, and of course the big new arrival on the scene, the US gluten-free giant Udi’s complete with a photo booth so that you could get yourself on their Facebook page munching an Udi’s muffin!
And over on the skincare side, another crop of happy exhibitors – and even happier visitors! Check out Alex’s blog for more details.
All in all, an excellent few days. Well done, Allergy Show team, for putting together another ‘top hole’ show – and for introducing us to the delights of Liverpool!