We decided to have a day out last weekend. We being me and Gaz, my boyfriend. There is only one specific requirement for our days out, and that’s to be near water. Everywhere I go to walk, or so it habitually seems, involves proximity to water. I was a lifeguard for many years – I’ve been called Water Baby and Little Otter in the past – so maybe it’s just something in my blood?
Rebecca suggests we go to Hilbre Island. Rebecca is my niece and you will get to meet her in a bit, along with Rachael, my other niece, who both decide they will join us for the day as they often do and have done since they could walk. We used to visit all sorts of interesting places when they were little (I tell them) …well, interesting to us as adults, or at least we convinced ourselves they were interesting. Motivated by the fact we had to get our money’s worth out of the English Natural Heritage pass we bought on a whim one year. We’d think nothing of making a 3 ½hr round trip to places as far afield as Shropshire to visit the sapling of the famous Royal Oak Tree.
Now, you might think three and a half hours in a car on a hot sunny day to visit a tree sounds like madness, but it was a surprisingly easy sell to a five and six year old, and we’d justify it by telling ourselves that they would be grateful for the experiences when they get older. In fact, when I tell Rachael that I’m writing this blog and including a few pictures from our visit there, she tells me she has absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever, or of the many other places we visited when they were younger! But she softens the blow with the addendum that all our days out were good and that what she remembers most is the lovely picnics.
But I digress. We’re not here to talk about Shropshire or the history of the Roundheads and Cavaliers, we’re here to talk about somewhere much closer to home, a place with its own history – Hilbre Island, which, in case you didn’t know, is the largest of three islands situated at the mouth of estuary of the River Dee. The Island is also a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest . It’s thought by some that the Island was a Hermitage in the past and that the island’s name derives from a medieval chapel which was built on the island to St. Hildeburgh, an Anglo-Saxon holy woman and Anchorite who lived on the Island in the 7th Century. This may or may not be true but given the peaceful and tranquil nature of the Island, I lean towards believing it. Anyway, the history of the Island is fascinating, but I’m not going to go into any more of it here!
So, on with our day out. We arrive at West Kirby Beach …well, we arrive at the car park next to Morrison’s where we park our car for the day and at a very reasonable rate too. (Though we do have to spend an extra 50p on doughnuts to get some change for the car park fee. It’s a tough life.)
It’s taken us just 40 minutes to get from our house in Anfield to West Kirby, but we pack for the journey like we’re going on a four day break. I’ve packed an extra coat, two extra scarves, 5 pairs of new socks (still packed in the cardboard) as I already know before leaving the house that some of us won’t be wearing the appropriate footwear – including me – and that there’s a high probability of someone getting their feet wet, even on the brightest and sunniest of days like today. I also pack us a bumper picnic, which no self-respecting day-tripper would ever leave the house without.
We take the short walk from the car park to the beach…
That sliver of land you see in the distance is Hilbre Island. According to The Friends of Hilbre website, the walk across the 2 mile stretch of beach should take you about an hour, but we’ve done this walk lots before and if you go at a good pace, we reckon it’s nearer the 35-40 minute mark.
But it takes us a longer today, as we have lots of stops and starts – as you will see. I always make a point of checking the website before we go to check the times for the tides coming in and out – because you wouldn’t want to get stuck there – although part of me secretly feels this would be quite nice provided I was equipped for it, and the weather was good!
After walking for a couple of minutes, Rachael spontaneously asks me to take a picture of her gesticulating ‘YMCA’. Being outdoors in a wide open space has that effect on you, don’t you think?
After a quick burst of silliness, we plod on towards ‘Little Eye’ – the first of the three Islands. Feeling like we’ve accomplished something, we look back to take stock of how far we’ve come…
We get a nice view of West Kirby promenade and Thurstaston Common, another good day out with spectacular views over the Welsh Hills and The River Dee if you walk up to the top of the Hill.
We walk a bit further and the landscape starts to look a bit different now.
But eventually we abandon this route for a more traditional mode of carriage
We make it in one piece to ‘Middle Eye’ and there’s lots of activity here.
I take some pictures of things that interest me, like these rocks
And this Star Wars landscape could certainly be Tatooine.
We follow Gaz’ lead and climb up the hollowed out stairs in the sandstone
I look at the rocks again, that spot will be covered with Heather in the Summer
But it’s time to move on. We’re only a stone’s throw away from Hilbre Island now
There are other people heading that way too, but not many. I’m actually quite surprised at how far people make it with toddlers, most tending to go no further than Middle Eye.
We arrive at Hilbre, and the Red Sandstone Rocks against the bright blue sky is breathtaking today, you could be almost anywhere. I think it looks like Australia.
Next a close-up of the rocks. I recently found out that the rocks are actually called ‘Bunter Sandstone Rocks’, which was of particular interest to me as I grew up in Bunter Road in Kirkby. I did a bit of googling and according to the British History Online Website “ The geological formation of the entire township consists of pebble beds of the bunter series of the new red sandstone or trias.” …amazing, well, to me anyway. All this time and I did not know that.
But back to those Bunter Rocks…
There are more gems at the top of the hill, these picture perfect cottages which remind me of the cottages you see scattered all along the North Shore of Boston – a place we’ve been lucky enough to visit many times over the years.
I read ‘somewhere’ that the cottages are privately owned, although there haven’t been any permanent residents living on the Island since 2012. Besides the cottages, there are a few other places of interest which are worth a look, like the country’s shortest lighthouse (at just 3m) but I don’t get a picture of that today.
There’s also the former Lifeboat Station…
And then there’s this… a colony of Atlantic Grey Seals basking on West Hoyle Sandbank. They’re a bit too far out to get a ‘close’ look, but we strike it lucky today as The Friends of Hilbre are on site with their Telescope and Binoculars, which they kindly let us look through (for a small donation)
Rebecca manages to take a photo with her phone through the lens of the Telescope…because she’s cheeky like that…
A friend of Hilbre tells us there are 174 Seals out there, but that figure can rise to as high as 500 during the summer months. If the wind is blowing in the right direction you will clearly hear them howling like dogs, though that doesn’t happen today.
And speaking of the wind, it’s time to find a sheltered spot for the picnic before we head back home for one of those doughnuts and a nice cup of tea. If there’s any room after all this!
Hilbre has something for everyone, and maybe you’ll feel inspired to visit one day. Me, I’m already looking forward to the next visit, for my friend Jayne’s birthday, very soon.
I’ll leave you now with one of my favourite quotes, from Norman McClean, which I think is quite apt for the place and the day:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
Thank you Pat. I feel like I was there with you all. Blue and perfect, a day suspended in time.
Quotation from ‘A River Runs Through It and Other Stories’ by Norman Maclean.