A walk to Hilbre Island

I’ve mentioned Hilbre Island in a number of blogs in the past and I posted about a walk to Little Eye way back on 5 May 2014 but I’ve not written a blog about walking out to Hilbre Island.

Armed with my pocket camera rather than full photographic kit we walked the two or so miles out from the beach at West Kirby and the same distance back again whilst the tide was out.

For September it was an overcast day but the rain kept away. On a summer day, up to 500 people can make the walk out to Hilbre Island. Given the changing tides some get the timing wrong and require the help of the local lifeboat crew.

There are a group of three islands just off the West Kirby coast.  Hilbre Island is the largest of the group at approximately 11.5 acres or 4.7 hectares in area.  It is two miles out from West Kirby or one mile from Red Rocks off Hoylake up the coast but there is no safe route across the sands from Red Rocks.  The safe route is to head to Little Eye from West Kirby Sailing School, then across to Middle Eye and onto Hilbre.  The sands are not safe outside of this path.

Middle Eye or in older sources ‘Middle Island’ and on Ordnance Survey maps it is shown as ‘Little Hilbre’ is the second island.  It is about 3 acres or 1.2 hectares in size.  The third island is Little Eye and this is much smaller being a rocky outcrop.  Hilbre and Middle Eye are less than a hundred yards apart.  All three islands are formed of red Bunter sandstone.

Hilbre Island is one of 43 tidal islands that can be reached on foot from the mainland of Great Britain when the tide is out.  Others include The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, in Northumberland, and St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall.  The islands here are thought to have been occupied on and off since the Stone Age. Several finds of Stone and Bronze Age items and Roman pottery items were discovered in 1926.

Hilbre Island’s name derives from the dedication of a medieval chapel built on the island to St. Hildeburgh, an Anglo-Saxon holy woman, after which it became known as Hildeburgheye or Hildeburgh’s island.  Hildeburgh is said to have lived on Hilbre Island in the 7th century as an anchorite (a religious recluse).  The 19th-century St Hildeburgh’s Church in Hoylake, built nearby on the mainland, is named for her.

Hilbre Island may have been a hermitage before the Norman invasion or at least a place of pilgrimage based around the tradition of St Hildeburgh.  In about 1080 a church for Benedictine monks was established on Hilbre Island as a dependency of Chester Cathedral.

The area was part of the lands of the Norman lord Robert of Rhuddlan and he gave the islands to an abbey in Normandy, who then passed responsibility onto the Abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester.

The island became a common place for pilgrimage in the 13th and 14th centuries and upon the dissolution of the monasteries two monks were allowed to remain on the island, as they maintained a beacon for shipping in the river mouth as Chester and Parkgate were busy ports. The last monk left the island in about 1550, as it was no longer considered a sanctuary, having become a centre for commerce and a busy trading port itself.  In 1692 a small factory was set up to refine rock salt. There was also a ‘beer house’, The Seagull Inn, during the 1800s and with the commercial activity a custom house was established on the island to collect taxes on the goods traded.  However with the silting up of the River Dee trade switched to ports on the River Mersey and the commerce and trade vanished from the island leading to the closure of the inn in the 1830s. Part of the structure of this building remains incorporated into what was the custodian’s residence.

 

The islands were bought in 1856 by the Trustees of the Liverpool Docks, which later became known as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.  Hilbre Island Lighthouse was constructed here in 1927 it is a white 3m high steel tower surmounted by a red lantern which since 1995 is solar powered.  The islands were sold to Hoylake Council in 1945 for £2,500, passing to Wirral Borough Council on its formation in 1974.

Hilbre used to have a Wirral Council Countryside Warden who lived on the island but in January 2011 it was announced that there would be no permanent ranger. Wirral Council said that they had had difficulty finding a ranger prepared to live without mains electricity or running water on the island. The ranger service now visits each day by Land Rover.

There are however a few houses, some of which are privately owned on the island.  There are also some interesting buildings like the decaying lifeboat station and the old telegraph station.  The ruined redbrick former Lifeboat Station was built in 1849; it was a quicker option than the previous method of dragging the boat over the sands from Hoylake.  It is said that the crew ran or rode on horseback from Hoylake before rowing out to rescue stricken sailors.  The last launch from here was in 1939.  Much of the slipway is still in place but the power of the sea has shifted numerous stones a few hundred yards.  The Telegraph Station has now been made into an interperatative centre.  Another interesting development was an exclusive gentlemen’s club who leased a house on the island in the late 19th century and named themselves the ‘Hilbre Club’.

