2012: Friday Walks, The edge of the edge

All of the time we’ve been walking along the coast of the Dee Estuary, from West Kirby right up to the marshland between Neston and Burton Point, we’ve known there’s another, upstream and final piece of this edge that we’d yet to explore. We explored it today.

And did so partly at the suggestion of blog contributor Stan Cotter, who told us on last week’s Walk report about the delights of the church at Shotwick, the tiny village at the heart of our unexplored piece of edgeland. Right on the border between England and Wales. Tangled up in the land around the motorways and semi-motorways that link Chester, Wales , the Wirral and Liverpool. And right on the edge of where the River Dee used to be, long long ago.

Morning time, the packed lunches are made by Sarah, and we’re off on our adventure.

Thirty miles from home we arrive at tiny and perfectly formed Shotwick village.

And go straight into St Michael’s Church.

And in the porch find what Stan told us we’d find.

‘If you ever find yourself in Shotwick, that’s on the Welsh road (it’s referred to as the Welsh Road on the map but its actually the A550). It’s a lovely little old village. It doesn’t have a shop, post office or a pub, but it does have loads of history going back to Roman times. The village church is a lovely little church, where the sandstone wall at the entrance is worn where the archers and swordsmen sharpened their weapons. It was in Roman times a major port until Chester was established.’

We go in, to see what else we can find out.

This is old. Some of it 12th century old.

And full of information about itself.

Including the £11,000 needed for repairs. Raising money from rain hoods (!) and other things. And telling us about what’s happened here.

So yes, this village, which we know to be on the edge of a marshland, used to be a port. So what happened? For this, we’ll let the Parish Newsletter take up the story.

‘Wirral’s Historic Dee Coastline’

On 24th May Gavin Hunter came to give a very well supported talk on Wirral’s historic Dee coastline. Gavin is the co-author of local history books and a landscape historian who regularly speaks and lectures on the history of the Wirral peninsula.

Gavin began his talk by explaining that the River Mersey originally flowed into the sea through the Dee estuary and that at the time there was enough water to prevent the Dee from silting up. When the course of the Mersey changed so that it flowed into the sea at Liverpool the Dee was doomed. The original course of the Dee followed what is still the boundary between England and Wales, but the course of the river was changed to try to keep Chester navigable as a port and by 1916 eighteen square miles had been reclaimed.’

Thank you. We left some money for the newsletter, in the bowl, as requested!

I’d heard mention of the River Mersey theory before, because it really is a huge estuary for one modest river, and this is what I’ve found so far on Wikipedia:

‘The estuary is unusual in that comparatively little water occupies so large a basin. One theory is that larger rivers such as the Severn and/or Mersey once flowed into the Dee. The current view is that the estuary owes its origin to the passage of glacial ice southeastwards from the Irish Sea during successive ice ages, eroding a broad and shallow iceway through the relatively soft Triassic sandstones and Coal Measures mudstones which underlie the area. The inner parts of this channel were filled by glacially derived sands and gravels long ago and infilling by mud and silt has continued since. It is also thought that prior to the ice ages, the estuary received larger river flows as the upper Severn flowed into the Dee near Chirk. For a period, the Mersey may also have flowed into the Dee by means of a channel which it cut through the base of the Wirral Peninsula.’

So, glaciation, other rivers? Happy to hear about more definitive research on the Severn and Mersey? But what is definite is that once the course of the Dee was altered in the mid-eighteenth century, Shotwick was changed utterly:

‘West of Chester, the river flows along an artificial channel excavated between 1732 and 1736. The work was planned and undertaken by engineers from the Netherlands and paid for by local merchants and Chester Corporation. It was an attempt to improve navigation for shipping and reduce silting. Chester’s trade had declined steadily since the end of the 17th century as sediment had prevented larger craft reaching the city. After four years’ work, the river was diverted from its meandering natural course which passed Blacon, Saughall, Shotwick Castle, Burton and Parkgate and up the west shore of Wirral. Instead the new canalised section followed the coast along North East Wales. During this time, Sealand and Shotton were reclaimed from the estuary. Land reclamation in this area continued until 1916. The river’s natural course can still be determined by following the bank and low bluffs that mark the western edge of the Wirral Peninsula.’

So we set off to look for evidence of the river’s original course.

Never been here before, so a good quality two and a half inches to the mile OS map is essential.

On the way through the village spot this. You can’t get older than a ‘VR’ post box. No post boxes before Victoria was Queen.

And, more importantly, we are spotted by Carolyn, who lives in the village.

Carolyn tells us lots about the place and the joys of living there. Including the fact that eleven of the fifteen homes in Shotwick, including her own, are rented by a local Trust and cannot pass into private ownership. She also tells us about her past in Liverpool, and that she went to school at Blackburne House, when it was still a girls school and before it was transformed into the social enterprise where we and so many of our friends have done so much work.

And so we set off on our circular walk, along cool green lanes towards  Capenhurst and Saughall and eventually back to Shotwick…

Artfully photographed by Sarah.

Along field edges…

Across stiles…

To an idyllic place to have our lunch.

At which point, as we do with new walks, Sarah says to me – ‘So, marks out of ten so far?’ ‘Four’ says I, ‘And it feels like a one-off. Shotwick was glorious and we’ll definitely be back there. But this trudging across busy roads and around the edges of fields, and finding footpaths that these agri-business farmers clearly don’t want us to find? Don’t think so.’ So, agreeing immediately that life’s too short not to have a fantastic time as often as possible, we put our normally trusty circular Wirral Walks book away, get our map back out and find the quickest route back to Shotwick.

