Walking: The long and winding road: Ross Davies pounds the pavements of Liverpool and finds a surprising wealth of history

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The Independent Culture
THERE are some Merseyside walks which to miss can mean being patronised at supper parties in your own home town. 'What, not done the waterfront, the Albert Dock and the Tate? Oh, but you must]'

The walk along Hope Street and downtown is one you don't have to go on, and don't even have to keep to if you do. It is more of a suggestion than a prescription and you can wander off-piste any time something or someone catches your attention, which in a city as full of history as Liverpool isn't unusual.

Hope Street runs roughly north to south along the rim of the hill overlooking the shops, offices and beyond them, the Mersey itself. Hope Street typifies Liverpool's contrariness. The buildings range from the Georgian to the derelict.

Rearing up from the north end is 'Paddy's wigwam' - the 1967 Catholic cathedral by Sir Frederick Gibberd - while at the south end, sunk into the hillside, is the older Anglican cathedral, by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who won the commission when he was 22. A Catholic cathedral designed by a Protestant, and a Protestant one designed by a Catholic. That's Liverpool for you.

The walk proper begins halfway between the two cathedrals, at the junction of Hope and Hardman Streets. On one side of the road is the Philharmonic Hall, on the other side is the Phil - the majestic Philharmonic Dining Rooms, a gin palace of 1898-1900, whose iron and copper entrance gates, stepped gables, stained glass and mosaics are the work of artists and craftsmen from the then School of Architecture and Applied Art at the nearby university.

Once in the bar, we raised a glass to Sir Andrew Walker, of the art-loving brewing family who caused not only this and other voluptuous Liverpool alehouses to be built but, in 1873, endowed the city's Walker Art Gallery. The Walker is within walking distance in the district of Islington: Londoners can get spooked in Liverpool, which also has a Wapping, a Fleet Street and a Kensington.

Heading south towards the Anglican cathedral, you get into heavy Georgian territory, with Beatles overtones. On the right, at the junction of Hope Street and Mount Street, are two adjoining buildings: one, now part of the John Moores University, is John Lennon's old art school, whilenext door is the Liverpool Institute, once the grammar school that Paul and George went to.

The school has relocated, and the 1827 Doric building is being refurbished, and with Paul's help, is to reopen as Merseyside's 'Fame' school. Walk a little further along Hope Street, and to your left is the grimy but still magnificent 1830s Gambier Terrace, all Doric and Ionic columns and nowhere to go.

Gambier Terrace was meant to be much longer, but building stopped when the railways came and took out Liverpool's rich to live in the suburbs. But what a view they exchanged for a privet hedge. The ground falls away from the terrace towards the Anglican cathedral, and then on down towards the river with views towards the Wirral peninsula and on to North Wales.

On the side of the Mersey is Herculaneum Dock, where they prefabricated sections of Mulberry Harbour for towing to Normandy for D-Day, which can still be seen at Arromanches.

Out towards the Wirral shore is the Dingle buoy, where American tankers used to discharge their oil for pipelining down to the south coast for the Pluto pipeline under the ocean, also to Normandy. Talking of invasions, it was a Liverpool man, Humphrey Brooke, who discovered and reported to Drake the plans for the Spanish Armada.

You now retrace your steps back along Hope Street, and if you're really into Beatledom, or just thirsty, then - on your left - turn into Rice Street. There is an old real-ale pub here called Ye Cracke, where John Lennon used to romance Cynthia when he lived at 3 Gambier Terrace. Otherwise, it's back to the junction of Hope and Hardman Streets, where you turn left and walk down Hardman Street towards the city centre.

Atticus, on your left, is a tiny secondhand book and record shop which is always worth a look: the frontage is so narrow you could easily miss it were it not for the lifesize wooden cut-out of James Joyce standing outside.

Next door is another place to note for later - a Chilean restaurant, the Valparaiso, where until 7pm they do a hot, spicy three-course supper for under a tenner.

