“ Address: Station Road / Thurstaston / Wirral / Merseyside / CH61 OHN / England „
In Victorian times, a railway ran from Hooton, on the Chester line, to the busy, popular, seaside resort of Parkgate, then on to West Kirkby at the North West end of the Wirral Peninsular. The railway ran for twelve miles, for most of its length overlooking the Dee Estuary, taking town's people on excursions to the seaside.
With the diversion of the main channel of the river, the estuary silted up so that Parkgate and the other lower estuary seaside towns lost their seafront and their visitors.
The line finally closed in 1962, but was developed and opened in 1973 as Wirral Country Park; Britain's first.
The twelve miles of the country park is set in lovely countryside, with spectacular views across the five miles of estuary to Wales and the mountains of the Clywdian Range. Walking, cycling, and running are all popular in the country park; the locals enjoying the scenery and the peace and quiet. Parallel to the walking/running path is a separate path for horse riding.
Although the 'Wirral Way', as the footpath is known, can be joined at many points along its length, the best access point is the visitor centre at Thurstatson. This is the main focus for visitors to the country park and boasts great facilities and wonderful, cliff top views.
The visitor centre is easy to find and is signposted off the main A540 Chester to Hoylake road. There is a large, free main car park and an overspill field for when the centre gets really busy.
From the tree encircled car park, the visitor passes straight into the environment of the park. Here, a huge expanse of lushly grassed rolling hillocks meets the eye, with the far side of the Dee Estuary visible in the distance. Stands of bushes and trees break up the view, and tiny ponds are scattered around the area (these are full of frog and toad spawn in early spring, and tadpoles later on).
The open space invites kids to just race across, but parents should be aware that, out of sight in the distance, are the mudstone Thurstatson cliffs. These cliffs are unfenced so need care when near them, but give wonderful views of the golden sandy beach sixty foot below.
The grassed area is ideal for kids to play on; flying kites or playing football and the grass is nice and soft for adults to sit on, too. This is also an ideal picnic spot and there are several sturdy wooden benches and tables for this purpose.
In the evening, the dedicated barbecue area is often busy, and the mouth watering smell of (hopefully) well cooked burgers and steaks wafts across the fields.
A very steep set of steps leads down to the beach. Here, the beach consists of lovely, golden sand, which is ideal for making sand castles. The sand stretches for over a mile, so there's plenty of space; even on a busy day you'll be able to find a reasonable patch of ground to sit and play.
If the tide is in, the water comes up to the sand, allowing the kids to paddle in the clean waters of the Dee. When the tide's out, however, the receding water uncovers mud that prevents people walking down to the sea away from high tide.
The Dee Estuary is one of the most important estuaries in Britain for birds. In the winter, over 100,000 birds feed on the rich mud of the estuary, and when the tide's out at Thurstatson, a substantial proportion of these birds will be in front of the beach, feeding frantically, before the restless tide covers their feeding grounds up for a while.
Oystercatchers, dunlin, shelduck and knot will be there in their thousands, occasionally taking to the air en masse to avoid the attentions of a marauding peregrine falcon.
Even in summer, the rich estuarine mud attracts thousands of birds, so for the sunbathing visitors, there's always something interesting to see if they tire of the beautiful scenery.
Back up the steep steps, is the visitor centre. This houses a little shop, the toilets, a small exhibition about the estuary, a bird hide overlooking feeders, and a small snack and refreshment stall with tables outside overlooking the large pond. This pond has a walkway across it giving the visitor great views of the ducks, coots, and fish that live here.
The Wirral Ranger Service is based here, and you can chat to them about the area and its history and wildlife. The rangers organise guided walks here, too. A list of events can be found at http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/news.htm#events.
Just outside the visitor centre is a lovely café. This serves great food and is not too expensive: a nice place to replace some of the calories burnt off in the park!
With all the activities on offer, there really is something for everyone to see and do at Wirral Country Park. This beautiful area is a lovely place to be on a nice summer's day. The park is all the more impressive when one considers that it's free to enter and there's no car park fee. This is a wonderful resource for local people and visitors. My family and I never tire of visiting the country park and always enjoy the facilities and spectacular scenery.
Now that the warmer weather has arrived I felt it was time to write about one of the places that I have visited on so many occasions from a child through to an adult and somewhere that will never loose its attraction.
