What is it about dog walkers? This stretch seemed to be inundated with them in all shapes and sizes, usually the dogs get more exercise than their owners.
The first person I asked for directions strangely didn’t have a dog, but nonetheless he gave me advice about getting round the beach to Red Rocks. It had rained all night and it was difficult to tell if the tide was in or out so I quickly walked round Hoylake beach to reach these rocks. Expecting a cliff they turned out to be no more than a platform of reddish sandstone. Inland was now The Royal Liverpool Golf Course more commonly called Hoylake when I have watched the Open on TV. Not much could be seen over the dunes and I didn’t spot anybody famous.
The second man had one dog and gave me good advise about traversing the dunes and information on walking out [at low tide] to the three islands Little Eye, Little Hilbre and Hilbre less than a mile off the coast at West Kirby. I think summer would be the time to return, they looked totally inaccessible today with wind blowing up the waves.The weather took a turn for the worse and I was fairly miserable as I walked the promenade on the landside of the Marine Lake, people using the path on the seaward side looked in danger of being swamped and there was not a boat in sight. My saviour came in the shape of Tanskey’s Bar which was open at 9.30 [despite the staff having a hangover from last night’s Christmas Party] and served me a wonderful coffee, with classy background music, whilst I dried out. These little cafes are a treasure, I notice they even have a classic cinema evening with food once a month.
Refreshed I navigated round some expensive real estate and sailing clubs to the start of The Wirral Way which follows the abandoned railway line calling at all stations to Hooton through the Wirral Country Park along the Dee Estuary. It was now full steam ahead on the flat straight trail. Passing through the exclusive looking Caldy Golf Course, bridges passed regularly and an old station platform appeared at Thurstaston. Getting bored with the railway I wandered through fields onto a cliff top path which gave me views across the Dee to Wales. Committed to this path I followed it to steps leading down through the loose red sandstone cliffs and on to the sandy beach. Turn left and walk along the shore was my only option, ahead I could see a boat on a ‘side stream’ of the Dee. From the map there was no obvious way off the beach.
But I met a man with two dogs, we chatted about Liverpool, Thurstaston and Thor’s Rock which I had wanted to visit. Its some distance inland and hence an excuse to return to this delightful area. More importantly he showed me the way, by a little path, off the beach to regain the Wirral Way. After more marching along the railway and then nondescript streets saw me hemmed in at Neston Golf Course, I felt the need to rejoin the river. The couple with three dogs showed me a lane towards the estuary which when I reached it had become an extensive salt march. There was evidence of stonework of ancient quays from before the silting up of this area. A birdwatcher reported peregrines but none of the harriers he had come to see. Lanes then took me to the ‘sea front’ promenade at Parkgate, Neston. There was previously a port with links to Ireland but gradually this silted up in the 19th century, this also put paid to the local bathing. All that remains is the stone sea wall and some elegant houses on the ‘promenade’ – rather surreal. However today it is still popular for its pubs and eateries and for the birdwatchers who come at high tide which sometimes floods the salt marches. Here the Wirral Way turns inland, still faithfully following the old railway which closed in 1962.
After a few more streets built on the line I found myself in a kilometre long, stone cutting completed in 1866. This was an amazing place. Quarried sandstone cliffs enclose the track and you can see the marks of the picks used to carve it out. Also featured are areas of ripple sediments known as ‘current bedding’. Ferns bedeck the walls and tree roots seek weaknesses in the sandstone. Met a man with three greyhounds who was equally enthusiastic about the place, he was interested in my walk and I was beginning to unravel the ‘scouse’ accent.
Once out of the cutting I was surrounded by green fields and horses of the Cheshire countryside. A lady jogging towards me had four dogs – the record – and as she bent down to ‘poo scoop’ explained it kept her hands warm, rather her than me. I was transported back to my youth at Willaston where Hadlow Road station has been ‘preserved’ giving a real sense of past travel on the railways. A last rural stretch through trees saw me chugging in to the platform at Hooton station for my modern train journey back to Preston.I found the Wirral a fascinating area with lots of hidden gems. A good way to spend a couple of days and avoid the Xmas shopping .