City of Giants

Over the weekend of Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd April Liverpool was treated to the ‘Sea Oddysey Giant Spectacular’.  Sea Odyssey is a street theatre production where giant marionettes enact a tale of love, loss and reunion played out across the streets and open spaces of North Liverpool, the city centre and the waterfront.

The ‘Sea Oddysey Giant Spectacular’ sees a 30ft giant girl and a 50ft giant man who ‘walk’ around the city on Friday and Saturday before finding each other and meeting up at the Kings Dock in the city’s waterfront on Saturday evening.  On Sunday the two giants and the dog walk from the Kings Dock along the water front before getting aboard a boat in Canning Dock to leave the city of Liverpool and go on with their journey.

The little girl giant is accompanied by a papier mache puppet dog called Xolo.

The event’s story has been created by Nantes-based French company Royal de Luxe as part of Liverpool’s commemorations for the recent 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Royal De Luxe is a company made up of actors, aerialists, engineers, inventors, technicians, metal-workers and poets, led by Artistic Director Jean-Luc Courcoult. They are recognised across the world for pioneering new forms of street theatre.

The story being re-enanacyed is about a stowaway on the Titanic. A thirty foot tall giant capable of travelling through time, on his way to another continent to meet his daughter, the little giant girl.  When the ship hit the iceberg the Giant plummeted 12,000 feet to the ocean floor. When the little giant girl heard the news, she sought out her uncle, the great giant’s brother.  The uncle made a decision that was to take him a century to carry out. He made himself a diving suit and he scoured the ocean floor for the shipwreck. When he found the wreck he buried his brother in the deep-sea bed and he found the letter the great giant had written to the little giant girl.  He vowed he would return to the little girl giant and he walked across the sea floor pulling the Titanic’s mail trunk to bring back the post to Liverpool.

The Sea Odyssey story was based on a real life letter written by a 10-year-old  girl living in Kensington in Liverpool to her father on board the Titanic. May McMurray was just 10 years-old when she wrote her letter to her dad William McMurray who was a first class bedroom steward on the Titanic. He perished without ever seeing the letter when the ship sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912.  Whilst RMS Titanic was built in Belfast by Harland and Wolfe it was operated by the Liverpool based White Star line and many of the staff and crew came from Liverpool.

For years the family hoped and prayed that one day William would walk through  the door like he’d always done before and that by some miracle he’d somehow  survived. But his body was never found.  The family later donated the moving letter to Merseyside Maritime Museum, where  it caught the eye of Jean-Luc Courcoult, founder of France’s Royal de Luxe  marionette street theatre company, and became the inspiration for ‘Sea Odyssey’.

The giant puppets  were being moved by a team of 110 puppeteers and crane operators, who refer to themselves as Lilliputians, after the race of tiny people in Jonathan Swift’s 18th Century novel Gulliver’s Travels.  The giants have previously appeared in Nantes, Berlin, Santiago in Chile and Guadalajara in Mexico before coming to Liverpool.

It was facinating watching lines of the puppeteers jumping off the supporting platform several feet up pulling on the ropes to raise the giants’ feet off the ground in order for them to walk.

The event was estimated to have attracted over 600,000 people over the three days.  Many roads in the city were closed along the giant puppets’ route.  At every vantage point there were thousands of people standing dozens deep on the route across the city.  There were so many people it was hard to get a clear view of the puppets particulalry Xolo the dog who was not as tall as the little girl giant and her uncle.

The giants had lots of surprises.  During one part of their walk through the Strand giant cymbals shot confetti and letters from children into the air which fell all around the crowd.

The giant man leapt over Liverpool’s 44ft (13.5m) Chinese arch, the largest outside mainland China.

After walking 23 miles across the city on the final day Sunday 22 April the giant puppets boarded the James Jackson Grundy a Mersey Weaver Steam Packet Coaster which was originally used by ICI on the Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal to transport soda to their works.  The boat sailed out from the Canning Dock along to Kings Dock for their final farewell before turning around and heading out towards the sea passing in front of the Albert Dock, Mann Island and the Pierhead.

