A short walk to Little Eye

Close to the village of West Kirby in Wirral are three tidal islands lying at the mouth of the Dee Estuary, Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre Island which have been designated a Local Nature Reserve.

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On an overcast May Bank Holiday Sunday we set off late morning to walk to Hilbre Island by way of Little Eye and Middle Eye the two smaller islands in the chain.  The islands are cut off from the mainland by the tide for up to 5 hours out of every 12 hours. The aim was to walk there and back during the low water period.

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We walked around the Marine Lake in West Kirby to the Dee Lane slipway making a direct line to Little Eye.  The tide had gone out around 9am but we were a little late in starting and you need at least three hours before the next high water to make the crossing over the sands to Hilbre Island and to complete the journey there and back safely.

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It was 1.15pm as we got to Little Eye with the next high water due at 3pm and we could see the tide coming around the landward side of Hilbre toward Middle Eye.  We decided that we had better head back to West Kirby and a coffee in the cafe on the South Parade.

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From Little Eye you can see clearly back to West Kirby, over to the North Wales coast and across to Hoylake further up the Wirral coast.

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Little Eye is a small outcrop of red Bunter sandstone topped with wiry grasses sticking up out of the golden sands of the Dee Estuary.  The three Hilbre islands have been occupied since Stone Age times with numerous archaeological finds on the islands, dating from the Stone Age, Iron Age, Celtic, Viking and Roman periods.  All that can be seen on Little Eye today of man’s presence are the remains of a brick and concrete moorings long since abandoned with a substantial iron bolt remaining defiantly in place.

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Hilbre Island has many more relics from later periods of history but that story is for another day.

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A walk along Hoylake Promenade

I had a walk along the promenade at Hoylake on one our recent October sunny days and took a few photos of what caught my eye in the early evening autumn sunlight.  There were a few people out on the beach, horse riders riding into the sun and dog walkers kicking across the sand.

As well as the views looking out across Liverpool Bay and across to Hilbre Island there are some fine examples of Wirral’s heritage to appreciate on the promenade.

Outside the recently built RNLI lifeboat station is a memorial statue which was unveiled in December 2010 in memory of eight Hoylake lifeboat men who lost their lives in a heroic rescue bid 200 years earlier in December1810.  The bronze statue was created by local sculptor Paul Bearman and represents Joseph Bennett, who was lifeboat coxswain at the time of the tragedy and who survived.  It depicts him standing at the helm of the boat as it sinks.  The crew, who were local fishermen, was responding to a ship called the Traveller which had been driven on shore in the Mersey, the boat going to their rescue was overwhelmed by the sea and 8 out of the 10 of the lifeboat crew were drowned.  Two families were badly affected by the tragedy.  John Bird aged 40, his sons Henry, 18, and John, 16, and nephew Henry Bird, 18 lost their lives and in addition were Joseph Hughes, aged 28, his brother Richard, 36, and Richard’s son Thomas Hughes who was 16.

Close to the memorial statue is the Victorian drinking fountain which dates back to 1897 which was installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  The cast iron drinking fountain on was restored in 2008.  It was originally manufactured in Glasgow and installed on Hoylake and Meols promenade in 1897.  But years of weather corrosion meant the structure fell into disrepair.  A grant of £25,000 from the local council was provided so that the fountain could be repaired.

Fellowship House is painted a bright terracotta red which caught the late afternoon sun with a warm glow.  The building used to be the home for the blind at some point and more recently it has been converted as a home for adults with learning difficulties by a local housing association.  Nearby on the corner of Trinity Road is another house which takes a warm pink glow from the sun late in the day.  The roof of the Sanderlings day nursery building has had another use in its past and the bright blue ‘spire’ caught my eye.

But as the day was drawing in the view across to Hilbre with the sun’s rays peeping through the clouds was a fitting end to my walk.

Hoylake R.N.L.I. Open Day

Hoylake Lifeboat

Hoylake Lifeboat

RNLI flags in the wind

Hoylake Lifeboat Station’s annual Open Day took place on Bank Holiday Monday 27th August at the Lifeboat Station on the promenade. The event is to raise funds for the RNLI which is funded by charitable donations.  Lifeboat crews and lifeguards of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution have saved around 139,900 lives at sea since 1824.  This year’s event raised around £20,000 for the RNLI.

Crowd enjoy the Open Day

Ice Cream van

Hoylake Lifeboat Museum

The event usually attracts a large crowd and despite the wind and rain it was estimated that almost 20,000 Wirral residents turned out for the event this year.

Mad Max fun fair ride

There are a range of attractions including air displays, a funfair rides, charity stalls, street theatre, an historic transport display, raffles, and tours of the town’s lifeboat and the Lifeboat Museum.

Wallasey Corporation bus

Birkenhead Corporation bus

Birkenhead Corpration bus

Wallasey Corporation bus

Birkenhead Corporation bus

The highlight is usually a display by the world famous Red Arrows display team.    They returned this year after having to pull out last year following a tragic accident where two pilots were killed in a display in Bournemouth just before being scheduled to appear at Hoylake.

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Red Arrows low level

Prior to the event, there were concerns that the dispaly team would be unable to put on their show due to low lying clouds and bad weather conditions.

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Red Arrows close formation

However the event received the all clear and the organisers cleared the beach area and the crowd were entertained by a low level flying display in front of the promenade and across the Dee Estuary.

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Given the poor light, a slow telephoto lens and jets flying at great speed I had to boost the film speed on my camera to the max to be able to get my shots of the aerobatic display.  This has meant that they are a little grainy but it all adds to the atmosphere of the display.

Red Arrows vapour trails

Red Arrows full formation

As the light faded the Red Arrows completed their display and flew out to sea and back to their visiting base at Hawarden Airfield where they stay overnight before flying to Bournemouth on 29th August to take part in an air display at Torbay.

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Red Arrows out to sea

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.