The most southerly building on the island is the Hilbre Bird Observatory, from which birds are continuously monitored as part of a national network of observatories and ringing stations.  Terns, gulls, egrets, shelducks, herons, Manx shearwaters, rock pipits, peregrine falcons, gannets, oyster catchers have all been spotted here.

As well as birds the island is famous for its seals.  A colony of Atlantic grey seals swim around the northern tip of the island.  There is a regular count of the number of seals with their numbers increasing steadily over decades.  In recent years a peak count of over 825 was recorded on June 24th 2010.  The increase is mainly because the Dee Estuary is now very clean, so there is an abundance of food.  There is also plenty of space on the sandbanks particularly the nearby Hoyle Bank for the seals to haul out and bask in the sun.  At high tide they swim around catching fish and at low tide they haul themselves onto a sandbank or onto Hilbre when all the visitors have gone. Not having my DSLR camera and lens I struggled to get close up shots of the seals.

The Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve is within the Dee Estuary which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, a ‘Ramsar’ Site which is a Wetland of International Importance and a candidate EU Special Area of Conservation.  As such the islands are protected by law to conserve their wildlife and geology.

Whilst the islands and surrounding foreshores are the freehold property of Wirral Council who manage the site, a group called the Friends of Hilbre (http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/hilbre/) was formed in 2001 to help the Council maintain the islands.  The Friends of Hilbre amongst other things promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve for the benefit of the public.

Local yachting clubs have held “Commodore’s Day” visits to the Hoyle Bank sand bank just off from Hilbre island.  This usually involves the crews of several yachts going onto the sands and enjoying various activities: football, cricket and even barbecues.  This causes the seals to flee abandoning their rest period which could be detrimental to their health.  The Friends of Hilbre are seeking a way to resolve this issue with the Council’s Rangers’ department.

The island along with the West Kirby and Hoylake coast has been awarded Green Flag status for 2017/18.  Apparently Wirral has more of these flags than any other UK county.  The Green Flag is the national standard for publicly accessible parks and green spaces.  Set up in 1996, this scheme recognises and rewards green spaces in England and Wales which achieve the standards set.

Ending on a note from the world of showbiz, Hilbre island featured prominently in the 2013 BBC films crime drama ‘Blood’ which featured Hollywood stars Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham.  The film was shot in Wirral where the director, Nick Murphy, grew up. He located much of the action to Hilbre island where as a kid he had thought it would be a good place to bury a body!  The island provides a brooding back drop to the dark crime thriller.

Along the shore at Thurstaston

A long straight road from Thurstaston village takes you down to the Thurstaston visitors centre and down to the coast and a shingle and sand beach with boulder clay cliffs overlooking the River Dee and the Dee estuary out to Liverpool Bay.

The River Dee

The Dee Estuary or in Welsh the ‘Aber Dyfrdwy’ starts near Shotton after a five-mile (8km) ‘canalised’ section and the river soon swells to be several miles wide forming the boundary between the Wirral Peninsula in England and Flintshire in north-east Wales.

The estuary is unusual in that comparatively little water occupies such a large a basin. Experts suggest that the estuary owes its origin to the passage of glacial ice south eastwards from the Irish Sea during successive ice ages, eroding a broad and shallow iceway through the relatively soft Triassic sandstones, mudstones and coal measures underlying the area. The inner parts of this channel were filled by glacially derived sands and gravels long ago but infilling by mud and silt has continued ever since. It is also thought that prior to the ice ages the estuary received larger river flows as the upper Severn flowed into the Dee near Chirk.  For a period, the Mersey may also have flowed into the Dee by means of a channel which it cut through the base of the Wirral Peninsula.

The estuary is a major wildlife area and one of the most important estuaries in Britain, amongst the most important in Europe for its populations of waders and wildfowl. The Environment Agency is the Conservation Authority, and the estuary is protected or listed under several schemes.