The working River Mersey tug the Ashgarth gave the giants a watery send off.

The James Jackson Grundy was accompanied by two sailing ships the three masted TS Pelican of London and the sailing brig the Stavros S Niarchos and a flotilla of ships including the river pilot and tug boats.

The Mersey Ferries were running full today with the passengers getting a birds eye view of the giants sailing up the river.

The crowd waved to the giants as they sailed off down the river and out to sea.

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On Red Rocks

You approach Red Rocks from the slipway at the end of Stanley Road in Hoylake.

Red Rocks is to the west of Hoylake at the head of the Dee Estuary. The Dee is a large funnel shaped estuary which lies between the Wirral Peninsula in England and Flintshire in North East Wales. The estuary contains extensive areas of inter-tidal sand and mudflats.

There is a site of special scientific interest which runs alongside the Royal Liverpool Golf course.  It contains a system of sand dunes and a brackish dune slack and reedbed.  The brackish slack and reedbed has a highly diverse flora and fauna, which includes a number of local and national rarities which makes it an important site for nature conservation in Merseyside.  Red Rocks is also an important site for its records of migrant birds and the wet slacks are a breeding sites for Frogs, Common Toads and Natterjack Toads.

However if you walk out into the estuary there is a large group of red sandstone rocks just off from the headland which are exposed at low tide.  The rocks contain many rock pools and sheltered spots.  They point out into the estuary, where further out, there are the three small sandstone islands of Hilbre, Middle Eye and Little Eye.  They provide the only hard natural rock coast habitat along this section of coastline between the limestone cliffs of the Creuddyn Peninsula and the sandstone cliffs of St. Bee’s Head in Cumbria.

 

The rocks here were formed in the Triassic period around 240 million years ago. At that time, what is now Britain was on the equator, and this area would have been in the middle of a massive expanse of sand, with huge dune systems like the Sahara desert. During the Triassic period in these hot dry deserts the three colour types of Wirral sandstone, red, yellow and white, were deposited.

The hard rocky sandstone cliffs of Hilbre Island and Middle Eye have cliff vegetation and maritime heathland and grassland including a number of nationally scarce plants.  Hilbre Island together with Middle Eye and Little Eye are managed as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.  It is thought that the islands were part of the mainland until the end of the last ice-age, about 10,000 years ago. The increased water levels caused by the melting ice cut a channel between West Kirby and what are now the 3 Hilbre Islands. As we were walking out the tide was starting to come in and you could see Hilbre Island against the shimmering sea.

Hilbre Island is 11.6 acres in area, and lies about a mile out from Red Rocks, the nearest part of the mainland. The islands are tidal and can be reached on foot from the mainland at low tide. This is a popular activity with locals and tourists, especially during the summer months. Until the end of the 1970s, there was a route from Red Rocks in Hoylake, but this has now been closed because of the danger of being caught by the tide and visitors are advised to set out from West Kirby only. Hilbre Island has a few houses, some of which are privately owned. There used to be a permant wildlife and country ranger living on the island but in January 2011 it was announced that there would be no permanent ranger as the Council advised that they have had difficulty finding a ranger prepared to live without mains electricity or running water on the Island.  There is a small 10 feet high solar-powered lighthouse on the islands now operated by Trinity House. It was originally established in 1927 by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Authority.

 

When you walk up to the incoming tide North Wales is only a few miles away and in the distance you can see the mountains of Snowdonia.

There wasn’t much to beachcomb today but as we crossed the tidal sand flats there were a few cream coloured balls that look a little like rolled up ‘bubble wrap’ on the beach. These are the egg mass of the common whelk, often referred to as sea wash balls as they were used by early sailors to wash. Each of the smaller balls contains thousands of eggs, but only about 10 hatch and they eat the remaining eggs.

