Liverpool Tall Ships 2018

During the Late Spring Bank Holiday from 25th to 28th May an in international fleet of tall ships were berthed in Liverpool for the Liverpool Tall Ships 2018 event. This forms the start of the Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta 2018.

This is so called as the ships visit three ports in three different countries as part of their planned race route. From Liverpool the tall ships race across to Dublin, Ireland before heading south via the Bay of Biscay for the finale of the Three Festivals Regatta in Bordeaux, France.

The event in Liverpool was taking place to celebrate the Liverpool Capital of Culture tenth anniversary. The tall ships event was one of the highlights from the 2008 celebrations.

The sailing ships were berthed at the Liverpool Cruise Terminal, Canning Dock, Canning Half Tide Dock and Albert Dock during the festival weekend.

The highlight took place on a sunny and hot Bank Holiday Monday with the parade of sail when the seventeen strong ships escorted by a couple of Mersey tugs and the Royal Navy’s HMS Somerset a Type 23 frigate (F82) sailed down the Mersey and out to sea. There was a flotilla of other smaller craft accompanying the tall ships.

The two Mersey Ferry boats also had special trips up and down the river packed with sight seers.

The event started at 12 noon as the HMS Somerset announced the event by four firings of its canons.

The seventeen ships taking part were: Adventure Wales, Arawak, Atyla, Belem, Belle Poule, Brian Ború, Hosanna, Juan de Langara, La Malouine, Lord Nelson, Maybe, Morgenster, Pelican of London, Royal Helena, Sir Stelios, City of London and TS Royalist.

There were massive crowds along the Pierhead and waterfront in Liverpool and at New Brighton on the Wirral side at the mouth to the River Mersey. I decided to go down to Woodside Ferry on the Birkenhead waterfront which was still accessible. I managed to get a few shots of most of the ships heading down the river with the various landmark buildings of Liverpool in the background.

After an hour or so the tall ships had passed by and the crowds dissipated going home after seeing a spectacular display of ships under full sail. Till next time…

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.

I saw three Queens come sailing in…

For the first time ever the Cunard passenger cruise company’s three cruise liners named after British queens: Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria set sail up the River Mersey.  They were here to celebrate the company’s 175th anniversary.  On Bank Holiday Monday I wandered down to Woodside Ferry in Birkenhead where the Queen Mary 2 was berthed following a contingent of uniformed Police officers who were along the riverside ensuring crowd control.



The Cunard company was founded by Samual Cunard initially as the British and North American Steam Packet Company with its first ship the Britannia setting sail on 4 July 1840 from Liverpool to Halifax Nova Scotia and Boston.  The company provided the first ever weekly timetabled steamship service across the Atlantic.  For the next 30 years, Cunard held the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic voyage.



However, in the 1870s Cunard fell behind its rivals, the White Star Line and the Inman Line and the British Government provided Cunard with substantial loans and a subsidy to build two superliners needed to retain its leading position.  In 1934 the British Government offered Cunard loans to finish Queen Mary and to build a second ship, Queen Elizabeth, on the condition that Cunard merged with the then ailing White Star line to form Cunard-White Star Ltd. Cunard owned two-thirds of the new company and purchased White Star’s share in 1947.



The name reverted to the Cunard Line in 1950.  However in 1998 Cunard was acquired by the Carnival Corporation who are based at Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, California and their British headquarters are found at Carnival House in Southampton.  But it is celebrating 175 years of operation in its spiritual home of Liverpool in 2015.



More than one million people lined the banks of the Mersey to watch the Three Queens spectacular, according to some official estimates.  Both sides of the River Mersey were lined all the way along, in some places around ten people deep.  I walked along from the Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead along to Seacombe to find a good spot but some people had been there sitting on camping chairs from very early in the day.  I managed to get a spot in the crowd at Seacombe near to the Twelve Quays ferry terminal where the Belfast Ferry was in port awaiting the cruise liners manoeuvres.



The Queen Mary 2 berthed at the cruise liner terminal in Liverpool on Sunday 24th May.  At 10.45am on Bank Holiday Monday 25th May she sailed out to sea to greet sister ships Queen Victoria travelling from Guernsey and Queen Elizabeth coming from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands at the mouth of the River Mersey before all three travelled down the river into Liverpool accompanied by a small flotilla of smaller vessels.



