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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Wilson Trophy, West Kirby

I had a walk around West Kirby marine lake on Sunday morning on the third day of the annual Wilson Trophy which is organised by West Kirby Sailing Club.  The 2012 event is the 63rd Trophy race and it is being held over 11th, 12th and 13th of May when around 200 sailors in 30 teams compete on the marine lake.  The majority of teams competing this year are from the UK, but three come from Ireland and two have made the journey across from the USA for the three day long event.  The event takes the form of 300 short races in three-boat teams jostling on an area the size of a football pitch to earn the coveted title: “Wilson Trophy Champion”.

The marine lake is set on the very tip of the Wirral peninsula with stunning views of the Welsh Hills and the Dee Estuary.  It is a man-made saltwater lake 52 acres in size, 5 foot deep and totally enclosed and it is used for a variety of water sports.

Friday’s races were cancelled due to strong winds.  But with the ultra-short team races they caught up on Saturday and Sunday morning.  Wessex Exempt and Royal Thames Red led the event overnight on Saturday both claiming nine victories out of 11 races.

The teams sail using the event’s uniquely colour-coded Firefly sailing dinghies.  The Firefly is a two-sail dinghy with no spinnaker and is raced as a double hander.  It has high manoeuvrability and is easy handling.  Watching the teams on Sunday morning it was quite a spectacle as the dinghies jostle each other as they head around the marker buoys.  As they are all closely grouped together it is no surprise that there were a number of ‘comings together’ with the umpires who follow each race in speedy inflatable dinghies imposing penalties on the offenders.

The Firefly class is popular for the British Universities Sailing Association who have two teams in the event a long with a number of other competitors from university teams.  As I left the event at midday on Sunday the top places in the initial ‘round robin’ event had changed; West Kirby Hawks were leading with the New Forest Pirates in second place.

This was how it finished as the race committee decided that as the wind speed had risen to 30 knots and building, the event must be postponed with the finishing positions for the 2012 Wilson Trophy being those at the end of the round robin races rather than going ahead with the top eight teams competing head to head.