Parkgate to Eastham
– A fine route, right across the Wirral –
Start: The ‘Donkey Stand’ on The Parade at Parkgate (jutting into the marsh about 25 metres north of the Post Office).
Finish: Eastham Country Park Visitor Centre.
Transport: If possible, leave a car at the end or arrange to be met. Alternatively, plan around public transport routes that cross the trail – buses visit both ends. Much of the route is suitable for cycles – use local maps to join the road and track sections together.
Distance: 10½ miles for the full walk. Otherwise, split the route into two or three sections for a series of outings.
Refreshments: Pubs and cafés at the start and finish, and at Willaston.
Walking Conditions: Generally very good paths and firm tracks. The short track at point 5 and the field at 7 can be muddy after rain. There is a short section of tunnel at point 12: you may like a torch but it is not essential. Take extra care on a stretch of narrow road without a pavement at Point 9.
Here’s a fine challenge, to walk (or cycle) Wirral from shore to shore – from the Dee at Parkgate to the Mersey at Eastham. Along the way, we take in some of Wirral’s finest countryside and beauty spots, including three Country Parks. With good paths and few hills, the walk is within most people’s capabilities and would make a fine outing for country-lovers, families wanting a challenge or sponsored walkers seeking a novel route.
A tradition amongst coast-to-coast walkers is to touch the sea at either end of the walk. At Parkgate, with its rare high tides, the drainage gullies near the sea wall are your best option. At Eastham, Job’s Ferry at high tide is best – but don’t risk venturing onto the mud flats.
Though it is hard to imagine now, Parkgate was once a major port. Where you see the marsh, many-masted sailing ships once floated, often travelling between here and Ireland. The River Dee originally ran all the way along this side of the estuary from Chester but, due to silting, was diverted via the Welsh side in 1737 to make a better shipping channel. However, the silting continued and the river eventually became too shallow for ships to moor locally – the last one left in the 1820s.
1. Walk south from the Donkey Stand and turn left up Station Road for 250 metres. Turn right at the Wirral Country Park sign, going straight ahead at the top of the slope to join the Wirral Way for 1.25km/¾ mile.
The Wirral Way is a disused railway track. When the line was first opened in 1866 Parkgate Station was situated next to the slope you have just climbed. From here, you could catch the train to Hooton, linking with the main Birkenhead to Chester railway line. The line was popular with Victorian day-trippers who could now reach the seaside easily; it also gave easy access to more distant markets for Parkgate’s fishermen. In 1886, the railway line was extended to West Kirby, a bridge added over Station Road to carry the track, and the station moved to the north side of the road. The south side became sidings, and handled the wagons coming to and from Ness Colliery
2. Shortly after the red metal Millennium Bridge, go straight ahead under the rail bridge and up a residential road. At the T-junction continue straight ahead, along the path for another 2.6km/1.6 miles.
You are entering the amazing 800m railway cutting built in 1866 as part of the Hooton – West Kirby line, now part of the Wirral Way. On either side rises sandstone, the intersecting sloping layers of which were laid down by water flowing through a desert over 200 million years ago. Everywhere you can see shallow cuts in the rock, made by the picks of the 19th century navvies who carved out the cutting. The gradient is 1 in 72, considered steep for the steam trains at the time of building. They often struggled to climb the hill or to control their descent.
At the first of two bridges, both stained by locomotive soot, look for roman numerals carved into the stones each side of the arch. These helped the builders position them in the correct sequence. The cutting is dark and wet, suitable for only a few types of plant including ferns, ivy, mosses and liverworts.
You will go through a short concrete tunnel, under the A540. Immediately afterwards make sure you take the gate to the left.
3. 200m after the pylon to the left, and shortly before a wooden gate, turn left, alongside a wire fence. (To visit Willaston’s quaint Hadlow Road Station restored to its 1950s look, stay on the Wirral Way for another 400 metres. )
The station was given the name “Hadlow Road” to avoid confusion with another station at Willaston near Nantwich. The platform area, signal box, booking office and waiting room have all been restored to how they looked in 1952, four years before the last passenger train drew up here (the line remained open for freight traffic until 1962). There is also a short section of track, though the station actually had two platforms and two tracks, which merged into one at each end of the station.
Join a gravel track, leading to the Pollard Inn car park. Walk down the drive to the right of the pub to emerge onto Willaston Green.
4. Cross the main road, turn left for a few metres and turn right along the path just before the churchyard. When you reach a residential road, go half-left looking for a gap in the wall by the footpath sign. Take the path and, emerging at playing fields, keep to the right-hand boundary.
Keep straight ahead for about 450 metres going through a gate and crossing stiles. Reach a road, and turn right.
There has been a mill on or near here since 1321. This mill – at 30 metres high, the largest on the Wirral – was built in 1800 and used to grind flour and, later, cattle food. It stopped being used in 1930 when the sails were severely damaged in a storm. You can see other buildings associated with the mill – the bakery, cart shed and stables – which have been turned into houses.
5. After 150 metres turn left along a track, signposted to Raby. After another 150 metres turn right across stone steps and a stile. Walk gently downhill, with the field boundary to your left. Keep straight ahead for about 1km (0.6 miles), crossing stiles and footbridges.
6. Emerge at Benty Heath Lane. Turn left and walk for 350 metres. As the road bends left turn right, along a lane with a footpath sign, past brick cottages.
