A walk along the Mersey to a historic Liverpool pub: The Bridewell

Long before Covid, I was a fan of the comfortable, the cabin, the alcove. Call me antisocial, but I’d rather focus on the look than the hustle and bustle or “talent” of the bar. Consequently, Liverpool’s Bridewell pub has my ideal layout, with five cozy cells, previously used to house scoundrels, providing private, dimly lit spaces for a drinker with or without friends.

The pub was recently voted Liverpool’s best by Camra, despite stiff competition, and while the gong is mostly down to its impressive array of bottled, draft and draft beers, it also wins out for me on historical interest. It’s in the Ropewalks area, just west of Chinatown, where rope making and chandlery services were once provided to ships. The pub is inside an 1840s police station, which no doubt housed the occasional drunken sailor; the high red brick wall was designed to keep out prying eyes and thieves. The Bridewells were prisons for minor or correctional offenders, named for the first such establishment in the former Bridewell Palace, near Fleet Street in London.

In addition to a lockup, the building served (supposedly) as a prisoner-of-war camp and, since the 1980s, a rehearsal space for local bands (including Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Icicle Works), fine-dining restaurant, and bar. of cocktails. A plaque commemorates the story of Charles Dickens being sworn in as a special agent in Liverpool for one night to gather material for The Uncommercial Traveller.

If this were Spain, it would be full of restaurants or cafes with terraces. On the Mersey, there’s a Chinese and a pub

We start our walk at the Pier Head. Ferry port and bus station, it was built on George’s Dock, not far from the muddy inlet or pond that gave the town its name. There is much to enjoy here, including the larger-than-life bronzes of the Beatles and Tom Murphy’s statue of naval hero Captain Johnnie Walker DSO, the Merchant Navy War Memorial, and the famous Three Graces that earned the city its status as UNESCO world heritage. – as well as large, modern buildings that helped her lose it.

From here we head south, sticking to the waterside path, passing the shops and museums of Albert Dock (opened 1846), the exhibition centers and concert halls of King’s Dock (1785), and Brunswick Marina. Dock (1832). You can’t help but notice the juxtaposition of beautiful, austere old port buildings and tacky “show apartments.” Plenty of regular housing has been built near the city centre, much of it in the 1980s when Liverpool thought it would always be poor and jobless, but at least the river isn’t awash with exclusive apartment blocks. Behind it loom Liverpool’s two mighty cathedrals, Radio City Tower and the towering city centre.

At the entrance to one estate is a statue of John Hulley (1832-75), in which “Liverpool’s first Olympian”, also known as “the Gymnasticarch”, seems torn between running away or boxing. For a time, light industrial sites take over from housing, with bits of historic construction lost amid anonymous developments. There are patches of wasteland. If this were Spain, or the South Bank of London, it would be full of restaurants or cafes with terraces. On the Mersey, there is a Chinese and a pub.

Across the river are the two gates of the Camell Laird shipyard and the Tranmere terminals where the oil is offloaded and, blurred in the distance, the Stanlow Refinery, as celebrated in the OMD song Stanlow. With binoculars you can see Eastham on the Wirral, where the Manchester Ship Canal begins. Maritime history is everywhere; Handy information signs point out that this stretch of riverfront used to be Harrington and Herculaneum Docks. A red brick clock tower is all that remains of Toxteth Dock. Looking inland, you will see long rows of terraces on top of a cliff; it’s the Dingle, as he appears in TV shows like Boys from the Blackstuff and Bread. The docks were built mainly on land reclaimed from the sea.

The Mersey is a sea-seeking Amazon river, big enough to absorb the watchful eye of walking and overthinking.

If all the visual cues become too much, there is always the river itself, always flowing, always changing. I caught it at mid-tide on a glorious cloudless day, with exposed mudflats creating shimmering islands. The Mersey is wide enough to absorb the attentive gaze when you walk and think too much. There are plenty of places to sit, watch the fishermen and strollers, or sunbathe.

The views widen as you pass the Festival Gardens site, created in 1984 as part of Michael Heseltine’s ambitious Liverpool regeneration plan when he was Merseyside Minister. The site is being converted into even more riverside housing. The thoroughfare here, known as the Otterspool Promenade, also opens up, attracting more strollers, cyclists, skaters and scooters.

It is possible to continue along the river to Speke Hall, but it is quite arduous. I detour to the interior of the boardwalk to see something of the center of the city. Any return route is interesting, because Liverpool’s districts are a rich mix of houses and people, but I would recommend going through St Michael-in-the-Hamlet, Sefton Park (turning left at the ice cream parlour), Lawrence Road, Crown Street Park, the Georgian Quarter and Chinatown. The route showcases Liverpool’s hodgepodge of housing – from Victorian mounds to student blocks in the ‘knowledge quarter’ – and its cultural diversity (Sikh temples, Chinese pagodas, African barbershops, Halal supermarkets), and brings home the clamor and the chaos. of urban environments and the pure truth that the river is a balm and an outlet.

Google map of the route.

beginning spring head
Distance 9 miles
Weather 4 hours
full ascent 235 meters
Difficulty Moderate

the pub

Fiona and Dominic Hornsby took over the Grade II listed Bridewell in 2019. “Pubs should be at the heart of the community in which they operate, and we have worked hard to achieve this,” says Fiona. As well as the Camra award, the pub was shortlisted in the Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards for Pub of the Year, which was won by their other pub, The Denbigh Castle.

Related: Explore the Leeds-Liverpool canal the new super slow way

It has draft, continental and craft beers. “Also, for fun, we try to find as many little-known spirits for the bar to add a bit of color,” says Fiona. There are wine, gin, beer tastings, quiz nights, TV sports – Fiona an Everton fan, Dominic a St Helens rugby league fan, both love gee-gees – and evening talks from the likes of the ex league player Adrian Morley and, soon, Andy Gray. There is a lovely enclosed terrace and seating in Campbell Square.

Where to stay

The Lock & Key is set in a Georgian townhouse conversion with 14 smart bedrooms created in collaboration with House of Sloane designers. The period-style decor has contemporary touches and features botanical wallpapers, velvet headboards, and, in some rooms, a beverage cart. There is an excellent breakfast/brunch menu (full breakfast £8.50, granola £6); burgers, pizza and pasta served for dinner, and a cocktail bar.
doubles from £85 room only, lockandkeyhotels.com

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