Forty years ago, Jim and Karen did their first OE as a couple of 20 year olds. With their trusty Kombi van they spent close to three years on the other side of the world. For over 20 years they planned to head back for another OE, and following kids, mortgages and careers (and 40 years), they’re back on the road (or rather the water – as they’re currently canal boating in the UK). It’s 40 years on … take two! In this instalment, they visit Chester and Liverpool. 

We are into our last week or so on the UK canal boating trip now. While I will be sorry to finish up in the beast, at the same time I think we are just about ready to move on to the next stage of our travels. In reality, I think the poor weather over the last week or two has dampened things for us (sorry no pun intended). Don’t get me wrong – I would do this again and I would definitely recommend the experience to everyone. Next time you’re over here you should give it a go.

Since leaving Wales we have travelled a bit further north towards Chester and while there we decided on a wee side trip to Liverpool.

A side trip to the World Heritage Site of Chester

During the course of our travels on the boat, a number of people had suggested we take the side trip to Chester. It’s another out and back canal trip for a boat our size but everyone told us it was worth it. Chester, as it turns out, is a World Heritage Site because of its Roman and early British history. As a place to visit it certainly lives up to its reputation.

While there friends from New Zealand who are currently living in Bristol made the trip up here to say hello, which made the visit even more special.

History and heritage

One of Chester’s big attractions as well as the usual array of Cathedrals and historical buildings are the walls surrounding the city dating from Roman times around 70-80 AD. The city also has the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, the largest known in Britain that’s believed to have been used for gladiatorial sports among other things, based on artefacts found.

On our UK canal boating trip, we discovered the history and heritage of Chester.
Chester’s array of historical buildings has lent it World Heritage Site status.

The walls give you an interesting 3km walk around their perimeter and great vantage points from which to see the city. 

In amongst all the historical buildings in the city are “the rows”. These are medieval covered rows of shops set at first floor level above rows of street level shops. The whole centre of the city is like a medieval time warp in places and a beautiful place to visit. The city centre is well-preserved.

The whole centre of the city is like a medieval time warp in places and a beautiful place to visit.

Getting high

For me one of the highlights of any city we visit is getting high, usually that means up the church bell tower. In Chester that meant the Cathedral bell tower and this time it came complete with the Chester On High guided tour. I enjoyed the vistas you get up there and looking at the construction methods used in medieval times to construct these stunning buildings.

The Chester On High guided tour gives you a bird's eye view of the historical city.
If you’re planning a UK canal boating trip, Jim recommends the side trip to Chester, particularly the Chester On High guided tour.

Visit to Liverpool

While in Chester we also made the decision that we would take a couple of days to visit Liverpool. Now in all fairness we were only interested because we were so close and because of the history associated with the Beatles. Prior to this I had assumed or thought that Liverpool would be just another big city and a very average place to visit. Consequently, I had previously not had a great interest in seeing the city. How wrong can you be? Liverpool, I apologise profusely.

Liverpool looked completely different from what we were expecting.

We trained into Liverpool direct from Chester and got off at the central train station heading to our downtown Airbnb. Literally as soon as we got out of the train station and walked down the street we were both saying that Liverpool looked completely different from what we were expecting.

Liverpool is a must-visit destination on a UK canal boating trip.
The architecture in Liverpool impressed Jim and Karen more than they were expecting.

The streets were humming, bars, cafes and restaurants everywhere, the buildings and architecture were way better than I expected. All in all the city really impressed us and there was a real special vibe. 

Discovering the Fab Four

After dropping our bags, we immediately decided to head straight to one of the main attractions we had come to see, the museum of “The Beatles Story”. This museum is located down along the Docklands & wharf area spread along the banks of the Mersey river. I had never appreciated how historically important this area was to Liverpool and Britain as a whole. What was there was, well, an eye-opener.

The Liverpool docks and the city itself were heavily bombed during the war, but the rebuild program and what has been restored is amazing. You can literally spend days walking round here. This docklands area alone is well worth the trip to the city let alone the rest of Liverpool. Eventually we wandered into the underground museum that houses “ The Beatles story” to spend a couple of hours immersed in the Fab Four. While writing this blog I have just had a thought. Recently I watched the movies Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. After looking at the Beatles story, I can see another stunning movie coming out in a few years.

Beatles fans need to pay a visit to The Cavern in Liverpool.
The Cavern – one of Liverpool’s top attractions, especially for Beatles fans.

Backstage at The Cavern club

While in Liverpool you just have to visit the“ The Cavern” club as well and this doesn’t disappoint. This club became famous as the place where the Beatles were discovered and launched their career. While the club that exists today is not 100% the original, it’s on the same site on Mathews street and is substantially what existed in the early sixties. 

Interestingly it is still regarded as “the” club for any aspiring or existing singer to play in, as well as being described as the cradle of British pop, and not only because of the Beatles. The walls are littered with the names of individuals and bands who have played there or got their start there. Anyone who is anyone in UK pop and rock has played at The Cavern; as recently as May this year Sir Paul McCartney was playing there to the crowds. We were lucky in that we got to go on the Cavern’s backstage tour, a guided tour along with a full history of the club warts and all. Really interesting and well worth doing if you ever get to go.

The Cavern's backstage tour is a great way to explore this star attraction.
Jim and Karen were lucky enough to go on a backstage tour of The Cavern.

The Beatles played in the club 292 times between February 1961 and August 1963, and stayed together as a group for only 10 short years. It seems amazing now they seemed to have been around forever.

As mentioned previously the weather while we were in this part of the UK has been atrocious, but despite this Liverpool impressed. A ferry ride on the Mersey in the rain is not the best way to see the docks and the area, but it’s still a must-do regardless.

By now you have probably realised we enjoyed Liverpool. It wasn’t what we thought, and I would suggest it should be considered as a stop on your travels if you are over here. Chester and Liverpool are just a 45min train trip away from each other, so you can get to see the best of both these worlds if you are so inclined.

Onwards to Stone

Tomorrow we leave Chester and start making our way back to Stone where we hired the boat from. Next Friday our camper van is being delivered there, and our next adventures start. Interestingly, as we get back onto the main canals and traffic areas we hear the Llangollen canal has now been shut due to flooding destroying part of the side of the canal. Any boats stuck on the other of the blockage side are stuck. From what we’ve been told it will take a minimum of three weeks to fix, as this involves draining part of the canal.

Glad we weren’t caught up in that – one of the boat hire yards who was telling us all about it have two boats stuck on the other side. That will muck up a few boaters plans no doubt but at least we escaped the worst of the weather gods’ wrath.

Right team – this will be the last of the canal boating blogs. This time next week we will hopefully be looking at our new mobile home and different adventures beckon! 

Stay tuned for more of Jim and Karen’s OE adventures. Maybe they’ll even inspire you to do your own version of 40 years on … take two! 

4 thoughts on “Canal boating in the UK: The final instalment

  1. Paul Hedwig says:

    Good work as usual Jimmy. Karen obviously hasn’t killed you yet so that’s one worrywe had out of the way.now, he camper!
    Shame about the weather.
    I suggest, initially, you don’t go too far away from where you can get it serviced as there are alway little things that need attention in new builds.

    • Jim says:

      Good idea H. In fact that’s exactly what is happening, they are still waiting on govt Vat forms etc. so we may be on trade plates for a few days next week…..hopeless

  2. Caroline Fletcher says:

    Thanks Jim, was interesting to read about Liverpool, my brother is staying and he’s just cut short Venice to get to Liverpool for for a big soccer game at Anfield in August so he was interested to read your comments , reassuring the wife this has been a good decision😂

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