The three cruise ships then made dramatic 180 degree turns in the river to face the Cunard Building, one of the ‘three graces’ on the Pierhead on the Liverpool side of the river, the spiritual home to the cruise line.



Some people were lucky enough to be aboard the Mersey Ferries to view the Three Queens from the river.  One of the Mersey Ferries has been redecorated as a ‘Dazzle ship’ commemorating the practice which took place in World War 2.



The Queen Mary 2 then left heading for St Peter Port in the Channel Isles with the Queen Elizabeth tying up at the cruise liner terminal before she too left late in the evening heading to Southampton.  The Queen Victoria moored in mid river and she will berth at the cruise terminal on Tuesday 26th May before she too departs at around 17.30 hours completing a three day celebration.



The crowds peaked in the afternoon when the three giant ocean liners turned in the river to perform a salute to their spiritual home of Liverpool as the RAF Red Arrows flew overhead at precisely 13.51 hours as scheduled.  The RAF Red Arrows flew over the three Queens on the way to Blackpool Pleasure Beach further up the coast for a public display from 2pm.  I managed to get a couple of shots of the planes as they flew overhead.




The ships were accompanied up the river by a flotilla of smaller vessels.  The ships themselves have impressive features.



Queen Elizabeth was launched in 2010 built at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard near Venice, Italy.  She is the second largest Cunard liner ever built.  She has a gross tonnage of 90,900 and is 964.5 feet long.  Queen Elizabeth can carry a total of 2,092 passengers.


OK3A1779v2Queen Victoria was also built at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard near Venice, Italy.  She is the smallest in the fleet at just 90,000 tons and is 964.5 feet long with a passenger capacity of 2,014.  She was launched in 2007 in Southampton.  Her annual itinerary includes a world cruise.  Queen Victoria has seven restaurants, thirteen bars, three swimming pools, a ballroom, a two storey library and Royal Court theatre.



Queen Mary 2 was launched in 2004 as the replacement for the Queen Elizabeth 2 which was retired as the transatlantic liner regularly sailing between Southampton and New York.  QM2 is 151,400 tons and is 1,132 feet long which is equivalent to four football pitches or 41 buses.  She was built in St Nazaire in France for £550m.  She has a maximum capacity of 3,090 passengers and 1,238 crew. On board are 2,000 bathrooms, 5,500 stairs and 22 passenger lifts.



Plans for the 175th anniversary celebrations have been made over sometime and it has taken careful timetabling to allow all three ships to be in the Mersey on one day.  Liverpool is only the fourth place where the three ships have met together.  It certainly was an incredible event not likely to be repeated for some long while.

Draken Harald Hårfagre leaves Wirral

The largest reconstructed Viking longship left the Wirral on Monday afternoon heading back to Norway.


The Draken Harald Hårfagre longship arrived on Merseyside on 17 July following a dramatic voyage setting sail on 2 July from Haugesund in Norway.  The name translates as ‘Harald the Fairhair’ after Norway’s most famous Viking king.


The ship is 35 metres long (115 feet) and 7.6 metres (25 feet) wide, with a huge 260 square metre (2,800 sq ft) sail made of pure silk.  Construction began on what is the largest Viking ship ever built in modern times in March of 2010.  When rowed it requires 100 oarsmen to work 25 pairs of oars with each oar worked by two men or women.  The ship can sail the high seas with a crew of about 20 but it needs 100 oarsmen and women to manoeuvre it in and out of harbour if being rowed.


The Draken Harald Hårfagre sailed across the North Sea to Shetland and south past Orkney and down the east coast of Scotland, then crossing through Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal, passing by the Western Isles of Scotland to Peel on the Isle of Man before then crossing the Irish Sea to the Wirral.


The longship and its crew had to contend with vicious storms on a treacherous journey that lasted almost three weeks. Just off Shetland it was hit by a big wave in high winds three days after setting sail which snapped the long boat’s mast and sent it overboard.  The vessel was diverted to Lerwick Harbour in the Shetland and it had been feared that she may have had to head back to Norway for repairs.  However the ship’s captain Bjørn Ahlander decided to continue the planned voyage to Merseyside using the on-board engine installed in case of any emergencies.