For no particular reason, Hardman Street becomes Leece (pronounced 'leacey') Street, and again on the left you see the ethereal Gothic spires of St Luke's Church, which is set in delightful gardens. Indeed, one of the gardens is set in St Luke's itself: the church has remained a gutted and roofless memorial to Liverpool's pounding in the Blitz, and a small wood grows inside.

By turning left from Leece Street into Berry Street, you are into a still-living relic of Liverpool's immigrant past, Chinatown. The street signs are in Chinese characters as well as English.

On the left is the Liverpool Brewing Company and its pub, and to the right at the junction with Seel Street, there is another interesting secondhand bookshop, Henry Bohn's. Just before Seel Street, however, take a diversion down Wood Street, which is on the edge of the old warehouse district between the waterfront and the main shops.

This is in a student area, with lots of record and clothes shops, and - as in Wood Street - cheerful cafes like Trading Places: the noticeboard here will tell you what gigs are on around town and which groups are forming. Wood Street becomes School Lane, whose glory is the Bluecoat Chambers, from 1717 to 1906 home to a charity school before it, like the rich, moved out to the suburbs.

Lord Lever, the founder of Unilever, bought the Bluecoat with his winnings from a libel case, and it became a centre for the arts. I always like to look in to see what's on show in the gallery, and there's a tempting tea room as well as a beguiling courtyard garden at the back. And yet more bookshops.

The book to buy, I suggest, and as soon as possible after you arrive on Merseyside, is Buildings of Liverpool (Liverpool Heritage Bureau, pounds 3.75), a superbly illustrated and annotated social and architectural history, 278 pages but still compact enough to fit into a walker's pocket.

Cut through School Alley, opposite the gates of the Bluecoat and you're in Church Street, Liverpool's main shopping centre as well as a hectic pedestrian thoroughfare, but if you continue down School Lane, you'll see Quiggins, an old warehouse full of ever-changing clothes and junk stalls and shops.

From here turn right, briefly, into Paradise Street, left into Lord Street and right again into Castle Street. The castle is long gone, but in Cook Street, a short thoroughfare second on your right, you can see one of the gems of what is left. You're now in the commercial district, where it wasn't just sailors who threw their money around.

So did Liverpool's shipowners, cotton traders and shipbrokers. Flush with the profits made from the ending of the East India Company's monopoly of trade, they threw their money about commissioning buildings - art galleries, concert halls, pubs, libraries and offices. Despite the Luftwaffe, the 1960s and Militant, much remains.

At 16 Cook Street, there remains an office building so calm, so apparently simple, so evidently cool I always want to take it home with me. It doesn't even have a name, just three giant bays in a Venetian window head, see-through plate glass and, at the back, a glazed cast-iron spiral staircase against another wall of glass.

It is more like I hope 1996 will be, than 1866 when it was actually built. There are other buildings around here grander by far, but only one to compare with it, which is Oriel Chambers (1864), just around the corner at 14 Water Street.

More ambitious than 16 Cook Street, the glass and cast-iron shows Oriel Chambers to be the work of the same man, a little-known Liverpool architect called Peter Ellis. In the 1860s, design was a risky business: critics called Oriel Chambers 'an agglomeration of protruding plate glass bubbles', and after 16 Cook Street poor Ellis seemed to receive no more commissions.

Cook Street looks across to Mathew Street, where the Cavern used to be. There was no alcohol on sale, even though it was an old wine cellar: and so small and crowded that even the walls sweated. The Cavern could have done with a ventilation shaft, and in the end it got one. The club was demolished to make way for a railway ventilation shaft that was never built.

Here, or as far down Water Street as Oriel Chambers, is nostalgia - and pavement walking - saturation point: at least it was for us, even if much of the latter was over tens of thousands of pounds' worth of York stone.

Confident that the waterfront, the Tate and the Albert Dock would all still be there tomorrow, we hopped into one of Liverpool's myriad cabs and so returned to Hope Street and opening time at the Phil.

(Photograph omitted)