From earliest times, the Dee estuary was a major trading and military route, to and from Chester. From about the 14th century, Chester provided facilities for trade with Ireland, Spain, and Germany, and seagoing vessels would “lay to” in the Dee awaiting favourable winds and tides. However as the Dee started to silt up, harbouring facilities developed further up the estuary on the Wirral bank successively at Shotwick, Burton, Neston, Parkgate, Dawpool, and “Hoyle Lake” or Hoylake as it is now called.  The excavation of the New Cut in 1737, to improve access to Chester, diverted the river’s course to the Welsh side of the estuary, but failed to stem the silting up of the river, and Chester’s trading function declined as that of Liverpool on the River Mersey grew.  However, Chester was still a major port of passenger embarkation for Ireland until the early 19th century.

Now just up the coast from Thurstaston towards West Kirby is the Dee Sailing Club with its slip way out into the estuary. The slipway is also used as an access point for cockle fishermen.  A total of 53 licences are available each year to cockle fishermen with more temporary licences being issued if the cockle stock levels are high enough. However in recent years a ban on collecting the shellfish has been in place because of serious drops in cockle stocks on the Dee estuary.  The industry is worth an estimated £40,000 a year to cockle pickers, who are licensed to harvest the shellfish for six months.

Thurstaston visitors centre

Wirral Country Park features a 12 mile footpath following the line of the old West Kirby to Hooton Railway line.  At Thurstaston there is a visitor centre, Bird Hide, Toilets, Picnic Areas, BBQ area, Café, pond, Green Shop and a range of artistic pieces. The Wirral Way is very popular with pedestrians, dog walkers, horse riders and cyclists.  But as well as being a stopping point on the linear Wirral Way Thurstaston is a point of access onto the West Wirral coast.

The Birkenhead Railway, owned jointly by the Great Western Railway (GWR) and London and North Western Railway (LNWR), had initially opened a branch line from Hooton to Parkgate in 1866 with an extension to West Kirby being completed twenty years later, including Thurstaston station which opened on 19 April 1886.  Station Road was constructed from land donated by local landowners Thomas Ismay and the Glegg family to provide access from the village to Thurstaston station.

During the Second World War the line was used for the transportation of munitions. Heavy anti-aircraft gun emplacements were built on land to the west of the station, which have since been grassed over.

Despite regular seasonal tourist use of the station, passenger numbers generally remained low and on 1 February 1954 the station was closed to passengers, although the line itself remained open to passenger trains for another two years.  The track continued to be used for freight transportation and driver training for another eight years, closing on 7 May 1962 with the tracks being lifted two years later.

The route became the Wirral Way footpath and part of Wirral Country Park in 1973, which was the first such designated site in Britain.  Unlike most of the stations on the line, the two platforms are still in situ, though the southbound platform is largely overgrown.  The station buildings have long since been demolished.

Thurstaston Beach

Walking from the visitors centre you soon come to edge of the Wirral.

The west coast of Wirral is eroding and one of the best areas to view this is from the beach at Thurstaston which is constantly at the mercy of the incoming tides sent up the River Dee from Liverpool Bay.  The Environmental Agency management policy agreed in the ‘Shoreline Management Plan’ is to ‘hold the existing defence line’.

The steps down to the beach directly behind the Thurstaston Visitors Centre have long gone as the ground has fallen away and the steps at the base washed away.  To get onto the beach now you either take the steps down to Shore Cottage or you walk along the coastal path down to ‘Tinkers Dell’.  Evidence of continuing erosion is visible here again at the bottom of the cliffs next to Tinker’s Dell.  Walking through Tinkers Dell is like walking through a lush tropical jungle as you walk down to the cliffs.  As you get to the beach looking at the cliffs you can see the various layers in the clay which is easily washed away by the sea.

During storms in 2013 and 2014 a disused Sandstone farm building, probably 18th or 19th century, tumbled down the cliff side onto the shore below.  It’s a bit of a mystery as to what this old building was originally used for either a barn or it may have been a dwelling.  However research by the Wirral Society suggests that the structure may have been a working Lime kiln from the late Nineteenth century.

Some experts suggest that the continued silting process in the River Dee will start to build a protective bank of sand which will stop the high-tides crashing onto the clay cliffs.  The River Dee is in a constant state of flux with silt and the emergence of new Spartina Grass areas like those in Parkgate which has silted up dramatically since the Eighteenth Century.

