Monday, 12 December 2016
Walk 201 Liverpool to West Kirby (Wirral)
(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)
Map: L/R 108
Distance: 14 miles or 23 km approx
Difficulty: Easy, flat.
Terrain: pavement, promenade and coastal path
Access: Parking in both places
Public transport: Ferry across the Mersey or train to Birkenhead. Train back from West Kirby to Liverpool
It is possible to continue this walk all the way round to Neston and get a train back from there. I did not do this, firstly because it was October and the light would start to go but mainly because the Wirral Country Park path is inland for the most part and is not really coastal.
On arrival in Birkenhead navigate to the river front (if going by train). The white terminal of the Mersey Ferry is prominent. Records show that there has been a ferry since the 12th century when one was operated by Benedictine monks from their priory here. The area is best known for ship building and related industries. Two tunnels go under the Mersey, a rail one built in 1886 and one for cars etc. in 1934.
Start walking northwards alongside the river. Two landmarks to look out for on this stretch. The impressive Birkenhead Town Hall, now The Wirral Museum, and Birkenhead Park, the first publicly funded park in the UK. Enjoy the promenade with its good views across to Liverpool.
Further along is The Ferry Inn originally part of the Ferry complex of the 1880s. Nearby are information plaques on the wall detailing the ships lost in World War 2 with a connection to Birkenhead.
At the northern most end of the path is New Brighton. In the early 19th century it had developed a reputation for smuggling, wrecking and tunnels – the latter are said to still exist. New Brighton was founded as a resort in the 1830s and was popular because of its sandy beaches. It had a tower similar to the one in Blackpool but this was dismantled in 1921 due to lack of maintenance. The lighthouse was built in 1927 although it no longer functions and is used as a private residence.
Fort Perch is a clear landmark. It was built as a defence in the Napoleonic era to protect Liverpool. It is now a naval museum.
The walk continues along the north coast for a couple of miles alongside a golf course before coming to The Leasowe Castle Hotel. The older part of this, which can be easily spotted, was built in the 16th century. A little further along is The Leasowe Lighthouse which was built in 1763. Its construction was prompted by many losses on the sands including a ship loaded with cotton going aground in 1761. It’s cargo was left to rot and with the combination of salt and sand it hardened into a base for the new lighthouse. Nevertheless, it has been closed since 1908. as by that time the sand dunes were considered to be too unstable to support a lighthouse.
A couple of miles further along is Hoylake. Look out for the lifeboat station as it is one of the oldest in the UK having been founded in 1803. The new building opened in 2008 with an impressively sculpted statue/memorial outside. It was from Hoylake that William 111 set sail with his 10,000 strong army for the Battle of The Boyne in Ireland.
The Royal Hotel was built in the town in 1792 with the idea of developing the area as a holiday resort. A race course was laid out in the grounds but it was all demolished in the 1950s. Around the outskirts of the town is the Royal Liverpool Golf Club which has held the British Open. Several well known people have connections with Hoylake including the cyclist Chris Boardman, the actress Glenda Jackson, the actor Daniel Craig, Mike Rutherford of Genesis and Cynthia Lennon.
On the walk between Hoylake and West Kirby is Red Rocks Nature Reserve. The sand dunes provide homes for a variety of flora and fauna including the natterjack toad.
West Kirby is at the mouth of the River Dee. Three islands can be seen across the sands: Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre. Notices warn that incoming tides are dangerous. There is a designated safe crossing when the tide is out to reach the islands and guides organise open days to ensure safety. On the land side are Coronation Gardens and further down on the coast side is a 32 acre lake and paddling pool bordered off from the sea. It was rebuilt in 1985 to provide a better facility.
Photos show: across the Mersey from Birkenhead with ferry terminal; New Brighton Beach and Trench Fort; Lifeboat station at Hoylake; beach at West Kirby.