Across Storeton Fields

Earlier this month when we had a long sunny day we walked from Storeton village to Thingwall across the fields. This entails using public foot paths maintained by the local council.

There are around 75 miles of public rights of way in Wirral, taking in woodlands, heathlands, parklands, promenades, beaches, country parks or paths like these across farm land.

On this occasion we couldn’t go all the way on our usual route as urgent work to replace the Stanley Wood footbridge across the stream that leads into Prenton Brook some half a mile away near to where the M53 motorway crosses Landican Lane and the Bidston to Wrexham railway line.

Walkers in many cases take it for granted that footpaths are maintained so that we can get out and enjoy the countryside.

The old timber bridge was in a poor state of repair. The 12m wooden footbridge in Stanley Wood received emergency repairs in the summer of 2017 to extend its life until July 2018 with a replacement bridge being designed and priced for replacement this summer. Back in March Wirral Council announced that dozens of roads and bridges across Wirral would see major improvements as the council said it would allocate more than £2.5m to improve highways.

The bridge at Stanley Wood is included a long with more than 150 roads being upgraded including surface dressing and foot way works. The Council has said like most highway authorities, that its roads network was deteriorating, and action was now needed to reduce spiralling costs in future.

The Council’s funding allocation includes £150,000 worth of works to bridges including Stanley Wood Footbridge and bridge retaining walls at Storeton Road and Brimstage Road.
With the very heavy rains in late 2017 and early 2018 the path across the fields from Storeton to Stanley Woods became quagmires. Without major expenditure, there is little that can be done to ensure better draining after substantial rainfall. The Council are looking to make some surface improvements although on our walk after a prolonged hot summer the ground was as hard as concrete!

The bridge across the M53 motorway is now quite overgrown as it is not used by very many farm vehicles but walkers in the main.
We can be grateful in this age of austerity that our less well-known rights of way are continuing to be protected for our communities to use in the future.

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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…in perpetuity

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Richard Henry Hooper (known as Harry) Hooper was born 1865 and was a successful local business man who lived in the large house known as ” Knollwood” in Gayton.  We don’t know much about Mr Hooper but a sign passed by hundreds of motorists everyday between Barnston Road and Brimstage Road advises us that in 1930 he presented the pinewoods at the Gayton roundabout to the parish of Gayton ‘for the use of the public in perpetuity’.

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His house at “Knollwood” in Well Lane Gayton is still standing today; a local landmark for its very fine entrance gates which are from the former Birkenhead Woodside Railway Station which closed in 1967.

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Mr Hooper was clearly a keen golfer as he was Captain of Heswall Golf Club in 1912.  He died on the 4th May, 1936.

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Today the pinewoods are maintained by Wirral Council as well as a local resident who tidies the area on a regular basis.  The woods are no longer solely pine woods with other deciduous trees now growing.

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The woods are an oasis of calm between two busy roads and have benches laid out for sitting on.  Many of the timbers have rotted on the benches and the local Rotary Club have replaced most of them.

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I wandered through them one very sunny late afternoon a few weeks ago when the bluebells were still in flower.

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Thank you Mr Hooper for leaving to the community to enjoy …in perpetuity.

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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.

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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March snow in Heswall…

Van Morrison’s 1973 song Snow in San Anselmo (the first track on the album Hard Nose the Highway) captures a California town experiencing snow for the first time. The song gives you the sense that time stops and everyone is silently taking in the snowy scenery around them for the first time.

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From the last verse of the song:

Snow in San Anselmo

My waitress my waitress my waitress

Said it was coming down

Said it hadn’t happened in over 30 years

But it was laying on the ground

But it was laying on the ground

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Well we’re not in California and we’ve had snow before in Heswall but my elderly neighbours said we haven’t had it as deep as this in the last 25 years.  We had around eight or nine inches of snow and considering it started on 22 March the day after the first day of Spring, it is unusual and given that Wirral being next to the sea tends to have milder weather it is even more out of keeping with the regular pattern of weather.

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Nature’s a fickle thing.  The Jackdaws perched high in the snow covered tree tops wondering what season its is and the magnolia buds breaking through snow encrusted leaves alongside a single camelia flower heralding a Spring which hasn’t quite arrived.

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I had a walk down to Gayton Roundabout with my camera.  A lot of tree branches had broken under the weight of snow.  In the two small triangular woods next to the roundabout many Scots Pine branches had fallen blocking the paths.

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Some branches had fallen onto the road way bringing down telephone cables.  As I slithered home on Friday night in a snow storm a large branch had fallen blocking the road at the end of Storeton Lane which the queue of motorists had to move in order for us to get out onto Barnston Road.

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As I slithered around walking on the pavement one intrepid explorer strode out on his cross country skis soon disappearing into the distance down Barnston Road.

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By Sunday afternoon whilst the pavements are still under many inches of snow the main roads are now clear.  The thatched Devon Doorway pub and restaurant looked inviting with its extra layer of snow on its roof in the afternoon sunshine.

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Snow in Storeton

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On Friday most of Britain saw the first real snow of the winter.  The snow was heaviest in south Wales and in the south and midlands.  Wirral being on the coast tends usually not to get too much snow but Friday saw a few centimeters fall across the whole of the peninsula as well.

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Our normal weekend dog walk in Storeton Woods gave us the opportunity to walk through this black and white world.  During the morning a fine sleety snow had started to fall which gave a further very fine dusting on the trees.

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Lots of families with young children were out enjoying the snow safely wrapped up against the cold but someone had lost their tiger hat which a passerby had thoughtfully placed on the sign at one of the entrances to the woods …

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In many areas the snow was melting and the wet saturated ground meant there were pools of icy dark water.

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In the fields between the woods and Storeton village the farmers were rounding up the sheep from the snowy grazing land to take them to another field or maybe even to market.

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The snow had enveloped all the plants of the woods with a thick blanket of white fluffy snow.

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And the trees were all painted with a white dressing of snow on their windward side.

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Not many birds were out, I manged to see a colourful Jay in Hancocks Wood but it was too elusive to capture a picture.  But I did get to see a Robin redbreast on a green tree in amongst the woods.

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Many interesting features were dusted in snow on our walk today.

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In a few weeks the winter will have passed and the bare branches will start to see buds forming and bursting open to reveal their leaves to soak up the coming summer’s sunshine, but they will be barren for a few more weeks yet.

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I wonder what weather we will have in 2013…