Spending a day in Wirral
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:15 13 November 2019
How to enjoy the delights of the Wirral peninsula in 24 hours.
Forget about having a slice of the good life - have it all in Wirral, where miles of beautiful coastline and countryside, historic architecture, world famous galleries and foodie havens combine in a smorgasbord for the senses.
Nestling between the River Dee and River Mersey, the Wirral peninsula boasts a strong maritime heritage, sandy beaches, gorgeous gardens and views of scenic North Wales, as well as the jaw-dropping Liverpool skyline.
It's also home to several protected coastland parks and an unusual array of wildlife - all in an area just 15 miles long and seven miles wide.
For our Wirral day out, we'll venture beyond the familiar gloss of upmarket towns like Heswall, Hoylake and West Kirby and wander off to the garden village of Port Sunlight before heading east towards the seaside town of New Brighton and Birkenhead for its world famous park.
IN THE MORNING
We start our tour in the delightful surroundings of Port Sunlight. This remarkable village was the vision of industrialist William Lever, later known as Lord Leverhulme, and was originally built in the late 1800s to house workers at the nearby Lever soap factory. It boasts more than 900 Grade II listed buildings and acres of pretty parkland.
For the best village vistas visit the Hillsborough Memorial Garden. From here you'll see a magnificent war memorial built by the Welsh sculptor William Goscombe John, and the dramatic domed roof of the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Originally opened in 1922 by Lord Leverhulme to house his incredible art collection, the Lady Lever is free to enter, brimming with fine furniture, stunning sculptures and Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces. The gallery also tells the tale of Lord Leverhulme himself, as does the neighbouring Port Sunlight Museum. This place is packed with nostalgia, from vintage soap packaging to the story of Ringo Starr's first performance with the Beatles in the Gladstone Theatre. You'll even get a chance to step inside a worker's cottage and experience everyday life in the village during Edwardian times.
The gallery and museum shops sell an eclectic array of books and branded gifts. Afterwards, you'll find respite and some pretty decent coffee and cake in their on-site cafes. Or for a change of scene you could try nearby Claremont Farm, a family-friendly hipster hub known for its festivals and fresh produce.
For some afternoon air head to Birkenhead Park, the inspiration behind New York's iconic Central Park. Designed by Chatsworth House's head gardener Joseph Paxton in 1847, it's the world's first publicly-funded park. Explore the wonders of a Grade-I listed landscape, complete with Alpine rockery, Roman boathouse and Swiss bridge. Thanks to a varied programme of events and exhibitions, Wirral's flagship park has been recently reinvigorated. In November, it'll be hosting its fifth annual Great War Exhibition. Watch out too for the Wooden Parliament, a Spanish art installation soaring into the sky.
Then on to the sassy seaside resort of New Brighton at the north-eastern tip of the peninsula. Here you'll discover sandy beaches, a fort, a lighthouse and the UK's longest promenade. You can even paddle towards a pirate ship - built of driftwood by local artist Frank Lund, the Black Pearl has become a draw.
After years of decay, a major regeneration programme has brought this once-booming holiday town back to life, and it has once more become a real tourist spot, not least for its theatres, beautiful parks and unique fairy village.
DAY ON A PLATE
Wirral has been upping its foodie game recently with a wildly successful food festival and a new wave of farmers markets. The rich expanse of the landscape means that there's a variety of food producers across the region. Those of note include Claremont Farm, with their glut of home-grown fruit and vegetables as well as a selection of local cheeses, charcuterie and chutneys. Wirral Watercress's little green taste bombs are celebrated by fine dining restaurants up and down the country, while you'll find distinctively flavoured craft beers made from British Maris Otter malt at the award winning Brimstage Brewery.
Love pies? Head for Whieldon's family butchers in Bebington, where they'll tell you all about the meat you're buying.
Apart from the usual chains, there are also some terrific independently owned restaurants, including Merseyside's only Michelin-starred restaurant Fraiche, and the busy bistro Thyme, both nestled in the heart of trendy Oxton Village. We're loath to tell you about New Brighton's Habibi, lest we're not able to get a seat there again - but every dish in this bijou Middle Eastern eatery is bursting with flavour. Drinks-wise, head straight for The Wheatsheaf in Raby. This 17th century thatched inn serves local ales as well as homemade country grub. Other local favourites include The Irby Mill, Greasby, and The Magazine in Wallasey. Both cosy pub perfection for winter afternoons hiding away.