A short walk back along the beach heading up the estuary towards the sea brings you to Shore Cottage.

Shore Cottage and Studio

Shore Cottage Studio is a modern artists’ studio offering creative courses by the sea. The studio sits in the garden of the family home of the artists, which in turn sit right on the beach and the tidal estuary at the bottom of boulder clay cliffs in a Site of Specific Scientific Interest.   The access is by a public footpath of steps with a handrail leading down the cliff onto the shore from Station Road above.

The Studio opened in 2014 and the actual building of the it featured on George Clarke’s ‘Amazing Spaces’ programme on Channel 4 in 2013.  George Clark described the Studio as “the perfect place to teach art”.  The studio has unrivalled, panoramic, inspirational views across to the Dee estuary to North Wales. The artists have said that it was designed and built with teaching creative courses by the sea as its raison d’être.  Shore Cottage and the studio are cut off by tides twice a day, and these varying tides, open views, and as the artists say “exposure to the elements make the Cottage and its immediate environment an ever changing, exciting, dynamic, and inspirational space”.  All of the courses are designed to make the most of the stunning and unique location allowing students to walk along the shore sketching, photographing, collecting and interacting with the environment.  It certainly feels like a remote location well away from modern day life.

Around Thurstaston Common

At the weekend I walked around Thurstaston Common a part of West Wirral popular with walkers and outdoors enthusiasts.  The weather was not the best for taking photos but there was a weak winter sun in between the showers and dark clouds and foreboding skies in the late afternoon.

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Thurstaston Common is a unique area which together with the adjacent Royden Park comprises an area of almost 250 acres (100 hectares) of parklands, woodland and natural heathland.  It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is a Local Nature Reserve.  The site is jointly owned by Wirral Borough Council and The National Trust and is managed by Wirral Rangers.

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Starting from Telegraph Road you are soon at the top of Thurstaston Hill which is a modest 298 ft (91m) in height.  But it offers extensive views across the Wirral Peninsula and beyond.

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On one side there are views of the Dee Estuary (itself a Site of Special Scientific Interest) and over the River Dee to the Clwydian Hills of North Wales.

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If you look closely enough you can make out the Point of Ayr on the North Eastern corner of the North Wales coast with the Great Orme in Llandudno behind it.

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On the other side of the Wirral peering toward Birkenhead you can see Arrowe Park Hospital in the near distance with the City of Liverpool in the far distance with both cathedrals and various city centre tower blocks being visible.

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Further round are the docks at Seaforth and the newly installed giant red cranes which are part of the new £400m Port of Liverpool terminal 2 development.

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On the third side of the peninsula are the towns of Hoylake, Moreton and Leasowe with Liverpool Bay beyond them and the wind turbines at Burbo Bank offshore wind farm at the entrance to the Irish Sea.

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The clear white painted Leasowe Lighthouse shines like a beacon but while it no longer safeguards the Wirral coast it leads the eye out to the far coast of the Mersey which extends from Crosby through to Formby Point.

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In clear weather, Snowdonia, the Pennine Hills, the Lake District are all visible but not today.

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A brass viewfinder plate was installed on top of the Triangulation point column on the Hill in memory of Andrew Blair, founder of Liverpool and District Ramblers Association to help visitors find their bearings.  However the brass map was stolen from the viewing point in August 2016 and has not been found.  Wirral Council has promised to install a replacement plaque to be produced using photographs of the original brass map.  To this end the Council has appealed to members of the public to provide information or photographs of the original design.

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As you approach Royden Park from Thurstaston Common you can see the Grade II listed building of Hillbark reputed to be one of the finest examples of Victorian half-timbered designed buildings. The house was originally built in 1891 for the soap manufacturer Robert William Hudson on Bidston Hill.  In 1921 the house was sold to Sir Ernest Royden, and he arranged for the house to be dismantled and rebuilt on the present site, at Royden Park, between 1928 and 1931.  Sir Ernest Royden died in 1960 and left the house to the local council and up until the mid-1980s it was used as an old people’s home.  It closed in 1984 and fell into disrepair until in the early 2000s it was converted into a five star hotel.

