Fab Four tour takes a stroll down Penny Lane

Travel Weekly senior editor David Cogswell took a Beatles tour of Liverpool, England, with guide Sylvia McMurtry, a lifelong resident who grew up in the Beatles' heyday. His report follows:

LIVERPOOL, England -- This northern British city has long been a vibrant port, a multicultural center that attracted people from all over Europe because employment could be readily found on its busy docks.

But to diehard music fans, Liverpool is best known as the epicenter of a cultural phenomenon known as Beatlemania.

My tour guide, Sylvia McMurtry, was especially well-versed in the history of the Beatles.

We had only a half-day, but for anyone who takes the Liverpool tour, "Penny Lane" will never sound the same.

Contrary to popular myth, the Beatles did not spring from a vacuum; their hometown provided a rich environment to nurture their nascent talents.

Liverpool has 140 minorities -- more Welsh than Cardiff, more Scots than Aberdeen and more Irish than Dublin.

The city was the main processing point for emigrants sailing from Europe to the New World and the receiving point for imports from the Americas.

Liverpool teenagers learned American music from records brought by U.S. sailors. When the Beatles were growing up, McMurtry said, practically every kid had a guitar.

The Cavern Club on Mathew Street in Liverpool, where the Beatles built their following. McMurtry's family lived near Woolton, the suburb where John Lennon grew up. McMurtry said she probably saw the Beatles every time they performed in Liverpool.

"It was my life," she said. Her world revolved around the bands performing in a warehouse district that became a nightclub haven.

We visited the Cavern Club on Mathew Street, where the Beatles built their following.

The building that housed the basement nightclub has been torn down and rebuilt, but many features of the original have been re-created.

We looked through the gate to Strawberry Field and drove down Penny Lane, where McMurtry pointed out a barber shop, firehouse and bank mentioned in the song.

The Liverpool Art College, which Lennon attended, stands next to the Liverpool Institute, where Paul McCartney and George Harrison studied.

Nearby Menlove Avenue was the "Long and Winding Road" that led to the Lennon's former home, a charming suburban house where he once lived with his Aunt Mimi.

"The stuff about Lennon as a working-class hero ... what was that?" said McMurtry. "He was posh. His family lived in Woolton, a lovely village, and had a business."

We next saw St. Peter's Parish Hall, where Lennon and McCartney met, and visited McCartney's former home in Speke, now owned by the National Trust.

McMurtry and other guides can be contacted through the Merseyside Partnership's Jackie Wilson at (011) 44-151 237-3925 or via e-mail at [email protected].

For more on Liverpool, visit the Merseyside Partnership on line at www.visitliverpool.com; e-mail [email protected]; or call (011) 44-151 709-5111.

You also can contact the British Tourist Authority in New York at (800) 462-2748 or visit www.travelbritain.org.

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