Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here, with my Personal Assistant, after we had completed a local mid-distance hike. We walked the Mersey Way together, not in one session but, in sections. It is a twenty two mile, waymarked trail from Rixton, near Warrington to Garston, a suburb of Liverpool. We have walked the same distance in one go prior to walking this trail but, we both prefer shorter distances so that I can sniff around, and my dad can take photos. My dad said that he needs to learn to relax when we are out hiking. That confuses me because he seems to be an expert at relaxing when we are indoors!
The Mersey Way runs alongside the north bank of the River Mersey and sections of the St. Helens Canal and Woolston New Cut. The route also follows, in part, the Trans-Pennine Way, a multi-use coast to coast trail. We chose to walk the route in sections by doing an out and back each time, meaning that we would actually walk it twice. The reason for this is transport or the logistical complications of getting back to our starting points. We would park the car and walk away from it then turn around and walk back again. Some people don’t like to use this method but, my dad says that you see different views from each direction. I don’t mind where we walk. I just love walking! Oh, and sniffing and chasing stuff!
My human said that he will write this blog as if we had walked the full route in one outing and from east to west. He said that it would simplify things. I am not sure who for, as it is confusing me already. Then again, I am merely the author of this blog. It is called Joe the Cocker’s Hikes and not The Dogfather’s Travels, like he wanted to call it. I won in the naming stakes but, he seems to make all the directional decisions. He better not get us lost.
We started the trail at Rixton, on the outskirts of Warrington in Cheshire. The walk officially starts from a point on the A57 at Swithen Hill Wood. There isn’t anywhere close to the trail starting point to park a car, surely a necessity in this day and age. The footpath heads south and skirts the woodland for 300 yards until it meets the footpath along the northern bank of the river. The path is rough and poorly maintained. It is overgrown and muddy in patches. The big feller was walking like a Monty Python character, doing a silly walk. He was attempting but, failing to avoid the nettles along the footpath. Serves him right for wearing shorts. The rain started to batter us as we walked toward the M6 roadbridge. I noticed that he seemed to be well protected from the downpour with his goretex jacket but, where was mine? Sorry, he said, your jacket is at home, Joe. Great!
On the opposite bank of the river we could see Woolston Eyes Nature Reserve, a world- renowned birdwatching area. Anglers lined the shore, waiting for a catch and presumably, for a gap in the rain.
The footpath continued to hug the riverbank and became firmer under paw and much less overgrown, as it is well managed along this stretch. Houses have been built along the side of the river and a sturdy flood defences have been installed. Soon we arrived at Woolston Wharf which was constructed in 1755. A lock can be seen where Mersey Flats transferred their cargo, from the Mersey to the Old Cut, and later the New Cut of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation.
There is a plaque commemorating ‘Old Billy’, who is claimed to be the oldest horse that ever lived. Old Billy, born in 1760, worked for the Navigation Company, pulling Mersey Flats along the cut. He retired at the age of 59 and died three years later, at the age of 62. At this point the New Cut Heritage & Ecology Trail runs along a length of boardwalk through the nature reserve. The original towpath is well maintained and runs alongside the remains of the canal. Both paths meet near Paddington Lock so, either can be taken. The ecology trail winds along a slip-free boardwalk through the marshland while the main trail follows a straight line through a long arch of trees.
On reaching Paddington Lock there is an information board that relates the history of this once busy waterway. The board tells a fascinating story about Sammy the Seal. The seal was spotted in the heavily polluted Mersey nearby after it had swam, upstream, from the sea. Several men tried to capture it without success and then started to shoot at it. Sammy had ascended Howley Weir and swam into Paddington Lock. Sadly, he was shot and killed with many people gathering to see him. The seal was mounted by a local taxidermist and displayed in Warrington Museum, bringing 14,000 extra visitors in the first year. Sammy is still on display to this date. A sad sign of times gone by.
A huge amount of money has been spent in the area to protect it from flooding, which the area has seen many times in the past. The flood defences at Paddington Bank are impressive and are formed by an elaborate stone wall with railings. After passing a large area of allotments we walked under the A50 Kingsway South road bridge. Shortly after walking past the Warrington Rowing Club, we came to Howley Suspension Bridge. The trail does not cross this footbridge but, he couldn’t resist walking across it. The structure was built in 1912, and recently refurbished, is a Grade II Listed building. The reason that my dad wanted to walk over it was because it is very bouncy. He is a big kid!
We continued our trip along the footpath and roadside, through Howley and past some industrial and retail areas. My dad was tempted to grab a Big Mac and a banana shake from McDonalds but, he won’t leave me outside of shops due to the increase in dog thefts. My dad said that a dognapper would soon return me because I am ‘high maintenance’. The cheek of him!
At the end of this rather dull section of the walk, we came to the bridge over the river and onto Wilderspool Causeway. We passed the war memorial obelisk that commemorates local people lost in the two world wars. After tackling the traffic on the roundabout systems, we walked along the pavement of Chester Road. The Mersey, along this stretch, used to be heavily polluted. Nowadays, it looks much improved.
