Wirral Way bike route - Willaston to Parkgate
15:15 03 February 2011
It's less hike, more bike for Keith Carter as he takes to two wheels to explore Willaston and the Wirral Way
It was one of those dismal days that hardly gets light, a damp fog was shrouding the countryside and the only people out were dog walkers who really have no choice. Dogs have to be walked.
Determined to get out of doors, I talked my wife Annie into a trip to the Wirral although her reaction fell short of ecstatic. I set the sat nav for Willaston and an hour later we were dismounting the bikes from the rear carrier at Hadlow Road Station ready to tackle the Wirral Way. This is an excellent traffic-free cycling and walking trail that runs along the old railway line.
It was on setting off that the plan went awry. My back tyre was punctured. An imaginary devil taunted me in one ear that I should have checked before leaving home, an accusation to which I could only plead guilty.
Imagine his glee in pointing out that I had also forgotten to bring a pump! Struggling to change the inner tube, I recalled the last time this had happened when the tyre had blown out with a report like a rifle shot. For a moment I had taken it for a sniper. The shock turned my hair white. I think that was what did it. Surely Im not old enough for that yet?
This time a nearby garage came to my aid and I was able to use their foot pump to inflate the tyre so after half an hour of swearing I was mobile again.
Hadlow Road station has been preserved just as it would have looked in its hey-day, with spotless toilets with hot water for anyone with oil stained hands from changing a puncture to wash them clean, which I did at their convenience. Ready for the off at last, we made sure we were pointing in the right direction, crossed the road at the now disused level crossing gates and started our ride.
Many walkers also cycle and many cyclists walk so the two activities complement each other. Older walkers finding joints beginning to stiffen up sometimes find they can still cycle, allowing them to keep up their fitness level and keen walkers with young families may find the kids more amenable on bikes rather than coaxing them along on foot. There are many cycle routes using old railways in the North West and these offer scope for shepherding the kids along without the worry of cars whizzing by.
The route is mostly dead level and the gears need hardly be used. Dog walkers will certainly be encountered but those we passed were happy enough to co-exist with us and leave us room to pass by. The Wirral Way runs for 12 miles between Hooton Station and West Kirby and it should be possible to pedal there and back in about three hours if you want to do the whole route.
The branch lane was closed in 1962 and in 1969 the Wirral Country Park was established and the linear trail became known as the Wirral Way. We cycled as far as Parkgate, the wintry weather limiting our ambitions if not our enthusiasm.
Parkgate has a unique charm, a row of white painted houses facing west. At one time a packet boat ferry ran between here and Flint on the opposite shore. John Wesley crossed from here as did the composer Handel on his way to conduct the first ever performance of his Messiah in Dublin. Once the easier route from Holyhead became established the Parkgate service died.
There are plenty of places in Parkgate for refreshments including several pubs, the Marsh Cat caf and the delightful ice cream parlour, Nicholls, renowned for its range of ices and worth a visit if only to admire the fine dcor, echoing a more refined age when Parkgate was a fashionable resort visited for the bracing air and seawater bathing.
The River Dee has retreated as it silted up over the past hundred years and an expanse of brown marsh grass fills the view from what was the promenade. The land visible in the distance is North Wales but no sign of the river can be seen. On one or two very high tides each year the marshes are flushed when the estuary floods right up to and sometimes over the road, creating a spectacle to delight bird watchers as the on-coming tide disturbs hundreds of voles and other creatures which flee towards the land attracting numbers of birds of prey including peregrines and short-eared owls to a feeding frenzy.
We turned back on reaching Parkgate, full of tea and ice-cream and cycled back to Hadlow Road. Those keen on extending their route can cycle as far as West Kirby and since this forms part of National Cycle Route 56 much longer rides are possible.
You might prefer to leave it to when the weather improves to gain a full appreciation of what it has to offer. Either way, this is definitely one for your tick-list and well worth the effort just remember to check your tyres before you set off, and dont forget the pump.
Area of this month's ride: Wirral. Willaston to Parkgate
Start: Hadlow Road station
Map: OS Explorer 266 Wirral and Chester
Time to allow: Two hours
The Wirral Way is suitable for wheelchairs.