I wonder how long it took a boardroom full of suit-wearing go-getters to come up with that one? The ‘Mersey Multimodal Gateway.’ When previously, something like ‘West Widnes Industrial Estate’ would have rolled more easily off their corporate tongues. Oh well, it’s a terrible name for a place that contains, and is surrounded by marvels. So we set off to find it.
But before we walk, we drive. One of the things we know we’re going to see on this walk is a little river called Ditton Brook entering the Mersey.
Now, do you ever find that sometimes when you get to a place you immediately think ‘Why did it take me so long to come to a place that’s so obviously ‘my sort of thing?’ Well, that’s what’s about to happen here.
Reclaimed industrial land on the north bank of the Mersey, in between Hale and Widnes.
Today we’re going to walk along the bank and under the bridges. Why has it taken me so long to do such an obvious thing?
It looks like it doesn’t it? In fact though, it’s a narrow corridor between the river and fenced off industrial land.
And a tough industrial journey it’s been too, through lands poisoned by the Industrial Revolution. Now cleaning up and recovering.
And before long we approach our objective. Yes, the Mersey Multimodal Gateway.
Sarah’s having none of this. ‘It’s meaty, it’s cat-breath after they’ve eaten, pet-foody?’
It turns out this is the Grannox factory, part of the PDM Group. And what we’re smelling here is part of our technological future. They’re using carbon-neutral animal derived bio-mass energy to produce pet food from parts of healthy animals we choose not to eat. Really. Very impressive. But you will want to walk past the smell fairly quickly.
And the steady hum of a thousand mobile Eddie Stobart truck-fridges being charged up and loaded.
And obviously, that’s the peak of the walk and we might as well turn around and go home now. We’ve seen the Mersey Multimodal Gateway and could die happy and fulfilled.
But it’s early afternoon on a sunny day yet, so we decide to carry on.
After lunch, in the shadow of the bridges and in sight of the wonders and ravages of the Industrial Revolution I read my current book. By a former Secretary of State for Industry.Then, of course, we look at the bridges.
First, the railway bridge. Built in 1868 and designed by William Baker (not Brunel, though I’ve always ’til now credited him with it in my head, for some reason).
Opened in 1961 and designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson. For most of my life, these bridges have been my real gateway. Crossing either of them from the Runcorn side has always given me a tremendous feeling of well-being. I am home.
And a dystopian poet has been at work on the road bridge.
Then just below the tide-line.
We walk on.
And in one of the streets we find the former offices of the ‘Transporter Bridge.’
Yes, between 1905 and 1961 road traffic would be carried across the river on this marvellous contraption.
Very necessary, because by the end of the 19th century chemical industries had ravaged Widnes.
The only museum in the country dedicated to chemistry. We’ll be back, but today is for walking.
Before today I’ve only known one thing about Spike Island.
In the words of Wikipedia:
“It is a reclaimed toxic waste site, considered a birthplace of the British chemical industry.
Its maze of abandoned chemical factories, rail lines, canal and industrial dockage, and industrial pollution, which had declined into a rust belt toxic wilderness, was reclaimed as woodland, wetlands and green space between 1975 and 1982.”
So, all’s well at Spike Island now? Not so fast.
Well actually, it’s nothing less than the ‘Mersey Gateway Project.’ But didn’t we see that earlier? I hear you questioning. No, you couldn’t be more wrong. That was the ‘Mersey Multimodal Gateway,’ this one’s going to be another bridge. An entirely different sort of Gateway, don’t you see? (I wonder though if some of the same corporate suits were involved in its naming. Imagine the scene. ‘Gateway? Mmm, like that, got a real go-getting ring to it. Pass the port would you?’)
Apparently this one’s going to be a toll-bridge. In fact, so delighted are the Con Lib and some Lab Neo-Cons who run society with this idea, that they’re going to make the old bridge, (open since 1961 remember, and a snip at £2.4m, so well paid for) into a toll-bridge too.
Oh well, all in favour of progress and prosperity and all that. But you have to feel sorry for Spike Island.
We turn for home.
A truly amazing and fulfilling walk through the Industrial Revolution and the ragged glory of the River Mersey and what has happened on its banks over the last 200 years. And of course the Mersey Multimodal Gateway, mustn’t forget that!
A huge thank you to Gerry Cordon of ‘That’s How The Light Gets In’ for suggesting this walk to us. You can see his own version of the walk ‘The call of the river’ on his beautiful, informative blog.