The pavement walk was around a mile long before we dropped down the steps, to walk alongside the old Runcorn & Latchford Canal. The footpath is shared with cyclists as they follow the Trans Pennine Trail. The remains of the canal run parallel with the path and a row of houses and alongside the River Mersey. I spotted a rat sprinting across the path and almost pulled my dads arm out of its socket as I chased after it. A bit of an exaggeration from the big feller I reckon! Anyway, it was pouring with rain again and the path was becoming muddy and covered in puddles. Time to splash and get mucky.
The path turned right after approximately half a mile onto a short stretch of quiet road. We passed under two railway bridges but, not before my human spotted a flight of wooden steps leading over the first bridge. He couldn’t resist walking onto the bridge to look down the river. He seemed to become quite excited as a train headed toward us. I wasn’t so excited as the noise and the rattling of the bridge was a bit scary. Why he had to take me up there I don’t know. I got my revenge as he nearly fell on his backside when he slipped descending the wooden steps. Ha!
We left the road to follow the Trans Pennine Trail through Arpley Meadows. The meadows is the site of a lone German bombing raid, in the Second World War, when 16 people were killed and many more seriously injured, while participating in a summer fete. In three weeks time it will be the 80th anniversary of this tragedy. At the end of the path through the meadows, we came to a road with a bridge over the River Mersey, and onto Forest Way. We followed this road to an area known as Sankey Bridges. After passing through the area and over Sankey Brook, we joined the footpath alongside the St. Helens Canal.
After a mile or so of walking along the well surfaced towpath of the canal, with marshes and Sankey Brook to our left, we came to the Ferry Tavern. The pub, formerly the Ferry Inn was built in 1762 to replace an older inn. This is the site of Fidlers Ferry where boats ferried people to the Runcorn side of the river. The area is prone to flooding and has closed on numerous occasions due to water damage. The original spelling of the area appears to have been changed when the nearby power station was constructed. One ‘d’ in Fidlers, is the original way that it was spelt.
In the close vicinity is a boatyard and marina. Fidlers Ferry Lock transfers boats from the canal to the Mersey at a point where the Sankey Canal terminated until the Spike Island extension was constructed in 1833.
The canal ceases to be ‘in water’ after Marsh House Bridge and is incredibly overgrown with reeds. Dominating the skyline on our right was Fiddlers Ferry Powerstation, that has recently ceased to produce electricity and is shortly due for demolition. The old railway line runs parallel to the canal along this stretch and a signal box can be seen through the bushes and trees.
There are a couple of constructed viewpoints at the side of the footpath with a short diversion over a walkway. Views over the river to Runcorn, Daresbury Labs, Wigg Island, Norton Water Tower and Halton Castle can be had from here. The marshland, at Widnes Warth, in the foreground, is a tidal zone and the brackish water is a haven for many species of wildflower, grasses and wildlife. We could hear many gulls and terns as we walked along the path. A 14 metre tall sculpture sits just off the path called the Future Flower that represents the regeneration of the area.
As we walked toward Widnes, we were gifted with views of the three bridges over the Mersey to Runcorn. The relatively new Mersey Gateway Bridge is a six lane toll bridge and spans a wide section of river before the Mersey narrows at Runcorn Gap. After we passed under the bridge, we entered Spike Island. This was the venue of the famous Stone Roses concert thirty years ago. The island between the river and the Sankey Canal was the site of the first chemical factory in Widnes in 1848. In 1833, Widnes Dock, the first rail to ship dock was constructed here. The area was a heavily polluted place due to the density of chemical manufacturing plants. Today it is a recreational area with woodland walks and waterside promenades. The wide area of canal before the river locks is a haven for swans, geese and ducks and is popular with families.
We visit Spike Island quite often as it is only a few miles from our house in Runcorn. We have written blogs about this area on a couple of other occasions so, we won’t go into more detail about it. I had a good run around and met a couple of other Spanners, both Springers. I thought that I was a crazy pooch. They were as mad as a box of frogs but, we had a good play while my human took a few photographs of the wreck of a Mersey Flat in the mudbanks.
From Spike Island we walked along the promenade, which was a popular stroll amongst the Victorian tourists who flocked to the area. The tower of St. Mary’s Church dominates the sky on the right while the two bridges over Runcorn Gap dominate the left. A roadside pulpit sits on the pavement in front of the church where the resident priest would preach to passers-by in an attempt to grow his flock. The powerhouse that supplied electricity to operate the old Transporter Bridge, that used to move people and vehicles across the river, is located on the left of the promenade.
We passed under the Silver Jubilee Road Bridge and the Ethelfleda Railway Bridge, as we left the promenade. The next stretch of the walk took us away from Widnes along the side of the Mersey on the shared footpath / cycleway of the Trans Pennine Trail. The river widens considerably at this point as it enters the estuary. The mudflats were alive with Canada Geese and many other seabirds. The path is tarmacked and continues past a few noisy factories on the right. I did not like the noise and I was happy to rush along this section. It wasn’t until we reached a large flight of steps and crossed over a footbridge spanning Ditton Brook, that I was comfortable again. I am not a fan of loud noises especially fireworks and motorbikes. Oh yes, and chemical manufacturing plants!
