Hello people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here reporting on a local hike that me and my dad took the day before the coronavirus restrictions were put in place. We walked from our door so that we could get some exercise and to investigate our local area while the sun was shining. We had arrived back home from our Great Glen Way hike the day prior to this little jaunt so we weren’t ready for a longer hike. As it turned out this would be our last hike of any distance for a while. So, a trundle around ‘Sunny Runny’ was the plan for the afternoon. Runcorn is an industrial town in the north west of Cheshire on the banks of the River Mersey. It isn’t the prettiest of places with its ever-expanding new town but, the older parts of the town still have some fascinating buildings and open spaces with a long and interesting history. Well, this is what my dad says. I just think it’s a great place to pee on every wall and lamppost. I can always find a stick to carry and chew and a cat to chase up its garden path. So, off we went on our little trip.
Runcorn was founded at a narrowing of the River Mersey in 915AD by Ethelfleda to defend against a potential Viking invasion. It became a port on the Bridgewater canal in 1776, forming a link between Manchester and Liverpool. In the late 18th and early 19th century Runcorn was a Health Resort and Spa. The chemical industry that grew up in the area put a stop to that. The Manchester Ship Canal passes through the town, running alongside the River Mersey. Runcorn was ‘joined’ to Widnes initially by a ferry then later, the iconic Transporter Bridge. The railway bridge is called the Ethelfleda Bridge and the two road bridges, The Silver Jubilee Bridge and the Mersey Gateway Bridge span the gap between the two towns.
Not far from our front door is the Town Hall, our first port of call. I always have a good run around in the grounds where I can usually find a squirrel to chase. Why these little tree rats insist on sprinting up trees is beyond me. They just don’t enter into the spirit of the game. The Grange, as it was known originally, was built for the chemical manufacturer Thomas Johnson. Thomas and his brother John became involved in the American Civil War and lost all their ships in a naval blockade, resulting in their bankruptcy. The building was sold to another local chemical business owner, Charles Hazlehurst and later to a tannery owner, Francis Boston. In 1932 Runcorn Council bought the building and it soon became the Town Hall. At the side of the building a small pretty Chinese garden established by the town of Tongling in China.
We left the Town Hall park and headed gently uphill towards the Heath. We passed the Clifton Road brine reservoir and the Runcorn Golf Club before turning along the footpath at Rocksavage Way. It was off-lead time again as there was not a soul to be seen. From the footpath you are allowed the odd glimpse of Frodsham Beacon Hill and the marshes, when a gap in the trees permit. At the end of the path we entered Weston Village after passing Cavendish Farm.
The cross on the village green was originally on the road until it was repositioned in the 1960’s. Opposite the green is St. John the Evangelist’s Church, also known as the choirboys church. This is because the funds to build it were raised by the Runcorn Parish Church’s choirboys wrote thousands of letters to choirboys across the country asking for donations in the 19th century. It was constructed from local red sandstone with a Welsh slate roof.
We moved on to Runcorn Hills which was originally a sandstone quarry supplying stone for Liverpool Cathedral and the plinth for The Statue of Liberty in New York. It is now a Nature Reserve and a public park with a café, bandstand, tennis courts and a bowling green. It was another chance for me to run around and investigate. There were plenty of birds and squirrels for me to chase but, as usual, without success.
I had to be on-lead again as we walked down the sandstone walled Highland Road to the War Memorial or Cenotaph. It was erected in 1920 and the names of those who died in the Armed Forces in WWII. Opposite is a statue of Thomas ‘Todger’ Alfred Jones, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in WWI.
We walked down Greenway Road over the railway bridge and passed the cemetery before reaching St. Michael and All Angels Church that was built in 1884 from local sandstone. Soon we had views of the ‘Old Town’ and the Ethelfleda Railway Bridge and the Silver Jubilee Bridge. The Silver Jubilee Bridge is closed to traffic while it is being painted since the Mersey Gateway Bridge opened a couple of years ago.
I was getting a bit frustrated at this point because I wanted to run off-lead. I was pulling on the lead which annoys my dad so, I had to walk to heel. I am quite good at doing this but, running around is definitely my favourite pastime. Sniffing out cats, that’s my hobby. I find lots of things to pick up off the pavement but, my dad shouts at me to drop it. I usually do as I am told but, if I can get away with it, I will eat anything!
We passed the Brindley Theatre which opened in 2004 and is named after the Chief Engineer of the Bridgewater Canal, James Brindley. The building has won several design awards and hosts both local and national presentations. The path alongside the theatre leads into the once bustling shopping area. It is now a neglected collection of charity shops and fast-food outlets. We rushed through this area along High Street towards Top Locks. Next to the terminus of the Bridgewater Canal is the Wat Phra Singh Buddhist Temple housed in the old Waterloo Pub that featured as the Archers Pub in ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’.
The nearby Mersey Road that runs alongside the Manchester Ship Canal took us under the railway and road bridges. The ‘Promenade’ took us to the old police station as we returned to High Street. The red sandstone building was originally the town hall until it became the police station and courthouse. The Old Stocks still exist on the right of the building.
We continued along the towpath of the Bridgewater Canal until we turned off towards Old Quay Bridge, the swingbridge that leads to Wigg Island. The island, between the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey is currently a nature reserve but, it used to house chemical manufacturing factories. During the Second World War mustard gas was produced on this site and the area was heavily polluted. After a massive ‘clean up’ the island is now a popular recreational area and bird spotting destination. This was where I was allowed to run off-lead again. We had good views of the Mersey Gateway Bridge with the wreck of the Able flat at low tide in the mud of the Mersey. We had an extended stay on the island as the swingbridge opened as we approached it to allow a small ship to pass along the canal.
We walked back along a length of the Bridgewater Canal towpath and after a few minutes we were back home. It had been a good little hike for us but, there wasn’t enough free running for me. I suppose that I get my ‘Joe’ time often enough so, I won’t complain.