Despite the boat being powered for much of the journey by the backup motor the 30 strong crew were still forced to endure difficult conditions as they sought to recreate the journey of Viking armies 1,000 years ago when Vikings sailed around Britain on the North and Irish Seas.


The longship and its crew moored at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club on Lewis Quay at the head of the West Float in the Birkenhead/Wallasey docks.  Whilst here the crew effected the repairs to the boat.  The West Float is the closest point that the organisers can get to where the Vikings are thought to have originally landed at Meols on the Deeside coast of Wirral.  The mooring has its own Viking link as the rowing club is located next to Penny Bridge once known as Tokisford – the crossing point of a Norseman called Toki.


The Norwegian boatbuilders Arild Nilsen and Ola Fjelltun sailing with the ship flew to Scotland to search for timber for a new mast.  They found a tree, a Douglas Fir from Dumfriesshire from which the new mast has been constructed.  It was prepared at a sawmill in Grimsby and then the crew working with Cammell Laird and other local shipwrights finished the mast fixing and fully reinforcing the 70 foot mast in place on the longship.


The work was completed and last Thursday and the vessel was rowed in the West and East Floats by a volunteers trained by Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club testing out its new mast.


Interestingly the old mast was discovered in the last few days floating at sea and it was towed into the harbour in the village of Walls in Shetland. I’m not sure what they will do with it now!!


The longship was to have left Wallasey on Sunday in full sail however the wind was a little too strong and they put off setting sail until around 3.30pm on Monday 4 August.



The crew sang ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ and then they sailed through the dock system to emerge on the River Mersey at the Alfred Dock at around 4.30pm.



It passed Liverpool’s famous waterfront buildings as they unfurled the main sail.  It turned at Tranmere Oil Terminal and headed out back down the river towards the Irish Sea but the crew had taken down the main sail down again.





It disappeared down to New Brighton and the mouth of the Mersey on its way to Peel, on the Isle of Man, before it returns home to Norway.



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.



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.




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.



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.



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.


Queen Mary 2 in Liverpool

Last week saw great excitement as Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 berthed in the city.  It’s only the second time that she has visited the city.  The first time was in October 2009 when she celebrated her fifth year in service with an 8-night voyage around the British Isles which included maiden visits to Greenock and Liverpool.


Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 sailed into Liverpool at 3am on 17th May.  QM2 is able to carry 2,620 passengers and in docking at the new cruise liner terminal it allowed passengers to either sail into Liverpool or embark on a cruise from the city.  This is the first time in 45 years that passengers can sail on a Cunard liner from Liverpool.


Cunard has a long association with Liverpool. From 1917 Cunard Line’s European headquarters were in the grand neo-Classical Cunard Building which is the third of Liverpool’s ‘Three Graces’ on the Pierhead.  The headquarters were used by Cunard until the 1960s.  In 1934 Cunard merged with The White Star Line which had been founded in Liverpool in 1845 strengthening the company’s links with the city.


A seven night cruise departed from Southampton on May 10 sailing to Hamburg, Greenock and then Dublin before arriving in Liverpool on the 17th.  The itinerary for the cruise from Liverpool is an eight night sailing to Invergordon, Stavanger, Hamburg and finally Southampton.  Fares for the cruise from Liverpool started from only £599 but there were only 200 berths available for this leg of Cunard’s five star cruising experience on probably the world’s most famous ship.


Queen Mary 2 succeeded Queen Elizabeth 2 which was built in 1969 and retired from active duty in 2008, as the flagship of the Cunard Line.  Queen Mary 2 operates a cruise liner service between Southampton and New York and is also used for more general cruising including an annual world cruise.



She was built in 2003 by Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, France. She is one of the longest, widest, and tallest passenger ship ever built, and with her gross tonnage of 148,528 she was also the largest at that time.  However she no longer holds this record after the construction of Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas in April 2006.  Whilst later cruise ships are larger, Queen Mary 2 remains the largest ocean liner (as opposed to cruise ship) ever built.  As the Queen Mary 2 was intended to routinely cross the Atlantic Ocean she was designed differently from many other passenger ships and required 40% more steel than a standard cruise ship.


