The Old Dock Tour Liverpool
Look behind the Liverpool Big Wheel, down near the Albert Dock, and you’ll currently see an enormous Paul McCartney frozen in time, flashing his trademark peace sign to the gulls that hover on the breeze. Hannah and Cameron play about next to the poster advertising his latest concert and homecoming. They look like Barbie and Ken next to this mighty local giant. For three hours the other night, Macca was a real presence again in Liverpool, bringing back ‘Yesterday’ to thousands of middle aged fans playing the last night of his tour at the Echo Arena. But at the end of the concert he went back to being a song, a statue, a disc on a wall in Matthew Street.
It’s the people that make the place
While The Beatles still bring in the worshippers in their thousands, (826,000 day visitors a year to be precise), it’s the more everyday people of Liverpool that keep the place ticking over, ensure that visitors have a good experience and communicate the essence of its past and its present. From the street sweepers to the staff at Visit Liverpool to the education officers in the new Museum of Liverpool, they are part of the city’s modern character. They appreciate how much money tourism brings in and work to retain its reputation. Last year 54.5 million visitors experienced their hospitality and warm, friendly welcome. These people know this city. They are part of its beating scouse heart.
Meet Danny and Yazz
Today we meet two of the most well informed people in the city. Danny and Yazz are tour guides at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. They communicate the city’s part in the slave trade, and they show people the old Liverpool, deep beneath the multi million pound regeneration of Liverpool One. They are an accidental double act (Danny’s the straight one of the comedy team, the foil to Yazz’s mad hair, blue glasses and continual jokes) who individually stumbled across the job advert while working as night watchmen in the local museums. Now, three times a day, twice a week, they lead archaeologists, school groups, families and tourists on tours underneath the new space that is Liverpool One to see the original commercial foundations of the city, the Old Dock. Their guided Old Dock tour of the world’s first commercial enclosed wet dock, is a free, entertaining and interesting look into the city’s past. And, it has some really terrible jokes.
“Prince Albert sailed into here on The Fairy,” says Yazz.
“Not The Fairy Across The Mersey?” questions Danny.
These boys know their history
From a discussion of how Salthouse Dock was built, to an explanation of William Hutchinson’s influential studies of tidal heights, the pair gear their talk to their audience. If you’re a historian they do dates. If you’re an archaeologist they do rock formation. If you’re aged eleven they do lightbulb jokes. And they never stop doing it, whatever the weather.
“Never cancelled one yet,” says Danny, as we cross the road from Salthouse Dock to the site where the Old Dock was excavated in 2001. “We did think about it a few days ago when the wind was howling and you could hardly see your face. We thought will anyone bother? And then we got someone who had flown in from Greece especially and had been looking forward to this tour for 18 months.”
The tour takes you under the city and into an atmospherically lit cavern that resembles a mini grand canyon where we stand looking at a brick wall. “Building the side of the port out of brick wasn’t a great thing when you have huge ships coming in and bashing against it. But Liverpool learnt from its mistakes. They never built one out of brick again,” Yazz explains.
Underneath Liverpool One in the Old Dock
Down here I am reminded of the scouse Willy Russell character Shirley Valentine, who spent her entire day talking to a wall. But I can also imagine the tide pushing in and out, drawn by the moon, into this corner of Liverpool. I can imagine the workers on the dockside shifting bags of cotton and tobacco and tea. I can hear seagulls fighting over scraps and imagine what emigrants felt as they said goodbye to their loved ones and made for an unknown life in the new world. This port in its heyday handled 41% of world trade and I consider how Liverpool has come full circle, building its hugely successful shopping centre directly on top of its hugely successful dock. That’s why the WAGS spend so much money. This city has shopping in its blood.
Danny and Yazz don’t agree about everything. They argue cheerfully about how Liverpool was named, with Yazz snorting about Danny’s King John theory. But they both agree that Liverpool One is good for the city and talk about how bleak the Albert Dock was twenty years ago, “Now everyone is back here again. Liverpool One acts as a fantastic link for the waterfront. We get people flying in all the time from other parts of the world who want to figure out how they can connect up their waterfronts and city centres.”
A touch of toilet humour
Lavatory humour takes over as the lads explain how the dock closed and eventually turned into a big toilet, with 30 families excreting their waste beneath the walls. They impress the kids with the news that this all had to be cleaned up by an archaeologist with a toothbrush.
And then it’s all over, and we return to ground level. “As we say in Liverpool, it’s chucking out time,” the double act grin. They then wander off to do their next tour as we stand blinking and rubbing our eyes in Liverpool One; the shining beacon of shopping built on the foundations of an icon of world trade.
- You can go to the Republic of the Moon, FACT
- Where’s there’s tea there’s hope
- I lost my tooth to art, Palaces at The Bluecoat
- Down the Rabbit Hole at Tate Liverpool
- Danny and Yazz take us on The Old Dock Tour
- Meeting the Locals in the Friendliest City
- Sleeping with the Joker in the Albert Dock
- It’s Like a Dream but Better>
- I’m taking the kids back to my Liverpool Childhood