A Loop in time

I lived in Liverpool for 12 years. During this time, which I began as an undergraduate student and ended interviewing the cast of Hollyoaks (that’s higher education for you), I stayed in accommodation that moved sequentially further away from the city centre.

I found myself eventually living next to a disused railway line.

I stayed, not surprisingly, for as long as I could.

I discovered the line after I discovered the property. I hadn’t yet got into the habit of sizing up a place to live based on its distance from the nearest railway (operational or otherwise). It pains me to admit I didn’t have a clue at first why the line was there. It looked to me like a footpath. In fact, it was – and still is – a footpath. Formally, it’s part of National Cycle Network Route 62. Informally, it’s the old Liverpool Loop Line, which used to connect a string of suburbs and villages clustering along the city’s hem.

Pool loop

I visited it again recently with my friends Robert and Scott, who’s blogged about our trip. It was the first time either of them had seen the line – which, given they both live in Merseyside, I naturally declared to be a disgrace. Connoisseurs of railways, and they’d never set foot on the Liverpool Loop?

Scott mentioned how he’d been unwilling to visit it alone, for fear of running into mobs of teenagers drinking in the afternoon while holding big dogs and the like. This was a fair point, though I replied I’d never encountered any bother in all the time I used it as a local resident.

Then I remembered that I’d only really used it for going jogging, not strolling. And then I remembered one incident when a bloke on a bike approached me from the opposite direction, calling out that I should turn back because of a “bunch of kids doing drugs back there”. Obviously I kept this anecdote to myself. Until now.

But that was the one and only case of the jitters I could recall from being a Loop Line regular between 2003 and 2006. I came to really value its presence, sometimes venturing all the way from my flat in Childwall down to the parkland near Halewood, where the path nudges up against open fields and you can see all the way across to Cheshire.

This was my second return visit since leaving Liverpool. My first was in 2008. The line had barely changed. This time was different. Things had been tidied up a bit. Traces of the path’s former identity were less evident. This sign, for instance, that was still present in 2008, has now vanished:

Watch it: £25
From when must that have dated? The 1970s? Earlier?

The line was still open for goods traffic as late as 1979. The last chunk closed for passengers in 1972, though one station, Childwall, was mothballed as far back as 1931.

That would have been my local station. I’d have been two minutes from the platform. What a difference it would have made to my relationship with the city centre. Instead of a 40-minute bus ride on the number 79, I could have been there in half the time – and in a whole better mood.

For I’d grown rather distant from Liverpool towards the end of my stay there, both literally and emotionally. The place was changing in the mid-noughties in ways I didn’t properly appreciate or fully understand. Typically, the minute I moved right away from Merseyside, I began to miss it and wanted to be closer again.

Walking the Loop Line again brought all this to the surface. I pushed it back down and concentrated on speculating with my companions about which bits of bridge dated from what period. Well, it was that or get rather melancholy. I was glad I had some company.

Interchange

There was one thing about the line that I realised only because I’d moved away. The footpath is in a pretty decent state compared to others of its kind I’ve seen.

It’s certainly better maintained than some of disused railways lines I’ve walked along in London. Stretches of the Parkland Walk, for instance, are basically just mud. You have to trudge over grass, down ditches and almost through someone’s garden to follow the route of the old Mill Hill east branch of the Northern line. And checking out the former Croxley branch of the Metropolitan line involves, essentially, trespassing.

Cottage industryBut here, everything is tarmac and landscaping and only a bit of overgrown undergrowth. What you’ve lost in anachronistic signage you’ve gained in a clinical brush-up.

Some might find this regrettable. I for one prefer a footpath to actually look like one.

I suggested to the others that it’d be good to nip off the path from time to time; I remembered there were little bulletins of nostalgia lurking in the suburbs and hoped they were still there.

They were.

Dotted among the locations used occasionally by the Hollyoaks production team for non-specific street scenes, railway workers’ houses remain standing.

These (pictured right) are on Well Lane, the site of the former Childwall station, and presumably date back to its construction in the 1870s.

Other cottages built for the same purpose still exist in Gateacre and, at the end of the “line”, in Halewood and Hunts Cross.

A part of me wishes I could one day live in a railway cottage or on a road named Railway Approach.

Another part of me tries to make sure the first part keeps itself to itself.

This slight return to a slice of my past reminded me, to my shame, that there’s a whole other section of the line I have never seen. In the dozen years I lived in Liverpool, I could never be bothered to find out what happens along the rest of the footpath, as it curves northwards from Childwall up through Knotty Ash and West Derby to Aintree.

More unfinished business, then. Not that I need a reason to keep visiting the north-west. The only good thing about leaving is getting to experience the excitement of going back.

Light, end, tunnel

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