Queen Mary 2 has a maximum speed of just over 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) and a cruising speed of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph).  This is much faster than a contemporary cruise ship.  Instead of the diesel-electric configuration found on many ships, Queen Mary 2 uses an integrated electric propulsion system that uses gas turbines to augment the power generated from the ship’s diesels.



Queen Mary 2’s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea. There are also kennels on board, as well as a nursery.  Queen Mary 2 is one of the few ships afloat today to have remnants of a class system on board, as seen in her dining options.  The passengers’ dining arrangements on board are dictated by which ‘class’ of accommodation they choose to travel in. Most passengers (around 85%) are in Britannia class and therefore dine in the main restaurant.  Passengers can choose to upgrade to either a ‘junior suite’ and dine in the “Princess Grill”, or a full suite and dine in the “Queens’ Grill”.  Those in the two latter categories are grouped together by Cunard as “Grill Passengers”, and they are permitted to use the “Queens’ Grill Lounge” and a private outdoor area on deck 11 with its own whirlpool.  All other public areas can be used by all passengers.  This arrangement features on both of Cunard’s other liners, the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth.


On 19 October 2011, Queen Mary 2 had her registry changed to Hamilton, Bermuda, from her home port of Southampton, England to allow the ship to host on-board weddings. This continued 171 years of British registry for Cunard ships, as Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory.


Liverpool’s new cruise liner terminal was officially opened on 21 September 2007 by HRH The Duke of Kent when the Queen Elizabeth 2 berthed in the city.  Since then Liverpool has seen a growing number of ocean going cruise liners coming in to the River Mersey.


The £19 million facility is able to accommodate vessels of 345 metres (1,132 ft) in length and 10 metres (33 ft) draft.  The terminal was mostly funded by grants from the UK government and the European Regional Development Fund.  The £9 million grant from the UK government came with a condition that the terminal could only be used for cruise ‘port-of-calls’ rather than ‘turnaround’ visits meaning cruises would not be allowed to begin or end at the terminal.  Turnaround visits generate more revenue for the port and city than ‘port-of-calls’. The reason for this restriction was that it was to minimize unfair competition with other ports notably Southampton that had been built with private funding.


Liverpool City Council tried unsuccessfully to have this restriction removed.  In July 2011 the council offered to pay back part of the UK government funding in exchange for being allowed turnaround visits and after further negotiation in March 2012 the government agreed a repayment offer from Liverpool City Council.  With Liverpool paying back the public funding they will be competing on a purely commercial basis with other British ports to secure passenger cruise turnaround opportunities.


On 29 May 2012 a cruise began from the Pier Head for the first time in forty years, when Ocean Countess departed on a cruise to the Norwegian fjords.  From 2014 Liverpool will be the home port of Thomson Spirit, which will operate cruises out of Liverpool.


Last year 30 ships visited Liverpool carrying 37,000 passengers and 15,000 crew.  The city council estimates the spend of the cruise passengers is worth about £1m to the local economy.  As well as cruise ships the Royal Navy also berths ships at the terminal several times a year, often allowing the public to visit the naval vessels.



Many thousands of people had turned out to see the Queen Mary 2.  Many came to view it from Princes Dock where it was berthed opposite some of Liverpool’s waterfront offices.   It’s the size of a large office block in itself with its four stories of passenger cabins with their private balconies high up on the ship.



I had managed to get some photos of the ship in my lunch hour and I had planned to take some more of it sailing out of the Mersey from New Brighton.  Unfortunately it appeared to have left fifteen minutes early rather than its published 5pm departure and by the time I got to New Brighton it was sailing out into Liverpool Bay in the distance.  Maybe I’ll get some shots next time it is berthed in Liverpool.


Mayday in West Kirby


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.



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.




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.




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.



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.


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.


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.



Easter in Heswall Dales

I’ve been delayed in uploading my photos from Easter time but finally got around to it today.  On Easter Sunday it was a bright but cold morning and I ventured out onto Heswall Dales in the Wirral.


Heswall Dales are on the north eastern side of the Dee Estuary.  They are an area of lowland heath of around seventy two acres a short distance out of Heswall town centre.  I walked through a narrow lane off Thurstaston Road behind what is now Tesco who built on the site of the old Liverpool Children’s Hospital whose grounds extended down to the Dales.  Following the path up and down over rough ground you eventually climb up onto a larger tract of open heathland.  When you get onto the higher ground you are rewarded with panoramic views of the hills and mountain ranges of North Wales across the River Dee.  Moel Famau still covered in snow could be seen clearly in the early morning haze you could just see the tip of Mount Snowden in the far distance to the left of Moel Famau.