History of Wirral Country Park
During the time of the Victorians a busy railway linked Hooton to West Kirby on the Wirral 12 miles away, miles of the railway line ran near to the Dee Estuary. The Steam Trains that used the railway used to bring townspeople to various stops along the line such as Parkgate for a cheap day out and back to the cities and towns at the end of the day. However, in 1962 the line was closed the seaside resorts as was where silted up and the track lay derelict for many years. In 1973 backed by the Countryside Commision and a lot of work this old railway line was opened as Wirral Country Park.
Today the park contains a visitor centre at Thurstaston which is open all year round, the modern building is very different from what I recall as a child in the 70's visiting the park which was basically a small building and a couple of bird hides for the avid bird watcher and a small kiosk for refreshments. Today's building is larger and there is now snack bar, toilets, a larger bird hide, toilets and an exhibition area, you can also pick up information leaflets from here also. There is disabled access at the visitor centre and this is currently being improved to give access over the bridge by the pond. This is also the base for the park rangers who you will easily be able to spot in their green jackets.
Apart from the visitors centre there is plenty to see and do in around the park. There is all year round parking for 200 cars with a seasonal overflow car park available which has 600 spaces and in the height of summer sometimes even this is not enough to accommodate all the visitors.
The visitors centre is an ideal place to start for walkers as you can easily access the old railway line and walk along the route the trains would have taken. Along the way you can still easily see the old station platforms and there is plenty of opportunity for spotting all sorts of different types of wildlife along the way. How far you walk is entirely up to you and you can stop and turnaround at any point and return to the main park area itself. Cyclists also use the same path so always worth keeping an eye out to be sure that your way is clear though the path is plenty wide enough for all. It is worth mentioning that the entire railway track is known as the Wirral Way and in additional to the 12 mile foot/cycle path there is a 10 mile separate horse path for the keen rider.
I can go walking/ cycling and horse riding, what else is there?
Around the visitor centre there is beautiful park space and large grassed areas situated on top of the cliff overlooking the River Dee and the North Wales coastline. During nice weather this area is very popular with families out for a picnic, there is a picnic area available along with large barbeques available for public use but you will often find many people picnicking on the grass which is what we tend to do. Ball games are usually in full swing, anything for football to rounder's but take care where you play are there are some ponds around and you don't want to loose the ball in the water.
There is access to be beach with the main being a formally set of steps that wander through the trees form the main road down to the shore line and this is a very pleasant and easy way down. There is always a few that will try the steep sloped cliff face to get down and this I have ran down many a time as a child. The beach is not huge by any means but unless a really high tide is expected you can always get down onto the beach and walk along and take in the many different sites around the coast, the way the cliffs have been eroded do leave some interesting shapes and the odd house nestled in the cliff side, looks like a wonderful place to live but I can imagine that would be very bleak in the depths of winter.
It is worth remembering that Wirral Country Park is a conservation centre and such you should treat it with the care and respect it deserves, always take you rubbish away with you, don't damage the plants and don't disturb the wildlife, particularly the badger sets if you come across them.
The Rangers at Wirral Country Park have assistance from a group who are called the Friends of Wirral Country Park who help organise events, lead guided walks and help to raise funds to ensure that the park is maintained to the high standard that visitors have come to expect.
Some of the events organised are, Hare spotting in March, beach clearance, rambles with the Rangers, bird spotting for example, these are very popular and if you are planning to a visit you need to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
As a child I have completed the walks many times over both with my parents and on various sponsored walks, today I prefer to visit with friends and family either for a walk along the beach or a short walk along the old railway line, stopping for a nice cup of tea at the visitors centre. When my children where younger we would often spend a full day at the park, have a picnic or a BBQ playing ball games or even kite flying when there is enough wind. We have even stopped off on the way at one of the local farms where you can pick your own fruit which is a lovely way to spend some time together.
Exit the M53 at Jct. 3 and take Woodchurch Road (A552). Turn left onto (Arrowe) Park Road (A551) at mini roundabout turn right then first right into Thingwall Road East this will take you into Thingwall Road, at T junction turn right into Thurstaston Road, at cross roads go straight on into Church Lane at T junction turn right onto Station Road, Wirral Country Park is on the left before the bridge at the bottom of Station Road
Entrance is free