We shortly arrived at Pickerings Pasture, a small nature reserve on the shore of the river. The area is well maintained and has a meadow with many wildflowers and surrounding woodland. The paths are tarmacked again and the route we were following passed close to the shoreline. Across the estuary we could see the large Weston Point chemical plant, the Stanlow oil refinery with Frodsham and Helsby Hills in the background. We saw a few cormorants drying their wings in the breeze while more geese were honking loudly in the mudflats. My dad says that I make a racket when I want something, like my evening walk, but these things beat any noise that I can muster.
The area was fairly busy when we were there so, I had to stay on my lead. I usually have a run, off-lead when we visit the country park. There was a couple of large rottweiler type dogs running off lead and barking at other dogs and worrying their owners. Their owner seemed to be oblivious to this and my human was not amused. He asked the owner to put his dogs on their lead but, he only received a mouth full of abuse. We walked away thinking that it was pointless continuing a conversation with an idiot.
At the end of the pastures, the route took a turn away from the river, as it headed through the woodland to Hale Gate Road. The road walk took us into Hale village along Town Lane. The pretty village has a number of thatched roofed cottages. There is a ‘lifesized’ statue of John Middleton, the Childe of Hale, who allegedly stood at nine feet three inches tall. We passed St. Mary’s Church with its 14th century tower as we headed toward the river again.
The lane took us to Hale Lighthouse, which has stood on this headland since 1906, which replaced a much shorter structure. The footpath turned right at the lighthouse to follow the shoreline once more. The path was muddy in places but the views across the estuary made up for that. We could see across to the Wirral and beyond as the Welsh Hills appeared in the distance. The familiar sight of Moel Famau was clearly visible above the lower ground of the Wirral peninsula. Open farmland was on our right until we reached a small woodland leading into Dungeon Lane.
We turned left, into Oglet Lane and headed along this quiet road, toward John Lennon Airport. A few people were parked at the side of the road while they waited, with their long-lensed cameras, to snap a shot of a plane landing or taking off. As the lane turned a right-hand bend, there is supposed to be a footpath behind a layby, leading along Oglet Shore. There is no signpost to indicate the footpath, which my dad found a bit confusing due to the Mersey Way being designated as a Long Distance Footpath. We attempted to walk through the undergrowth of grasses, bracken and nettles, but turned back as it seemed like we had taken a wrong turn. He checked the map and he was convinced that we were on the right track but, it was impassable. As we continued to walk along the road we saw a rough track heading toward the shore but, as it wasn’t marked on the map as a ‘Right of Way’, we decided not to venture along it. We walked along the road until we came to a dead end at the airport perimeter fence overlooked by the control tower. Sadly, our journey had come to an end. We turned back along Oglet Lane before feeling defeated and disappointed.
To continue our journey, we decided to drive to the Garston end of the Mersey Way and to walk back to Oglet Shore. We parked in the car park by the Garston Industrial Estate. This end of the Mersey Way lacks a sign of some sort to indicate that it is the start and end of a recognised trail. We followed a rough path that took us to the Mersey Way. We spotted a sign in the grass that pointed us in the direction that we needed to follow. The path is well maintained at this point as we headed toward Liverpool Sailing Club. We walked along the shoreline through the Speke and Garston Coastal Reserve. Large pink ditch reed lined the white stone footpath as we walked toward the sailing club with its jetty leading to the estuary.
While we were walking along this section, in the bright sunlight, a small lizard scurried across the footpath in front of us. It was the first one that I had ever seen so, I disappeared into the grasses to hunt for it. I didn’t catch it. I never seem to be able to catch anything. I am not sure what I would do if I did catch a critter. My dad always says that I had better not bring a mouth full of mouse or bird back to him. He can be such a drama queen!
The path narrowed beyond the sailing club as it took us to a stretch of the old runway of the airport. We walked from the runway into an overgrown and muddy section of footpath as we passed the lighting gantry that is an extension to the runway lighting system. It was at this point that we realised that we would not be able to continue our journey yet again. The footpath is not maintained. It is overgrown, muddy and dangerous where sections have eroded and fallen into the river. We could see our destination at Oglet but, we decided to beat a hasty retreat. It is sad that such a beautiful area and section of footpath has been neglected by the landowners. It is reputedly a spot visited by Paul McCartney and George Harrison used to visit as children. ‘There are Places I Remember’ became the song of the day for my human. Thankfully, we only had a short walk back to the car while he sang the parts that he knew of the song.
So, that was that! A 22 mile walk along the Mersey Way, with a small gap, thanks to the lack of maintenance of a short section of the footpath. It is a varied route with plenty of history, scenery, flora and fauna. We enjoyed it. Till next time!