Over to the west sailing dinghies in the River Dee estuary could be seen with Burbo Bank offshore wind farm in Liverpool Bay in the background.


Heswall Dales is one of the series of western lowland heath plant communities occurring on the Triassic sandstone outcrops of Wirral.  The area possesses both wet and dry heath, with birch and oak scrub, and some plant species which have a very localised presence.  Together with its associated wildlife it represents an important refuge in the ever expanding urban environment of the Wirral.



The heathland was recognised in 1979 as the second best remaining example of lowland heath in the Merseyside area, Thurstaston Common a bit further up the peninsula being the best regarded site locally.  The area was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its heathland habitat by the Nature Conservancy Council which is now known as English Nature.  In 1991 Heswall Dales was given the status of a Local Nature Reserve (LNR).


The area has both wet and dry heathland with the dominant plant being Heather (Calluna vulgaris).  Drier areas of heath contain a mix of Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) and Western Gorse (Ulex gallii).  The gorse species is mainly distributed across the western part of Britain and is of regional significance here.


The mixture of Birch scrub and European Gorse is an important habitat for breeding birds.  Gorse provides excellent cover for birds such as Wrens, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches.  On this morning a female Kestrel was hovering nearby its eyes fixed on its prey in the heathland below.  I stood still for some minutes and managed to get a photograph before it flew off to another part of the Dales.


At Easter the Gorse bushes were in full flower their yellow blooms being one of the earliest flowers of the year.


Heswall Dales has birch and mixed woodland in the valleys running through the site with heathland on the large broadly level area that runs though to Dale Farm at the north of the site.  The Contryside Ranger Service of Wirral Council in 2009 received funding from Natural England to carry out a restoration project to reinstate the lowland heath habitat.  They cleared the encroaching scrubland of bramble, birch and bracken which had spread and was blocking out the sunlight to the native heather and bilberry.


In order to keep this natural habitat there is a requirement for ongoing management of the Dales and the Countryside Ranger service depend on volunteer days when members of the public help out.


I continued to walk on to Dale End Farm Dale Farm which provides a day service for adults with disabilities and mental illness, giving people opportunities to learn life skills through the therapeutic use of horticulture.  From there I walked back onto Thurstaston Road ending my morning’s walk.


Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

I made a visit to what is now known as the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port which is situated in South Wirral on the banks of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal.

The museum contains the largest collection of canal boats in the world.  It has boats from Britain’s inland waterways and canals including narrowboats, barges,tugs and some wide bodied vessels as well.  The museum has been developed on a site at the northern end of the Shropshire Union Canal where it enters the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port where huge warehouses, docks and a range of moorings and locks were built as the canal port developed.

The canal to Ellesmere Port was built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop funded by the merchants of the Shropshire town of Ellesmere to give them an outlet onto the Mersey and the port of Liverpool for their goods.  The canal was completed in 1795 and over the next hundred years the village of Netherpool which changed its name to Ellesmere Port grew steadily.  Industrial areas grew up around the canal and its docks attracted more and more workers to the area and the town itself continued to expand.

The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 giving businesses in Manchester direct access to the Atlantic to export their goods.  The Stanlow Oil Refinery was completed further along the ship canal in the 1920s and the town expanded so that it now incorporated further outlying villages as suburbs.  The canal port continued to be fully operational until the 1950s.

With the growth of railways and road transportation the use of canals declined and the dock complex was abandoned in the 1960s.  In 1973 a group of volunteers came together to rebuild the warehouses and the lock system and they founded the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum which became the National Waterways Museum in 2004.

The museum covers the area of the former canal port and retains the original system of locks, docks and warehouses.  The Island Warehouse now includes an exhibition on the history of boat-building and an exhibition which describes the social history of canals.  The Pump House contains the steam-driven pumping engines which supplied power for the hydraulic cranes and the capstans which were used around the dock and the Power Hall contains a variety of other engines.

