Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here reporting on another local walk while the country is still in lockdown. We are fortunate that there are a few different types of hike from our doorstep that we can do within an hour. We live in an industrial town so, the country hikes have gone for a while but, investigating our local environment is turning out to be an eye opener. That is, it is interesting for my dad and varied for me. I get to run around parks and open spaces while he checks out the history of the town and the flora and fauna. On this sunny April afternoon we chose to walk from the front door and over the Runcorn – Widnes Bridge to West Bank. The Silver Jubilee Bridge is currently closed to motor vehicles but, it is open to cyclists and pedestrians. Oh yes, its open to pooches too. The path is quite narrow so, every time someone walked or cycled towards us we had to face the fence. I became accustomed to this quickly and did it without my dad showing me what to do. He was proud of me.
It takes us around twenty minutes to walk from home to the Widnes side of the bridge with a couple of short pit stops on the way. Widnes used to be in Lancashire but, since boundary changes in 1974 it is now part of Halton Borough and part of Cheshire. It was a beautiful day with a bright blue sky and no wind so we zoomed over the bridge. The tide was out on the Mersey revealing the mudflats with the odd pair of geese and swans relaxing in the sun. The narrow channels of freshwater made their way toward the estuary on the western side of the Runcorn Gap. Widnes is famous for, amongst other things, its Rugby League team, that has seen headier days. Unfortunately, Widnes was also famous for its smell from its industry. Thankfully, a thing of the past.
A path leads from the Widnes side of the bridge into the area now known as West Bank. Usually, I can have a run around this area off the lead but, due to the restrictions my dad thought that it would be safer for me to stay on lead. It was disappointing but, at least we were out in the nice weather. In weather like we were experiencing that day the world seems a brighter place considering the viral cloud that was hanging over us.
West Bank in Widnes used to be known as Woodend and until 1847 was marshland. Prior to this it was a holiday destination for the wealthy. The Sankey Canal and the railway terminated here at the Widnes Dock where cargo was transferred by Mersey Flat barges from ships in the River Mersey. West Bank Dock was built to alleviate the congestion at the busy Widnes Dock, the world’s first railway dock. The dock closed as recently as the 1970’s. John Hutchinson built the countries first chemical works on the land at Spike Island, producing soap and borax. The area became densely populated and polluted earning itself the title ‘the dirtiest, ugliest and most depressing town in England’ by the Daily Post. Further factories were built on the site including Gossages, another soap and alkali manufacturing works. Since those days the area has seen significant changes. The factories and associated pollution have gone. The Old Transporter Bridge has been replaced by the Silver Jubilee Bridge and the entire area has been cleaned up and established as a country park.
The first building of any significance that we came across was the Catalyst Museum, the science and chemical industry centre housed in the main offices of the Gossage’s Soap Works. This is a popular attraction under normal circumstances but, looked eerily empty during the Coronavirus restrictions. Adjacent to the building is an open grassy space leading to the West Bank Dock at the end of the canal. There was an amazing number of swans, geese and ducks around the towpath and the dock. My dad was proud of me because I didn’t bark or try to chase any of them. Don’t ask me why because, I normally would. I must be mellowing as I rapidly approach the grand old age of three years.
We walked along the footpath that took us onto Spike Island. The island is an area of reclaimed land forming meadows with copses of trees along the shore of the Mersey Estuary. Sections of the Trans-Pennine Trail and the Mersey Way pass through the parkland. It is hard to believe that this spot was the southernmost boundary of Danelaw during the Viking occupation. Just over the river, in Runcorn, the Vikings didn’t manage to penetrate the country. Just off the sandy embankment the wreck of the Eustace Carey Mersey flat barge was peeping through the mud of the estuary. Spike Island was the venue of the legendary Stone Roses concert 30 years ago this year and a tribute concert was planned for next month to celebrate it. This has now been moved to later in the year and will hopefully take place. As we walked around the island we could see evidence of its industrial past with the odd section of foundations showing through the grass. Nowadays, it is a haven for joggers, cyclists and dog walkers.
We circled the island before we returned to the dock and crossed over the dock gates onto the promenade. The prom passes St. Mary’s Church with its outdoor pulpit aimed at converting passer’s by. I tried to pee against it but, I was dragged away by Mr. Grumpy. What is his problem with peeing? He knows that it is one of my favourite pastimes. This Anglican parish church was built of sandstone in 1908 and is now a Grade II* listed building. The dual level promenade is a quiet peaceful walk along the banks of the Mersey. It leads to the powerhouse of the Transporter Bridge that was dismantled in 1960 to make way for the road bridge. The building of the road bridge essentially enabled Runcorn to cease being a cul-de-sac in the north of Cheshire and to develop as a new town. The views of the Silver Jubilee road bridge and the Ethelfleda railway bridge from beneath were stunning against the blue sky.
There are a couple of fenced greens along the promenade with one housing a statue bust commemorating the achievements of John Hutchinson, the chemist and factory owner. Another spot for a pee, methinks. At the end of the promenade we came to the Mersey Hotel, previously known as the Boat House. It is known locally as the Snig, after the eels caught and consumed in the area. It’s a popular place, with a large outdoor area used for barbeques and small concerts, in better times.
We walked around the corner of Mersey Street and under the two huge bridges until we came to the point where Runcorn Gap opens up into the lower Mersey estuary. The estuary soon becomes a few miles wide and views toward Hale and Ellesmere Port can be seen on the shores. We took our last looks upwards to the bridges to admire their size and the achievement of building such large structures. We returned to the pathway on the bridge and set off for home.
When we arrived back home I shot straight into the garden to have a dip and drink in my paddling pools. My dad says that I am a spoilt pooch. I don’t know why. Now, if I had a proper swimming pool with a slide or two, then maybe, he could call me spoilt. Until then, I reckon that I was born into the wrong family. Spoilt? The cheek of him!