The day dawned cold and wet. I lay in the hammock of the Rascal trying to decide if I really wanted to get up. The library was just across the street (free wifi) and the pub was just a block away. There was even a Middle Eastern market around the corner that would be opening soon. All in all, this was not a bad spot to spend the day. However this was the third night out of four I had spent there and the locals were beginning to wonder. So I made the decision to get up, pack my belongings, and hit the road.
I stopped over at the library to wash up a bit and make a decision as to where I actually wanted to go. The entire country is only about a five hour drive from end to end, so, really anything was game. I weighed my options and decided that I would head over to Liverpool. I’m as much of a Beatles fan as the next person, so it seemed like as good a place as any for a visit. Plus I was pretty convinced they would have a coin-op laundry I could use. My clothes were getting a bite ripe!
On my way out of Sheffield I stopped by Lee (the welder)’s house. He had mentioned there was another team stopping by to get fitted for a sump guard. I had yet to meet anyone else doing the Rally and I was curious to see “the competition”. I pulled up to his place and saw a Fiat Panda up on jacks. Standing outside was clean-cut kid who was chatting away with Lee. Introductions were made and it turns out the kid is originally from Seattle, having spent the past four years at Boston College playing rugby and studying pre-law. He is doing the trip with three other ruggers in a car that makes the Rascal seem like an RV. While they are taking a less challenging route (north through Russia, only dipping into the stans for a couple of days), the real challenge will be them not killing each other. “It looked a lot bigger on the internet,” he told me as we stood in the rain. He is not the first person to have made that mistake.
Driving through the north of England was a lovely experience. I took side-roads through small villages, and enjoyed the pastoral scenes of sheep grazing on the rich, green grass. The small town of Tintwistle had an early 19th century church for sale. As I drove on I wondered how much it cost, and then how soon I would run out of things to do to keep myself occupied. As much as I love visiting the country, I think I am a city boy at heart.
Liverpool was exactly as I had imagined: gray and drizzling. A jumble of buildings representing architectural styles of the past three centuries crowded the streets. A port town, the waterfront dominated all the activity with cruise ships, dry docks, and a summer celebration with carnival rides by the briny water.
I did a short self-guided walking tour of some of the Beatles sights. I started with the statue of the Fab Four at the docks. It is a wonderful statue, capturing the lads out for a walk, early in their career. Paul and George are in conversation with each other, while John looks off in the distance, contemplative. As usual, Ringo is one step behind, the odd man out.
I walked through the financial district on my way to the Cavern Club. Close to the waterfront, this is where the ship building companies and the import/export traders were based. Today it is still a major port city and, while the names may have changed, much of the business of Liverpool is concentrated in the same pursuits. I turned along a busy street and had to double back to find the statue of Eleanor Rigby. “For all the lonely people,” describes the statue perfectly. There she sits, tucked off to the side on an unassuming park bench, a small bird nipping the crumbs from the newspaper wrapper of her lunch.
The main focus of Beatlemania in Liverpool is Mathew Street, home to the Cavern Club. It is at this club that the Beatles coalesced as a group and made a name for themselves. With over 200 appearances there, the club and the band came synonymous with each other. The club is still there, albeit in a slightly altered form and the rest of the street has tried to get in on the game. Every bar and hotel are Beatles themed, and the list of Beatles songs and lyrics turned into cocktails is almost as impressive as their list of hits.
I was going to go to the Fab4D Experience (a Beatles museum) but saw that the Tate Liverpool Museum was close by and decided to take that in instead. A relatively small branch of the Tate museum, the Liverpool Tate was hosting an exhibit of modern art called “Constellations”. “At the heart of each constellation is a ‘trigger’ artwork, chosen for its profound and revolutionary effect on modern and contemporary art. Surrounding the trigger works are artworks that relate to it and to each other, across time and location. Visitors to constellations can enjoy an imaginative display of artworks by Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Rachel Whiteread, Glenn Ligon and many, many more.” Instead of the usual chronological art experience, this was more of a conversation between the pieces, and allowed the viewer to engage much more deeply with each piece individually.
With sore feet and a full brain, I decided it was time to leave Liverpool. Ever since my post on the 4th of July I had toyed with the idea of visiting the Ponticelli Aqueduct again. Only a little over an hour south of Liverpool this would be the perfect place for me to spend the night.
