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.

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