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