- Start: Old Baths Car Park Parkgate
- End: Old Baths Car Park Parkgate
- Country: England
- County: Cheshire
- Type: Country
- Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer 266 Wirral and Chester
- Difficulty: Medium
Enjoy this five-mile walk at Parkgate, Wirral. There's plenty to see, so do take your binoculars
I had a shock on arriving at Parkgate to research this walk. The place was crammed with cars, every space filled and the shore lined with people wrapped up against the cold with huge telescopes on tripods pointing out towards the estuary. I was soon informed that the highest tide of the year was imminent, an event that attracts birdwatchers in their hundreds to observe the flushing of the marshes. As the tide comes in all the little voles and rodents try to escape, fleeing towards the land and this in turn brings the predators, hawks and raptors and owls, to feast on this rare bounty. And all I wanted was a decent walk!
Now I am far from being an expert in bird identification but I do have some limited knowledge from accompanying my brother who, from an early age, had a remarkable instinct for ornithology. I am always amazed by the way dedicated birdwatchers can name a species simply by a long-range sighting or the sound of its song so I was intrigued to find myself caught up in the throng as they waited for the tide to cover the salt marshes. There was great excitement in the air. In their world it is important to be the first in spotting a species and as the cry went up, for example ‘short-eared owl going left!’ several hundred pairs of binoculars would swivel left like spectators watching the play at Wimbledon. They have their own codes too. ‘Flight of PFs overhead!’ turned out to mean that somebody had spotted Pink-footed geese. It’s an entire world, the one inhabited by birdwatchers.
1 Normally parking is not a problem in Parkgate, either in the large Old Baths car park at Gayton Sands Nature Reserve or at the kerb along the road by the black and white houses lining the edge of the estuary of the River Dee. These now look out onto the marshes ever since the river silted up and became unusable to shipping.
At one time a packet boat plied a regular service to Ireland from here and a ferry ran between here and Flint on the opposite shore. Among the celebrated figures who made the crossing to Ireland were John Wesley carrying the message of Methodism and the composer Handel who crossed from here to conduct the first ever performance of the Messiah in Dublin. Another visitor was Emma Hamilton, later mistress to Lord Nelson, who came for the sea bathing to improve her skin. Once the much shorter route from Holyhead to Dublin became established the Parkgate service died and as the estuary silted up the foreshore soon sprouted grass to the point where now you can’t even see the river from the Parkgate front.
There is a wide choice of amenity in Parkgate including several good pubs, the Marsh Cat Restaurant and Nicholls famous ice-cream parlour, all well worth a visit. Whatever time of year you visit don’t go without the binoculars since there is always something to see whether it be the kestrels that patrol the shore, sometimes perching on the street lamps before swooping on their prey among the marsh grass or herons hunched like solemn friars in the shallow pools further out.
2 Set off walking along the shore path along Gayton Marsh, that is with the marsh on your left and the golf course on your right. The going is flat and the way dead straight and you can be forgiven for feeling pleased with yourself for choosing this fantastic area for a walk. After a beech hedge, we meet a break in the path at an old slipway and join a road with several houses of the kind that have security gates and guard dogs.
Go up the road which rises to the parapet of the old railway line and this is where we join the Wirral Way by turning down right off the road to head back towards Parkgate. Designed for, and well-used by dog-walkers, cyclists, joggers and the chosen ones (i.e. walkers) the Wirral Way is a wonderful route laid out on the line of the former Hooton and West Kirby Branch Line built to transport coal from Neston and fish from Parkgate. Once on it you can’t possibly go wrong. I was impressed to see wheel-chair users on the trail enjoying the February sunshine in fine style.
The composer Handel crossed from here to conduct the first ever performance of the Messiah in Dublin
3 When you come to where the road cuts the Wirral Way, cross over to a car park and carry on along the wooded route towards Neston. Pass one footpath sign indicating Neston Town Centre to the left and at the next footpath post we leave the Wirral Way at a kissing gate, the signpost marked Old Quay. Follow hedge line and at a galvanised kissing gate turn left onto a good cinder path which leads all the way to the shore, or where the shore was once before the marshes encroached. Turn right and follow a path that in places crosses streams by way of boarded footbridges. This path ends where bungalows begin and we join a residential cul-de-sac called by the grand name of Manorial Road South.
4 At the end of the cul-de-sac a narrow footpath leads to a second quiet street and by following it we are led to a T-junction where the Cricket Club appears ahead. Turn left and an access track leads to the main road. Left again and we rejoin the shore by the pub The Old Quay. Turn right along the front passing Mostyn House School first opened in 1855 and run by the same family, the Grenfells, ever since. Many of the houses are black and white with half-timbering and although some are for sale there is not one that looks run-down or neglected, giving the whole row the look of having been preserved with care. Continue on the pavement and where the road swings right, keep ahead past the Boat House pub to where we left the car.
This is a great place for a visit and our walk will suit everybody including children and the less abled. And if you happen to arrive like I did on one of the highest tides of the year, don’t forget the binoculars!
Place of walk: Parkate, Wirral
Start and finish: Old Baths Car Park Parkgate
Distance: Five miles
Time to allow: Three hours
Map: OS Explorer 266 Wirral and Chester
Refreshments: Wide choice in Parkgate
The Wirral Way is suitable for wheelchair users