Hi people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here reporting on one of our recent ‘Boris’ walks. We are pretty much limited in the type of walk we can do at the moment. Trying to find somewhere interesting and inspiring when walking from our house in the current lockdown conditions is difficult, to say the least. I am not complaining because, if this is all that we have to do to save peoples lives then we are happy to do it. So, with a self-imposed time limit of one hour, we can walk about four miles from our front door. We are lucky to be able to walk to Wigg Island, a local nature reserve and community park and complete a circuit of the reserve within our exercise time limit.
It is early April 2020 and the weather is in our favour. The day that we chose to walk to Wigg Island was dry, breezy and mild with a mixture of some cloud cover and sunshine. We need to walk through some house lined side streets before we arrive at the Old Quay swing-bridge that spans the Manchester Ship Canal. This is the point of the walk that I like best. It’s off-lead time. The main gates to the car park have been padlocked to prevent car owners from driving to the Nature Reserve so it was very quiet when we arrived. There is a grassy area on the left when you arrive at the island where I ran around like a dog possessed, according to my dad.
Wigg Island lies between the River Mersey upper estuary and the Manchester Ship Canal. The name comes from a chemical manufacturer, Charles Wigg, who built alkali production factories on the site in the 1860’s. With the coming of the Second World War, the site housed a large Mustard Gas factory at Randles Works. The site was taken over by the industrial giant ICI who ran the factories until they closed in the 1960’s. Later a massive reclamation project took place to create the current nature reserve and community park. It was opened in 2002 by the local mayor and Bill Oddie, the famous comedy actor and birdwatcher.
The island appeared to be completely deserted so, I was allowed to run free. The tide was out in the upper estuary revealing the three distinct river channels, the saltmarsh and the mudflats. I climbed down the embankment to the river but, my dad shouted me to heel because of the danger from the erosion of the bank by the fast-flowing channel. He can be a killjoy but, I am sure that he was just worrying about my safety. The wreck of the Able was peeping above the water in the channel close to the shore. We saw a pair of Canada Geese land on the raised mud as we walked along the shore. We also spotted numerous Shelducks which, as usual, I wanted to chase but, they were on the mud as well.
We moved on, passing the old visitor centre with its whirring wind turbine until we came to the first of a few bird hides. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any birds to be seen and we didn’t have time to linger due to the current exercise restrictions. As we walked on through the birch, beech and alder trees I had a mad five minutes trying to catch the elusive grey squirrels. The ground beneath the trees was carpeted with patches of primrose which seemed to grab my dad’s attention. As we walked along the meandering path my dad stopped to photograph the trees in bloom. Hawthorn, Cherry and Magnolia looked glorious with their white blossoms.
There is a large meadow in the heart of the island with a large carved wooden fox in the centre of it. I ran toward it with a stick in my mouth. I soon dropped it as I came close to the carving. I barked at it but, it didn’t react. So, I continued to bark at it until my dad caught up with me. He said that I was a dipstick and we walked away from it.
As we approached the Mersey Gateway Bridge, that spans the estuary and looms overhead, we turned to gaze along the estuary towards the Silver Jubilee Bridge and over the Mersey at Widnes, the twin town with Runcorn that forms the borough of Halton. As we walked along the bank of the disused Runcorn and Latchford canal we had clear views of the massive Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station. This eight-towered coal fired power generator produced its final watt of electricity only two days prior to our walk. It is due to be decommissioned and flattened over the next two years.
On the short section of the Runcorn and Latchford canal that still contains water we saw moorhens and swans minding their own business. I wanted to mind their business with them but they swam away from us to the reed beds, unfortunately. High on the trees in this area bat boxes have been positioned to attempt to grow and protect the native species found locally. There is a large section of the island that is fenced off to maintain an undisturbed ecosystem to establish. My dad says that Velocirapters live in there and it is our local Jurassic Park. He is an idiot!
As we continued along the footpath, we spotted a heron taking short flights along the canal away from us as we approached it. I think that it could sense that Joe the Cocker was in the ‘hood! More primroses and pink ladies appeared in clusters as we plodded on. We had walked along the river side of the island up to that time and as we headed back we walked along the Manchester Ship canal side of the nature reserve. Through the trees there is a wood chipping path that takes you on the Troll Trail. My dad probably felt at home on this path as he is obviously a troll himself! Wooden carvings and ceramic beasties line the path that weaves through the birches and beeches. I wasn’t scared but, by the look of the speed my dad was walking at, he was.
We were back at the exit / entrance to the island in no time after passing a small dock on the canal where boats moor to drop off their cargo of grain. We walked back home after crossing the Old Quay swing-bridge and passing through our local streets again. It was a short walk for us but, in these difficult times we are happy to adapt and wait for the freedom of hillwalking returns. Hopefully, this will be soon and this horrible nightmare for everyone will be over.