The Wirral Circular Trail
The Wirral Circular Trail – 35 miles
Sunday/Monday July 1st and 2nd 2012
Accommodation – The Leasowe Castle Hotel, Leasowe
Ruth Redmayne and Mary Robinson, Geoff Halliwell and Louise Lagan, Viv Pike and Steve Blackshaw, Karen and Ian Wardle, Dave and Alma Walsh, Paul Banks, Jeanette Howard, Susan Grierson and John Bullen
It seems to be the story of 2012 – everything was perfect bar the weather!
The Wirral Circular Trail is a recent extension of the old Wirral Way and now, rather than running along the west side of the peninsular only, completely circumnavigates it. It is superbly waymarked and a top class guide has been produced covering the route both anti and clockwise – the choice is yours!
We elected to go clockwise over two days. This meant getting the industrialised eastern side done on the first day and the more picturesque and countrified western peninsular on the second day.
Firstly a word about our accommodation. The Leasowe Castle could not have been better. It is a 16th Century castle which is now a hotel. I wrote to them asking that they “not react too extremely to my impertinence but as a walking group we normally have a budget of fifty pounds per night bed, breakfast and evening meal”. If that was well out of their range they were to just laugh at me and file the request under “Cheeky”! A lovely lady named Julie wrote back and said they would be delighted to accommodate us and how did £49.50 sound with a complimentary bottle of wine between two on the first night? It sounded fantastic to us - and so it was! The food was second-to-none, the accommodation brilliant and the staff couldn’t do enough for us. It was so good that on the second morning I was convinced I’d finally lost my marbles and got the price totally wrong. “Maybe we are going to have to pay for the evening meal on top,” I thought. With trepidation I phoned the hotel and asked to speak to our lovely lady Julie. “Just relax John and enjoy your walk. You haven’t got anything wrong,” she said. Wow!
The hotel was also ideally placed for how we planned to do the walk. We all met at the Leasowe Castle at 9.00am on the Sunday morning. Big pots of coffee had been laid on for us in the lounge! How funny it felt being in this 16th Century oak panelled room with all its Chesterfield chairs and us in our walking gear!
A half mile away from the hotel is Leasowe Station so our target for the day was Hooton, the other end of the peninsular and virtually exactly halfway round, and we could catch the train “home”. The second day would see us catch the train back to Hooton to resume our trek and walk in to the finish at the hotel. The Merseyside Metro Link trains are superb, bearing comparison to the London Underground, and running every ten minutes. The fare was less than four pounds for a fifty minute journey which involved changing at Birkenhead Square.
Day 1 – Leasowe to Hooton – 17 miles
Leasowe Bay with its views out into the Irish Sea and New Brighton was a cracking start, as was the little café we found for our morning break. On we went through Egremont and Seacombe, passing the Ship Museum and the ferry terminals, marvelling at Liverpool across the Mersey with its magnificent Three Graces and two cathedrals, and so to Birkenhead. Here we had lunch in the delightful ruins of Birkenhead Priory. These are currently being restored, are free to view and are worth a return visit to have a good look round. If you go don’t miss a quick walk along Rock Park Road. It was evidently the residential avenue for the wealth of the docklands, the shipyard owners. All the properties are subject to restoration orders and as such many are now in desperate need of rescue. It is still possible however to walk along the avenue and catch a hint of the aura of former grandeur and envisage what it must have been like in its pomp. We were informed by a local that there are still traces of the wreck of Brunel’s “Great Eastern” on the Esplanade.
We had two quibbles on the official route. Number one - why bypass the incredible Lord Lever estate at Port Sunlight rather than taking the footpath through it? That’s strange it really is. The opportunity was there to take the Wirral Circular walker through the middle of one of the country’s most famous worker’s villages yet the route follows quite a mundane alternative.
Here we began to leave the industrial landscape part of the Wirral behind us as we entered Eastham Country Park and subsequently the beautiful village of Eastham itself. After a short walk through a residential area we reached our day’s termination, Hooton station. Within minutes one of the superb Merseyrail trains had us on our way back to our hotel.
The evening meal was nothing short of superb accompanied by our “complimentary” wine. A table for fourteen in the centre of the restaurant with silver service, white tablecloths and candles!
Day 2 – Hooton at Leasowe – 18 miles
The big question of the day was whether we would get to West Kirby early enough for us to walk across the extra two miles to Hilbre Island. The sea has to be out to make the route navigable and as high tide was 11:30am it meant we could feasibly and safely cross.
The route from Hooton follows the Wirral Way picking up the old disused railway line through woodland into quarried limestone and eventually along the Dee Estuary. Within a couple of miles we came to the quaint and wonderful Hadlow Road railway station. Here the track is back in place and the station is a museum piece, set out as it would have been in the heyday of the railways, even down to the station master’s bacon and eggs being ready to eat and the station cat curled up and asleep in his chair!
It’s a long, long trek along this railway line and we decided to break up the, dare I say, monotony by diverting from the official route into the quite splendid Parkgate. Here’s our second quibble on the route - why bypass this quite unique and interesting little town? It sits on the wide expanse of the Dee estuary with superb views across to North Wales, Flint, Shotton, Rhyl and Prestatyn, the start of the Clwydians and Offa’s Dyke footpath. There’s evidence all along the promenade of the provisions made to properties to avoid flooding and the abundant birdlife in the Wetlands is a “twitcher’s” paradise. We saw two squabbling sparrowhawks and were informed we had just missed two marsh harriers.
After a coffee, a laugh and a good break we headed back to the path proper where now the old railway line took on a different nature through superb residential properties with the stunning views into Wales.
Sadly after a pleasant morning it began to rain - and rain and rain and rain. We took lunch in the quite splendid Visitor’s Centre at Thurstaton (under cover!) and decided to take to the sand of the beach for the stretch into West Kirby. The route here takes the three yard wide path on the boundary wall of the marina, a little joy of a leg-stretcher for any family outing. With the rain now lashing down and Hilbre Island shrouded in mist, common sense prevailed and we decided not to attempt the crossing.
The last four miles round the right angle home of the world famous Royal Liverpool Golf Course, Hoylake, Meols Promenade and Leasowe lighthouse would on any other day have been an absolute delight. The seafront is totally exposed to Liverpool Bay and the Irish Sea and the constant strong winds make it a windsurfer’s dream. As it was the rain finally got to us all and we finished drenched and glad to be done.
The evening meal experience revived everyone and the team spirit must have had the Leasowe Castle ghosts chuckling away and rattling their chains!
The Tuesday morning saw some go off to explore Ness Gardens and some to Port Sunlight. Further evidence that there is so much to go and see on the Wirral and it is only an hour from Manchester.
Wirral Parks and Countryside Manager –0151 648 4371
Tourist Information – 0151 666 3188
Leasowe Castle Hotel
0151 606 9191