Out in the distance at Burbo Flats in Liverpool Bay at the entrance to the River Mersey, approximately 4.0 miles from the Sefton coastline and 4.5 miles from North Wirral we could see the Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm.  This comprises of 25 efficient wind turbines which are capable of generating up to 90MW (megawatts) of clean, environmentally sustainable electricity. This is enough power for approximately 80,000 homes.

As you head back to the mainland you can see the substantial houses along Stanley Road looking out to sea.

A very  impressive house is ‘The Lighthouse’ which is toward the bottom of Stanley Road.

But at some point the lighthouse seems to have lost its glass dome from the very top of the tower which I recall it had a few years ago.  It is not an original lighthouse it was built in more recent times and local folklore seems to suggest that it was built by ‘Warrior’ from the 1990’s TV programme Gladiators.

Wirral Easter Egg Run 2012

The 32nd Wirral Egg Run took place on April 1st 2012. Around 12,000 bikers are said to have taken part in this year’s event. It started on New Brighton promenade at 11am with the riders travelling the 20 odd miles passing through Wallasey Village, Moreton Cross, Moreton, Hoylake, West Kirby, Caldy and Heswall before arriving at Clatterbridge  Hospital in Thornton Hough.

The Wirral Egg Run is an annual event which raises money for local children and children’s charities as well as donating Easter eggs to children in hospital.  The riders deliver their Easter eggs at Clatterbridge Hospital for children in Wirral. Whilst the delivery of Easter eggs forms the tradition of the Egg Run, this is accompanied by the delivery cash donations to the Wirral Egg Run charity.

We stood with lots of other people on the Glegg Arms roundabout watching the riders come through Heswall town centre on their way to Clatterbridge. There were bikes of all shapes and sizes together with a sizeable number scooters and quad bikes as well as the odd motorcycle and sidecar.  Many of the bikers were dressed up as chicks, bunny rabbits and other fancy dress.

It was a nice sunny morning and the sun held out for all the riders who came through the town. Just as well for ‘Borat’ in his mankini, he must have been cold despite the sunshine.

Well done to all the participants for taking part in such a worthwhile cause and a great event.

As well as the riders entering into the spirit of the event by dressing up it was good to see so many classic bikes out on the road including Norton, Triumph and Royal Enfield.  They were quite a few Harleys out but I’m sure I saw a rare Indian go past before I could take a photo.  But it was great to see a few BSA bikes like the one above.  My dad used to pick me up from school on his BSA Bantam in the late 1960’s.

A particular well done to Emily and her Dad for taking part this year.

Morning in Storeton Woods

On the outskirts of Higher Bebington on the ridge above the village of Storeton are Storeton Woods.  They are owned by the Friends of Storeton Woods who mange it with help from the Woodland Trust.  The woods cover around 31 acres and have grown up on the site of a quarry that was present since Roman times. The quarries were used up to the beginning of the 20th century.

Dinosaur footprints were discovered in the quarry. The fossilised prints are believed to belong to a raptor-like dinosaur which was named after Storeton: Cheirotherium storeonia. Whilst they were centuries old, they only came to light in the 1920’s and are now housed in Liverpool Museum and the British Museum.

The creamy cloured sandstone from the quarry has been used in many local buildings including Birkenhead Town Hall in Hamilton Square. It is said that stone from the quarry was also used for cladding the Empire State Building in New York.

From the 19th century a tramway (a single track, standard gauge railway) was used to transport stone to the quayside at Bromborough.  The quarry was filled in with spoil from the excavation of the Queensway Tunnel in the 1920s and the site became what we now know as Storeton Wood a woodland and nature reserve.

Many local people walk through the woods seeing it change with the seasons.  Walking through the woods this Spring Sunday morning the sun was shining and the sky blue with lots of trees and bushes in bud ready to show their leaves for the summer.