The drive through the Welsh countryside did not disappoint. Plenty of small villages where the number of sheep outnumbered the people ten to one, all the signs in both English and Gaelic, and the true sense that the Welsh are trying to hold on to a separate identity. I followed my GPS to the “Ponticelli Aqueduct and Car Park” which ended up taking me down a small road, across a narrow bridge and under the aqueduct itself. The road dead-ended in a little turnaround. While this was not what I had in mind, I had to admit that it was beautiful. Just down the bank I could hear the shallow river flowing over rocks. Across the road, a dozen cows looked up from chewing the grass to take me in. Perhaps they were trying to figure out why there was a Yak on my Rascal.
I walked back along the road for a while, taking some photos. There was a small football pitch under the arches of the aqueduct, and I was a little jealous of whoever got to play there. I wonder if Portland would consent to putting a rugby pitch under the St. John's bridge…?
My stomach started to grumble, reminding me that I hadn’t had much food. I got back in the Rascal and drove back up the road to the small town of Trevor where the Aqueduct (and the canal) end. I pulled into the car park of the Telford Inn, the pub at the end of the aqueduct. We must have eaten here 30 years ago. Even though my grandfather’s knees had both been replaced, I don’t recall us ever walking very far from the boat. Located right on the water, this was the perfect place to enjoy a pint and the view. However, with the rain coming down and a chill setting in, I opted to go inside and have some warmth.
My accent immediately gave me away and the locals all assumed I was there on a canal boat. When I explained the real reason of my trip everyone got real excited. Driving to Mongolia was a lot different than the usual tourists coming for a trip across the aqueduct! I ordered another pint and sat down to a lovely meat pie, baked fresh that afternoon.
As the evening wore on, Sarah, the owner, eventually came back and sat with me. Her father, John (she introduced him as “JW”, but he introduced himself as John), also came back to join the chat. It turns out that Sarah’s uncle was on a cycling trip around the world and had also visited Mongolia. It was on her list of places to visit. Sarah had spent quite a bit of time traveling around, including several years in Greece where she met her husband. Her grandfather originally came to Wales and set up a quarry. He bought land out in the country, and the family spent summers there. Her father was going to take over the quarry, but it went out of business with the economic crash of the 80’s. Instead he went back to england to work in the garment factories. On the weekends he would bring groups of tourists to Wales, and often brought the family along. Sarah always loved the area and the summer holidays at her grandfather’s property. So, when it came time for her and her husband to settle down, they bought the Telford Inn. They live above the restaurant in the original rooms set up for Thomas Telford as he oversaw the construction of the Aqueduct.
She and her father told me all about the pub, the aqueduct, and the people who have come to visit. There were the three guys who showed up in a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, and a Porsche. The had a Bentley along with them “to carry the luggage.” They were just out for a weekend drive! Then there was the time that the aqueduct was in the running as a World Heritage site. Sarah had no idea the aqueduct had even been nominated until a couple of dozen people showed up “with satellite phones and video cameras.” According to Sarah, they were in contention with the Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal as structures of architectural and structural importance. The Ponticelli Aqueduct beat them out because it was still a working, functioning piece of engineering! (The dignitaries had insisted on champagne and strawberries to celebrate. Sarah just stared at them. “We are a pub in Wales. It’s not like I keep those things laying around!”)
As the evening wore on, it became clear that I was keeping everyone from going home. Sarah insisted that I sleep in their car park for the night and handed me an apple and granola bar for breakfast.
I had assumed I would be up with the early morning light as I was most days. However I slept like the dead and did not stir until half past nine. Yesterday’s rain and clouds were a thing of the past. The morning sky was a deep blue, with bright white clouds losing their fight to obscure the sun. I walked across the aqueduct, taking in the striking countryside. Below me was the river I had parked beside when I first arrived and the little soccer pitch. Further down the valley was another aqueduct, just as beautiful, but loving in the shadow of its more famous sibling. I stopped and took a photo of myself part way across the bridge, It was the exact spot I had stood in thirty years before, taking a photo of my grandfather as he piloted his riverboat across the aqueduct. For a brief moment I was connected in time and space to him, to a younger me, and to both of our journeys.