27 November, 2005

Retail ramble

One way I get exercise is to walk to Woolton Village every weekend to do some shopping. It's a round trip of about four miles, gives me a chance to clear my head and refocus my eyes after a week staring at a computer screen, and takes in some of the most secluded, beautiful parts of Liverpool I've ever seen.

It's a route that bisects the city's Beatles tourist trail, meaning the customised Magical Mystery Tour bus lumbers into view from time to time. But the titular coach never seems to show up on Sunday mornings - along with most of the residents of the area - so this is the best time to stroll round one of the most Beatles-esque, yet one of the least Liverpool-esque, neighbourhoods to be found.

The main reason for that, I'm sure, is do with the fact that Woolton and its surrounding area is on a hill, at one remove from the rest of the unpreposessing sprawl that is Merseyside, and which was only incorporated into the city a few decades ago. So there's still a strong sense of identity and insularity - it calls itself a Village, for heaven's sake - fuelled by a shameless affluence, and once you're meandering round its quiet streets and alleys you really could be anywhere in the Home Counties.

Anyway, this retail ramble is, as I've discovered, best done in the autumn and winter when the dozens of trees that line the roads and parks are deep red, half-bare and wonderfully wistful-looking. This time of year there's also loads of leaves on the ground, which means you're able to shuffle your feet along the pavement engaging in, ahem, mulch ado about nothing.

My route takes me through the fine Reynolds Park, past St Peter's Church where Eleanor Rigby is buried and where McCartney first met Lennon at a village fete in 1957, then into the village proper alongside the bizarrely named Duck Pond car park and the old club house.

As you can see, it's a much-photographed vicinity; even my destination is available to view online. Then having struggled past the inevitable herds of pensioners who always seem to be dawdling round Sainsbury's aisles of a weekend morning, and run the gauntlet of the checkouts through which I always seem to be chased by another old person unwilling to allow me enough time to pack my bags and get myself together, it's back out and past the old cinema, a return through the park, and a pleasing descent back to my flat taking in Gateacre Grange (where, so some distant relative once assured me, my great-grandfather used to live - used to work more like, probably picking up leaves in the garden), and, in the far distance, the glorious sight of Winter Hill.

Over the eleven years I've lived in Liverpool I've contrived to move further and further away from the city centre, growing sequentially pissed off with the noise, atmosphere and burgeoning gangs of kids that roam the inner suburbs. I'm now right on the very edge, as far away as it's possible to be from Liverpool itself without falling into another region altogether. If - when - I have to move again, it's going to have to be right away from Merseyside. There's nowhere else left to go.


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