The last time I went to Liverpool was when I was at University in Leeds, exploring the canal which links the two. I never managed to find the canal in Liverpool – its not exactly in the town centre!
30 years later I stepped off the train at Lime Street station and immediately noticed the extensive building works, including the front of the station, which force you out through the side doors. How depressingly familiar everything looks from 30 years ago – some of the oldest store fronts I can remember seeing for a long time.
Half the city centre seems like this – virtually unchanged for three decades, while the other half is about as modern as it gets – and I have to say that neither side of town appealled.
I was already looking for return train times, but determined to see something of the new canal developments, including the widely talked about Liverpool Link, I followed the signs to the waterside and ended up at Albert Dock. This too was very familiar, as 30 years ago it was being developed into the best the 1980s could produce in terms of renovated docklands attractions. At least it is quite nicely restored compared with the rest of the docks.
So the first sign of the new canal was some rather dismal lines of mooring pontoons, with the obligatory electric posts. There’s no sign of any boats yet although 4,500 per annum will allegedly appear here according to the BW information sheet.
There is a new lock down into Albert dock, still under construction and lost somewhere amongst the cranes and hoardings surrounding the whole area – no danger of being able to get in by foot for a look, through a development which doesn’t even look started in some areas, let alone being complete. Its one of those hideous lifestyle waterside apartment developments which may not be appealing to the investors quite as much as it did on the drawing board.
In the shadow of the new museum, opening date 2010, is a channel, a bit like a storm drain, but the wooden rubbing boards on each side confirm this is supposed to be a canal. It emerges near the Pier Head, from where the wonderful old Mersey ferries still run, but if you can find the way in to the new pier building without a map, through more hoardings and temporary wire fences, then you are doing better than me, and another twenty or so tourists, all of whom missed the mid day boat trip.
The canal becomes totally surreal here, with a spacy multi level walkway along each side, where the underground channel briefly comes up for air before diving under perhaps 300 yards of car park. I braved the walk across this car park only to discover another bland modern set of warehouse developments, this time mostly hotels. The biggest shock was another new lock. The unused lock could be mistaken for some sort of odd water feature – the kind which springs into life at mid day, does a little performance and then goes back to sleep. I only hope that it gets the use which BW predicted.
I gave up and headed back, abandoning plans to weave through the car parks until the next canal viewing point as a sea mist turned into vicious rain, then sleet all whipped up by a very brisk sea breeze, as the Mersey ferry disappeared into the gloom. Wouldn’t you think after planning this whole project that it could feature a canalside walkway – heaven forbid, styled on a towpath? But there is no continuous waterside walk.
I rushed back to the station past fountains, some sort of concrete park, John Lewis, Neros, Starbucks, McDonalds, Zaavi (closing down sale – new stock daily!), Armani, the Cavern Quarter and some imposing grand buildings from another age which look down rather sadly over the new town. You can gather I am not impressed. And the Leeds and Liverpool canal is still a long way from the centre.
UPDATE 28Mar09: According to Waterscape.com April 20th will be the first day on which the public will be able to access the new canal link by boat, with intitial trial runs complete an opening ceremony was carried out earlier this week.