7. Immediately after crossing the motorway turn left and walk along the field edge. At a stile cross and turn right to reach a golf course. Cross the fairway and stay on this heading following white marker posts.
8. Reaching a stile at Raby Hall Road turn right for 75m, then go left along Blakeley Road, and walk to Raby Mere. The mere is an artificial lake, created as a pond to power a watermill in the early 17th century.
9. Descend Poulton Hall Road, and continue, to climb out of the valley (caution – the road is narrow here). At the T-junction look for a ‘Public Footpath’ sign across fields, taking the path to pass a telegraph pole.
10. At the field corner, follow the main path. Take time to read the interpretation board near the top of Bodens Hey Meadow, then follow the main path downhill – it bends slightly right, past oak trees. Near the bottom of the hill, by another interpretation board, turn left.
Dibbinsdale Local Nature Reserve has much natural interest, containing woodland, meadows, reed swamps, parkland and grassland. Dibbinsdale Wood is especially important as it is believed to be the largest area of ‘ancient woodland’ on Merseyside i.e. land that’s been continually wooded since trees started growing after the last ice age. Trees here today include ash and wych elm, which once dominated the woodland. There are also oak, sycamore, beech, and hornbeam. Dibbinsdale has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
11. Cross two adjacent wooden bridges over the stream. 20 metres after the second, bend left along the main path.
On the right, just before a bench at a point marked ‘7’ are two hornbeams, an uncommon tree this far north, with grey-green rippled bark. Sadly, you can see others nearby that came down in the great winds of January 2007.
12. At a high railway embankment, ignore the steps up; go through a tunnel, named ‘Otter Bridge’. The bridge was named by workmen building the railway embankment in the late 1830s who saw many otters playing here. Sadly, none has been seen since the 1863. Keep an eye open for kingfishers along the stream though.
13. Stick to the main path, which goes right at a T-junction, passing stands of common reed (traditionally grown in eastern England for thatching roofs). Cross another wooden bridge and, a few metres later, take the right-hand path uphill, with a fence on your right. 100 metres later, at a cross-paths, go straight ahead, initially downhill. Ignore the path left at the foot of the hill; instead climb to reach a good viewpoint over the river and beyond.
The ‘carr woodland’ around the valley bottom, which is regularly flooded, includes willow, alder and dogwood.
75 metres after the viewpoint, fork left along a lesser, non-gravelled, path along the top edge of the hill, between trees. Continue ahead to reach the bottom of the hill and, when you meet other main paths, look out for St. Patrick’s Well to your right. The well is said to have been blessed by St Patrick in the fifth century AD and the waters are supposed to have healing powers for the eyes.
Continue ahead to eventually meet a road.
14. At the road turn left, and go straight ahead at the mini-roundabout, passing a World War II pillbox. Notice the 13-metre-high embankment to your right, over the River Dibbin at Spital Dam (incidentally the name ‘Spital’ comes from a nearby lepers’ ‘ho-spital’ in the Middle Ages). Walk uphill for 300m. At railings turn right through a gap in the wall and join the Cycleway/Footpath for 1km (0.6 miles).
The rest of the route, until you reach the boundary of Eastham Country Park, has, perhaps, a surprising significance. It follows almost precisely the line of railways constructed by Lever Brothers from 1910 to link their factories at Port Sunlight and Bromborough Port, and to give access to docks on the Mersey and to the main Birkenhead – Chester railway line. Numerous branch lines came off the route and even the right-hand turns that our walking route makes mirror the many turns made by the railways.
The route soon goes over the embankment you saw earlier. Soon you enter a cutting that is 9 metres deep, passing under the New Chester Road.
15. At the white barrier take the zigzag path uphill (this was ‘Port Rainbow’). Turn left at the top to go over the path you had walked. Go straight ahead along Stadium Road for 350 metres, and then turn left down Commercial Road, following the Cycleway/ Footpath sign.
The old brick factory on your right here was Planters Margarine works, later ‘Stork Margarine’.
At the end of Commercial Road, Levers owned their own power station.
16. Later, turn right, still following the cycleway. Just before the roundabout immediately after the Meyer Prestige building, turn left alongside green railings. To your right was Bromborough Power Station. The railway ran along this stretch too, parallel to the river, stopping near the small car park at the end.
17. After the small car park, go straight ahead through a gap in the railings to stay parallel with the river. At a rise in the path, look for a gate in the railings to the left. Down the steps is Job’s Ferry. Today Jobs Ferry is just a collection of scattered sandstone blocks. This was the original site of the ferry station to cross the Mersey, which is believed to have operated since the 13th century, initially by monks. The green and red buoys in the river are used to guide ships using the canal.
18. Continue and turn right at the mini-roundabout to reach the Eastham Country Park Visitor Centre.
Congratulations! You have walked Wirral from ‘Shore to Shore’.
The author hasn’t walked most of it lately so the occasional landmark might have changed. For more walks in the area try the book from which this comes:
Wirral Walks – 100 miles of the best walks in the area
by Anthony Annakin-Smith
Sigma Leisure, 5 Alton Road, Wilmslow SK9 5DY www.sigmapress.co.uk
£7.95 2005 ISBN 1 85058 823 6
An updated version was published in 2013.