The Museum also contains a terrace of four houses known as ‘Porter’s Row’. These were dock workers’ cottages which have been decorated and furnished to represent different periods from the docks history.  The houses show how they would have been in the 1830s, the 1900s, the 1930s and the 1950s.

The area outside the dockworkers’ cottages is set out as a typical street scene from around the 1940s and 1950s.

Whilst the museum displays many canal boats which tell the story of the waterways the heritage boat yard has a number of old and neglected boats which the boatyard aims to restore training young people in the skills of boat restoration.

Looking across the Boat Museum to the Manchester Ship Canal you can see the Widnes/Runcorn Bridge in the distance, another feat of engineering which was opened in 1961 to replace an older bridge dating from 1905.

The Holiday Inn which is adjacent to the boat museum is built on the site of the former Telford’s Winged Warehouse.  So called because it was a four storey building built on two arches across the canal basin.  It was completed in 1835 but was burned down in 1970.  The Holiday Inn was built in the late 1980s.  As I walked past the locks next to the Holiday Inn a pair of swans were feeding on the downfall from the lock gates.

All in all this was a very interesting walk back in time to the days when canals fed the industrial revolution which saw Britain develop into the first industrialised nation.

Irish Sea Tall Ships Regatta

The Tall Ships were back in Liverpool this weekend.

The inaugural Irish Sea Tall Ships Regatta saw a fleet of Tall Ships race from Dublin on Sunday 26th August 2012 arriving in Liverpool on Wednesday and Thursday 29th/30th August 2012. The eleven tall ships in the regatta docked in the Albert and Canning Docks in Liverpool until Sunday morning.

There was plenty of activity at the Albert and Canning docksides over the weekend with many of the Tall Ships open to the public accompanied by events including, street theatre, dancing, craft workshops, storytelling, community choirs, shanty groups, and children’s arts and craft activities.

Albert Dock in Liverpool is the largest collection of Grade I listed buildings in the UK and provided a beautiful backdrop for the Tall Ships berthed there with the three graces (the Liver Building, Port of Liverpool building and the Cunard Building) in the background as well as the new Liverpool Museum on the waterfront.

The regatta has been organised by charity ‘Sail Training International’ which teaches young people sailing skills and is one of the world’s leading providers of races, events and other services for the sail training community.  For the Tall Ships race half of the crew must be aged between 15 and 25 and they learn from the experienced crew members.  In the race from Dublin to Liverpool the overall winner was ‘Challenge Wales’ a Bermudian Cutter.

The Dublin to Liverpool race ended this year’s series of tall ships races. The Tall Ships Races 2012 started in St Malo, France in July with the fleet racing across the Bay of Biscay to Lisbon in Portugal, before carrying on to Cádiz in Spain and then onto A Coruna in Northern Spain.

From here the fleet left on 13th of August to head north for the Irish Sea and Dublin.  This was the final port of call for the Tall Ships Races 2012.  The ships docked in Dublin between the 23rd to the 26th of August.

However for this year eleven of the tall ships fleet of 40 sail boats took part in this the first Irish Sea Regatta leaving Dublin to come to Liverpool.

The ships which came to Liverpool are: the British barquentine ‘Pelican’; the Polish schooner ‘Kapitan Borchardt’; the Dutch gaff schooner ‘Gallant’; the British gaff schooner  ‘Johanna Lucretia’; the British gaff ketch ‘Maybe’; the Norwegian Bermudian ketch ‘Prolific’; the Estonian Bermudian sloop ‘St Iv’; the Dutch gaff ketch ‘Tecla’; the Belgian Bermudian sloop ‘Tomidi’; the British Bermudian sloop ‘Black Diamond of Durham’ and the Welsh Bermudian Cutter ‘Challenge Wales’.

The Regatta fleet prepared to leave on Sunday from 10.30am, the vessels mustered and got into formation as they undertook a Parade of Sail in the river from around 1pm.  The tall ships came out from the Albert Dock which was thronged with spectators.  They went up river and escorted by the veteran tugboat the Brocklebank, which is owned and run by the Merseyside Maritime Museum, they took the tide and came back down the River Mersey passing the Liverpool Pierhead, Wallasey Town Hall and Seacombe Ferry on the Wirral side of the river.  They then went out to sea returning to their home ports across Europe.