And quickly find a ‘Welcome to Shotwick’ notice and a hospitably marked ‘marsh path’ down the side of the church yard.

At last, a Cheshire path where people come first.

Where Sarah gathers dry seed-heads for her and Gemma to start their fires on Plot 44.

And we walk out onto the bed of where the river used to be, 250 years ago.

Looking out across the reclaimed river bed to Wales.

At the very top of the Dee estuary. Finally here.

The hedge at the top follows the old coastline. When Shotwick was a port.

One day, we’ll return here and follow the marsh path into Wales. But for today we turn back to explore the ancient lanes of Shotwick, all three of them.

And discover this magnificence.

Shotwick Hall Farm. Built in 1662.

Where it’s only the telephone cable and the television aerial tells you its not still the 17th century, there’s a port at the end of the road. And in a hundred years time, maybe that lovely Jane Austen will pay us a visit?

And so, it’s been such a lovely day. And now Sarah’s feet are tired and need a cooling wash.

On the way home we drive through Puddington and back down to the marshlands near Ness Gardens, where we’ve been plenty of times before, to look back on where we went today.

Then along to Parkgate, evening now and the day still hot…

To finish a perfect day with ice cream, beside our beloved marshy estuary.

14 thoughts on “2012: Friday Walks, The edge of the edge

  1. stan cotter

    That was a good walk Ronnie, and you really dug up the gen on the area. I took a friend and he was fascinated by the church door, the bell on the floor inside and the heighth of the font.

    I believe the walk on to Wales is now largely industrialised and was originally used by a firm called John Summers Steel Manufacturing. So at some point you would have to use the new bridge, opened in 1998, otherwise a good pair of wellies are advised!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks for suggesting it Stan, the church and the village are truly lovely. Friendly too.

      Which is more than can be said for the surrounding countryside. Obviously the big roads are necessary, but annoying. But the way much of the land is barbed-wired off and the public footpaths obscured or ignored by the industrial farming companies, means the walk into Wales would, I suspect, prove impossible.

      Reply
  2. Stanley Cotter

    Hi Ronnie, don’t know how far you get on your travels but this is one, its a guddun. It’s called Lady Bagots Drive, situated around the Drovers Arms, Rhewl (pronounced ‘rowl’) nearby Denbigh. Would suggest you look it up on the internet and see the options and reports of the many people who have done it.

    I did with friends as a 16yr old taken by a guy much older than us, and he insisted we wait until it rained. By the time we came home we wanted to hang him! Our bikes were up to the hubs in mud, but we were left with many happy memories.

    Reply
  3. Stanley Cotter

    Sorry Ronnie but this is another one a long way out. If they’re out of your range let me know.

    This one is Llyn Brenig, North Wales, situated on the B4501 from Cerrigydruidion-Denbigh road. Best route I know is thru Ruthin then B5105 to Cerrigydruidion then turn right onto the B4501. Lynn Brenig a short way on. On the B5105 be careful at Llanfihangel Glyn Mawr. There’s a very sharp left turn at the Crown Inn. Been a few accidents through lack of care on the bridge.

    Over the bridge and to the right there are more walks along the riverside, thru another small village that had two churches, a school and a graveyard. At Llyn Brenig there is a walk around the reservoir, I believe about 10 miles right round. Theres a visitors center where you get a snack tea or coffee etc. You can hire a boat on the lake.

    I’ve been many times (yes mate in the car). It’s a lovely spot, but if these are that bit too far let me know?

    Reply
  4. Jan Baird Hasak

    Another great walking tour. The lunch Sarah made for you two really made my mouth water. I played Scrabble the other day and someone challenge me on the word “miry.” But you know exactly what that means, along your beloved estuary. You do certainly have a “sense of place.” xx

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      We were in some very miry fields yesterday. Just finished washing the muddy clothes!

      And yes, having ‘a sense of place’ is the core of everything we do, and it’s not just about our business. It’s our way of being really alive to what a place is and our place in it. There were times yesterday when we could have just said ‘We’re standing in a muddy field.’ But it’s so thrilling and makes the moments so special to say ‘We’re now standing on the bed of where the River Dee used to be 300 years ago. And that slightly raised hill just over there is the old coastline.’ It colours our world in and we do it for the love of it as well as the education. Every Friday is a holiday to us. xx

      Reply
  5. Ruth Shaw

    “We’re now standing on the bed of where the River Dee used to be 300 years ago. And that slightly raised hill just over there is the old coastline.”
    Intrigued as to where this old river bed is. Can you point me in the right direction? I’d like to walk it myself.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Ruth, best way is to get the OS Map for the area, Explorer 266. Find where the canalised section of the modern River Dee starts, just east of Chester then follow the contours and Wikipedia’s information (for example just SE of Blacon you’ll pass ‘Bank’ Farm, which is a clue I think:
      ‘The river was diverted from its meandering natural course which passed Blacon, Saughall, Shotwick Castle, Burton and Parkgate and up the west shore of Wirral. Instead the new canalised section followed the coast along North East Wales. During this time, Sealand and Shotton were reclaimed from the estuary. Land reclamation in this area continued until 1916. The river’s natural course can still be determined by following the bank and low bluffs that mark the western
      edge.’of the Wirral Peninsula.’

      I don’t know that all of it’s accessible though. We followed a path out of Saughall and were able to see a bit of the old bank to one side of us. Good luck!

      Reply

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