11th – 13th July 2014
Prunella and the boys have headed off to Oxford and I’m sticking around in Gloucestershire for a couple more days. John and I drop Prunella and the boys off at the Stroud station and we head home via a hardware store to pick up some cement and aggregate. We spend the afternoon building a concrete footing for a wobbly brick pillar that is going to be re-used in the corner of John’s small front garden. It’s a nice constructive afternoon, fortified by cups of tea, the supervision of an enthusiastic Dalmatian and we rounded it off with a self-satisfied glass of wine or two.
Saturday arrives and it’s my reason to stay behind: RIAT 2014, the Royal International Air Tattoo, is the World’s largest military airshow, held annually at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. I’m a second generation planespotter and this is an opportunity not to be missed, it’s a rare thing to have such a show at home, in our quiet corner of Australia.
I secured a supposedly sold out Saturday ticket at the Stroud Tourist Office earlier in the week, and was checking the weather forecast every day since. Fortunately Saturday dawns only partly cloudy, so I set off on the train to Swindon, and join the throng of families and amateur photographers for the shuttle coach. Soon it’s swinging along narrow lanes towards the countryside setting of Fairford aerodrome.
Soon I’m in wingnut heaven, wandering along past the immaculately lined up aerobatic teams of the Italian, French, Swiss and British Air Forces, here to celebrate the 50th display season of their colleagues the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows. I take up a spot to watch the display, which features some impressive and gloriously noisy displays of seriously powerful hardware. All in all it’s a long day, highlights include a Dakota transport, resplendent in the colours of the D-Day invasion exactly 70 years ago, the multi-hued smoke of the display teams and visitors from across Europe and the Middle East.
There’s some interesting aircraft on the ground as well, and it’s possible to chat with the crews of aircraft from as far afield as the USAF and Japan. The most moving display is a slow, rumbling flypast of the UK’s only flying Lancaster Bomber, carefully maintained since it rolled off the production lines in World War Two. The sedate performance makes a tribute that somehow eclipses even the most energetic of the modern displays.
It’s also a long overdue dose of flying, and a golden opportunity grasped with both hands.
On the Sunday I’m off early on a bus from the village to Gloucester. The rain has set in, and I feel a little sorry for those attending the airshow on a day when the flying might be up against the elements.
From Gloucester, I board a train that heads north, out of the rolling Cotswolds and into the midlands. The journey passes with a pleasant chat with Patty, a Chinese expat who is bringing up her daughtier in the UK – a very different world and an interesting conversation. At Birmingham’s modern New Street Station, I am greeted on the platform by Prunella and the boys, whose journey north from Oxford also passes through this point. We have a nice snack together in the concourse, before heading off to our separate platforms.
My train whirrs north again, through Wolverhampton and Staffordshire and up to Liverpool’s Lime Street Terminus. This is a new part of England for me – it’s always good to explore, however briefly, a new corner. The colossal stone and brick-lined cutting on the approach to the station is a sign of the huge industrial-era effort used to build this iconic British port city. I disembark from the train into a sunny glass-covered station, bustling with purpose and energy. Steven, my couch-surfing host (who will later host Prunella and the boys), picks me out from the throng, and soon we are heading to his house to deposit my bag. On the road again, with another couch surfer in tow, we drop in on his converted warehouse office, where he and some friends head off for a free-running class.
I turn right and head downhill, toward the famous docks. I slowly gravitate towards the city centre, among the red-brick basins and wharves, the cranes and the warehouses which have been repurposed as offices, hotels and apartments. I pass the modern entertainment arena, and then I’m down at Albert Dock, where, despite the clear, sunny afternoon, a fierce breeze is blowing along the Mersey and into the city. The dock is the centrepiece of redevelopment work brought on by Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture back in 2008.
The city has not rested on its laurels, however, and there is a catalogue of events at the various galleries. In a dry dock, a ship has been painted with a multicoloured version of World War I dazzle camouflage, which sits somewhat in contrast to grey steel, glass and red brick. The Sunday afternoon sun has brought the punters out to lick ice creams, wander the shops and squeeze the last drops out of a summer weekend.
I wander past the majestic Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Offices, and the street where the Cavern Club once stood (and where a host of somewhat tacky imitators cluster again). Later I meet Steve and his friends for a delicious bowl of noodles and a pint or three while Argentina slide to defeat at the hands of a clinical Germany. The World Cup, a background theme of our trip in these last two months, has come to its conclusion.
I enjoyed Liverpool in the brief eighteen hours I was there – like so many places, it deserves a longer and more thorough exploration.
Read more about Liverpool when the rest of the family gets here – Here.