“Rural Liverpool!?” you ask…
‘Rural’ may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of Liverpool, but look again. Not only is the city blessed with fabulous parks and green spaces but it is surrounded by fantastic countryside and, of course, rivers, sea and marshlands. Come for a weekend and you will definitely want to come back for a week.
This is an expanded version of an article I have written for VisitEngland.co.uk. I have a column there which involves me travelling the country looking for great, low-cost ways to have a lovely holiday in beautiful England.
Arrive at Liverpool Lime Street station. Take the underground at Liverpool Lime Street straight to the wonderful village of Port Sunlight (15 mins door to door). You can easily spend the whole morning in Port Sunlight. In fact you may fall in love with it to such an extent that you decide to spend the whole day there!
The village was created by local landowner and businessman viscount Leverhulme who set up Lever Brothers. He built the village for his factory workers at the end of the nineteenth century. It’s a beautiful place with quaint rows of cottages nestled around communal gardens and the very grand Lady Lever gallery which houses a fabulous collection of Wedgwood items among other artworks.
Start off at the Port Sunlight museum where you can find out about the fascinating history of the place and perhaps stop for coffee or a light lunch in their cafe. Walk around the village stopping particularly at the newly-refurbished war memorial which is a work of art in itself. If you spend the whole day, drop in at the Tudor Rose tea rooms, take in a show at the Gladstone Theatre and have dinner at the Leverhulme Hotel and Spa. In fact, you might love the village so much that you decide to stay there overnight. If so, there are cottages for holiday hire. Just go to www.portsunlightvillage.com to book. Rentals range from £567 to £618 per calendar month.
Did you know… there are only four Wedgwood ‘jasper’ fireplaces in the world and three of them are in the Lady Lever gallery in Port Sunlight?
Next… Get back on the train and nip up to Birkenhead (Birkenhead Park Station) for a quiet stroll in the park. You can spend a happy hour or so walking round the park, sitting by the lake, doing some exercises on the outdoor gym equipment and having a snack in the Cappuccino’s cafe.
Did you know… Birkenhead park is the first publicly funded civic park in Britain? In other words, the first park where the working class had open public space to enjoy their leisure.
Or… go down south a few stops on the train (alight at Bromborough station) and pop into the village of Raby Mere. This is a tiny little chocolate-box-picturesque village with quaint thatched roof houses. Take some bread and feed the ducks and swans in the nearby lake to while away an hour or two.
Overnight stay… Stay at Mere Brook House in Thornton Hough in the Wirral for 5-star gold bed and breakfast that is like home from home… but better! It’s a beautiful house in lovely country surroundings and the owner, Lorna, together with Joanne who runs the housekeeping side make you feel so at home you won’t want to leave. They even offer locally-sourced cheese and biscuits and home-made cake for you to nibble on overnight. For dinner, pop down the road to The Cowshed restaurant at the historic Wheatsheaf Inn in Raby for a fabulous meal from its award-winning chef. Or go back into Liverpool to The Munro which does an ‘Early Doors’ two-course menu for £13.95.
After a delicious breakfast full of locally-sourced produce at Mere Brook House, it’s time to explore the countryside on the Liverpool side of the Mersey. Take the train (at Bromborough station) back to Liverpool and pick up the bus (Liverpool Airport) to take you to Speke Hall, right next to the airport (of course if you’re flying in for the weekend this is a good place to start your explorations!). The Hall itself is open regularly to the public between March and October plus some extra dates in the winter months. It’s an impressive, and slightly spooky, Tudor mansion with delightful grounds to walk in. Even if the house isn’t open it’s worth wandering round the grounds particularly their meadows which are lovely in the summer. Drop into the cafe too which, as with all National Trust properties, serves quality food throughout the day.
Next… Get the train from Liverpool South Parkway and spend the afternoon on the east side of Liverpool in the region of Knowsley where you can enjoy the delights of Knowsley Hall and its safari park. The stately home is only open to the public for one week a year but the whole place can be hire, owned by Lord and Lady Derby, by anyone (if you have the cash!) for a weekend or longer. It’s often hired for weddings and couples love to be able to treat the mansion as their own place for a few days.
The safari park is a joy for anyone of any age. Not only is there a host of wild animals (including baby ones) to delight in, but there’s a great restaurant for lunch or tea and lots of activities for children if you have some with you. Again, it’s a place you could stay in for a couple of hours or the whole day, particularly for kids who can join their ‘Intrepid Explorers’ club and take part in exciting activities each weekend. If all the fresh air and activity has been too much you could, instead, spend an hour or two in the Knowsley Spa in the grounds of the estate for a couple of hours of relaxation and pampering.
Did you know… William Shakespeare was part of an acting troupe that performed regularly at Knowsley Hall and the 6th Earl of Derby is believed by some to be the real author of Shakespeare’s works?
Everyone’s different, so you might like to replace some of my itinerary for one or more of these alternatives:
- Check out the wonderful Palm House in Liverpool’s Sefton Park. This symphony in glass was beautifully restored in the 90s and is now home to a variety of exotic plants. It’s worth visiting if you go for a walk in the park during the day or if you want some entertainment at night. They have regular events including comedy nights and dance classes.
- If you’re coming by car you can easily spend a whole day dropping into picturesque Wirral villages along the M53. Pop in to popular gastro pub, The Devon Doorway, in Heswall while you’re there. Locals say it’s one of the best eateries in the area.
- The whole Wirral peninsula is also great for cycling and horse riding as it is generally flat and for horses there’s a great mixture of countryside and seaside to trot through.
- If you’re going by train remember you can get a third off your ticket with a railcard and they only cost £28 each.
- Also, the earlier you can book the better for getting cheap deals. If you’re not completely sure of your dates but you want a good deal, book with Southern Railway as you can book any ticket with them and they will give you a full refund if you don’t use it.
- Megabus.com has amazingly cheap trips from various parts of Britain to Liverpool. The earlier you book, the cheaper they are.
- Happily, Liverpool is full of very well-priced eateries but you can often get special deals at Lastminute.com and 5pm.co.uk.
- Prices for B&Bs are very reasonable in and around Liverpool. For an even cheaper deal try Airbnb.co.uk which offers locals’ spare rooms to stay in. Prices start from less than £20 a night.
Getting there by car
From Liverpool to Port Sunlight go under the Mersey and get onto the A41. Birkenhead is near the top of the A41. It’s also worth driving up the M53 as there are lots of lovely little villages on either side of the road to drop into and explore. For Speke Hall go back to Liverpool city and follow signs for the airport. Knowsley is on the east side of Liverpool off the M57.