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In the middle of the common is a relatively new memorial stone erected last year.  Sir Alfred Paton gave Thurstaston Heath to the National Trust in memory of his brother, Captain Morton Brown Paton and the other men of The Wirral who died in the Great War 1914-18.  Captain Morton Brown Paton served with the South Lancashire Regiment and he died in action on 7 August 1915 age 44 at Helles, Turkey.  He was a successful cotton merchant in Liverpool.   The plaque on the memorial marks the anniversary of the family’s donation to the National Trust.

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The habitat of the Common varies from mixed woodland dominated by birches, oak, sycamore and rowan to wet and dry heathland.  Locally rare plants such as marsh gentian, oblong-leaved sundew and round-leaved sundew are found on the common. Animals include common lizard, dragonflies and birds such as yellowhammer and meadow pipit feed and nest in the heather.  Tawny owl, jay, sparrowhawk and woodpeckers can also be sighted in the pine plantations.  Today as I sat on the hill an inquisitive Robin nestling in the gorse, which was out in full bloom, was my main sighting of the local wildlife.

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Within the Common close to Thurstaston Hill is the location of Thor’s Stone, a place of ancient legend.  Thor’s Stone is a large rectangular red sandstone outcrop that is around 50 feet in length, 30 feet wide and 25 foot high which has been eroded over thousands of years.

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This part of Wirral was settled by the Vikings as part of a Norse colony centred on Thingwall which was the local parliament in the 10th and 11th centuries and local folklore says that the rock is named after the Norse thunder god Thor.  Viking settlers according to legend used the stone as a pagan altar when religious ceremonies were held here at Thor’s Stone.  The stone was also known locally as ‘Fair Maiden’s Hall’.

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This is a fascinating period of Wirral’s history.  The Vikings began raids on the Wirral towards the end of the ninth century, travelling from Ireland; they began to settle along the River Dee side of the peninsula and along the sea coast.  The settlement of the Wirral by the Vikings was led by Ingimund, who had been expelled from Ireland in around 902 and gained permission from Ethelfleda, Lady of Mercia and daughter of King Alfred the Great, to settle peacefully on the peninsula.  Most of the village names around the peninsula derive from ancient Norse.

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Geologists and historians now think that Thor’s stone is a natural formation similar to a tor, arising from periglacial weathering of the underlying sandstone with the rock being moulded by water flows under the ice at the end of the last Ice Age.  It was later exploited by quarrymen in the 18th and 19th centuries and weathered by subsequent erosion.  The small pool to the left of Thor’s Stone is one of the wetland areas to be found on the heath.

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Today the soft sandstone has been an easy rock for countless people to have carved their names or messages into for posterity.  There is not an inch of it which doesn’t appear to have been carved upon.

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The top of Thor’s Stone can be reached by a choice of easy scrambles up the heavily eroded rock. The outlines of 230 million year old sand dunes can be detected in the rock layers, a reminder that the area was an equatorial desert in the Triassic period.

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From Thor’s Stone it was a short walk back to Thurstaston Hill and back down the other side to the car park on Telegraph Road.

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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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Heswall Dales

I’ve posted about Heswall Dales before.  It’s a great place to walk in all weathers as you are rewarded with great skyscapes as well as views across to Wales or out to Liverpool Bay.

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The Dales arean area of 73 acres of heathland and they are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as a Local Nature Reserve.  The site is red sandstone and the heathland area comprises in the main of heather, gorse and birch trees.

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As well as offering views of the Dee Estuary and the Clwydian Hills of North Wales you can get a clear view over to the Point of Ayr, the northernmost point of mainland Wales right at the head of the mouth of the Dee estuary. The Point of Ayr lighthouse stands on Talacre beach at this point.  At one time it had two lights; the main beam shone out to sea towards Llandudno and a second beam shone up the River Dee towards Dawpool, just below the Heswall Dales.  It was replaced by a light vessel in 1883 at which point it was retired as a working lighthouse.

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For many years a colliery operated at Point of Ayr which was the northernmost point of the Flintshire Coalfield.  It was one of the last remaining operational deep mines in Wales extending out northwards under the Irish Sea.  However the Point of Ayr colliery closed in August 1996.

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Now energy generation of a different kind can be seen in the distance behind the Point of Ayr headland with the Gwynt y Môr Offshore Wind Farm in Liverpool Bay off the North Wales coast.  It is currently the largest windfarm in construction anywhere in Europe.  Gwynt y Môr will consist of 160 turbines when complete.

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Moel Findeg

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Earlier in February I ventured out for a walk on the hills in North Wales to celebrate my birthday.  It was the day after a severe storm which had brought trees and some power lines down and whilst the force of the winds had dropped we didn’t venture onto the high mountains but explored a corner of the lesser known Clwydian hills.

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The Clwydian range is only half an hour’s drive away from Wirral being located in north east Wales.  The range runs from Llandegla in the south to Prestatyn in the north dividing the valleys of the River Dee and River Clwyd, with the highest point being Moel Famau at 1,817 feet (554m).  The range is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

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The summits of the Clwydian hills provide extensive views across north Wales, to the high peaks of Snowdonia, eastwards across the Cheshire Plain, Peak District and towards Manchester and Wirral and more distantly Liverpool to the northeast.

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For this walk we started from Colomendy Outdoor Education Centre near Loggerheads on the Mold to Ruthin road and walked through woods and past old and still active quarries around the old mining village of Maeshafn.

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Some of the paths were blocked with fallen trees and where they crossed many fields they were a quagmire of mud given the high rainfall we have had this winter.  Our lunchtime stop off point at the Miners Arms in Maeshafn had to be abandoned as the pub was closed having no electricity supply due the gales.

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The ‘high point’ of the walk was ascending Moel Findeg which has some extensive views for quite a small hill.  Views of Moel Famau, Foel Fenlii and Moel Eithinen can be clearly seen from the top of the hill.  The area is a local nature reserve and was saved from quarrying some years ago when local residents raised the funds to buy the site.

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Walking down from Moel Findeg we passed an eerie old disused farmstead before we descended back down to the valley from where we started.

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We arrived back to our starting point with the gentle glow of late afternoon winter sunshine.

Mayday in West Kirby

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West Kirby is a small town on the north-west corner of the Wirral Peninsula at the mouth of the River Dee.  It is a popular destination for residents of Wirral and from Liverpool who come over on the train to enjoy the sun, sea and sand when the weather is good.  For a change this bank holiday we have had a really hot and sunny day with temperatures topping 20 degrees centigrade and lots of people were out to enjoy the day.

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A big attraction is the large man made coastal lake, the ‘Marine Lake’ which holds sailing events, sail-boarding, canoeing and kayaking. It is 52 acres in size, is around 5 feet deep and is totally enclosed.  Today it was calm with very little wind and there were few dinghies on the water.

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The popular walk along the outer wall of the lake has become a feature of the promenade in West Kirby since it was built in 1899.  The lake suffered a catastrophic leak in 1985 and a new much larger lake was built at that time by the local Wirral Council.  More recently the lake was given a £750,000 refurbishment in 2009 following an engineers’ report which said the lake’s outer wall was crumbling and that it was only a matter of time before it became too dangerous to allow visitors to continue walking along it. Today the perimeter wall is good shape and there were hundreds of people walking around the lake.

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Another favourite pastime when the tide is out for many families is to walk across to the three small islands out in the Dee estuary.  The islands of Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre Island are cut off from the mainland by the tide for up to 5 hours out of every 12 hours.  If you do not plan your walk with enough time to get back before high water then you will have to allow for a stay of at least 5 hours whilst the tide is in.  It takes around an hour for the 2 mile crossing.  Today there appeared to be many many people walking across the sands to the islands.

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Little and Middle Eye are very small sandstone outcrops but Hilbre is a much larger island at around 11.6 acres in area and whilst there are a number of buildings there are no shops, public toilets or any fresh water on the island and very little shelter. A Countryside Ranger from Wirral Council used to be based on Hilbre Island but it was announced in January 2011 that there would be no longer be a permanent ranger as the Council could not find anyone prepared to live without mains electricity or running water.

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The West Hoyle sandbank, to the west of Hilbre, provides a haul-out for quite large numbers of Grey Seals, and these can be seen swimming around the islands most days of the year. Whales and dolphins have also been sighted off the island.

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But many people were happy just to potter around the promenade or around the lake and judging by the number of cars in the town’s streets many probably didn’t manage to get a parking space and therefore were not able to enjoy a hot day by the sea.

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