“ Wildlife discovery cruises. „
According to my other half a visit to Liverpool wouldn't be complete without a trip across the Mersey on one of the ferries and I didn't take too much convincing to agree. There have been ferries crossing the short distance from Liverpool to the Wirral peninsula for over 800 years and even today despite the fact that there are now two different tunnels beneath the Mersey these ferries still carry thousands of passengers every year.
There are three different ferries that operate the route all of which are owned by the Merseytravel Company. Originally these vessels were called Woodchurch, Overchurch and Mountwood but following extensive renovations they were all renamed and are now known as the Royal Iris of the Mersey, Royal Daffodil and the Snowdrop. We went out and came back on the Royal Daffodil so I only had the chance to see one of the ferries but I think they are all similar in size.
The ferries depart from the Pier Head in Liverpool but there are two different destinations that they call at on the other side. One stop is at Woodside whilst the other one is at Seacombe. Upon arriving the first problem that we had was trying to work out where to purchase tickets from. There was a ferry in, which looked like it was about to leave and keen to catch it we scurried off in its direction only to be turned away from the kiosk because we didn't have a ticket. Tickets are purchased from a building about 100 metres further along the pier, which doubles up as a visitor centre/information centre. We dashed over there and found quite a queue which meant we missed the ferry that was in and since they only depart every hour we had quite a long wait for the next one.
We purchased a River Explorer Ticket for £6.50 each. This gives you the freedom to get off at Woodside and back on to Seacombe or vice versa but because it was now getting late in the afternoon we didn't have a lot of time. We caught the 3pm ferry and got off at Seacombe for an hour then jumped back on to Woodside for another hour and then came back on the last ferry at 6.30pm. In hindsight this was a mistake as there is very little to see and do at Seacombe and we would have been better going straight to Woodside and spending more time there, where there seemed to be a lot more happening.
I enjoyed the journey across the water and we sat on the upper deck despite it being quite windy. The ferry crossing takes about 30 minutes but this includes a detour up and the river where a recorded voiceover pointed out the various landmarks and told us a bit about the history of the ferries. The ferry had a large bar and toilets but we didn't make use of either.
The terminal at Seacombe is very modern and includes a large café and even a children's play area. Once outside however I thought it looked very rundown (apologies to any local folk that might be reading) and it seems that the only attraction is the Spaceport centre, which is conveniently attached to the ferry terminal. Had the ferry not departed I would have jumped straight back on but since it was gone we were stuck here for an hour so we walked into the town. There really is nothing to see of interest at all at Seacombe. Except perhaps for the Town Hall building and the Guinea Gap Baths Leisure Centre but on the way back we did discover that there was a footpath that ran all along the seafront and this was much more picturesque with views across the Mersey towards Liverpool. Back at the ferry terminal in plenty of time we had an extortionately expensive cup of tea (about £3 something if I recall!) and then we were back on the ferry and off to Woodside.
The Woodside terminal looks very similar to the one at Seacombe, again it is very modern and has a café. Outside the general feel of the place had a nice buzz about it and instantly I wished that we had given Seacombe a miss . Attached to the ferry terminal there is another attraction called the U-Boat Story. I think the admission price to enter this was similar to the Spaceport Centre at Seacombe (about £10) but combination ferry tickets can be purchased that include admission to either one or both of these attractions, which works out a better deal. We walked into town and the many of the old buildings impressed me but sadly we didn't have time to venture far so I didn't feel like we did the place justice.
Back on the ferry the return journey was very similar to the one coming over although this time it did a detour down river in the opposite direction. There was the same voice over telling us about the history of the ferries but then a variation to this commentary followed pointing out some of the different landmarks that we could see.
We arrived back at Pier Head in Liverpool at about 7pm and had both enjoyed the experience so I'd definitely recommend a ferry across the Mersey to others.
Further information including ticket prices and timetables are able on the website.
The ferries that cross the Mersey must surely be among the most famous passenger boats in the world. Immortalised in song, and always a feature of the Liverpool waterfront, they have been offering people a route across the river for over 800 years.
Despite the opening of two tunnels in the 20th century, today's ferries are still providing the same service and in my opinion, a visit to Liverpool would not be complete without a trip on one of these iconic vessels.
What many people do not know is that the Mersey Ferries offer far more than just convenient passage across the river. As befits their historical importance, the ferries are used for many differing events throughout the year.
The Mersey Ferry Wildlife Discovery Cruises are one such type of event. Three cruises are undertaken each year, usually two in August, one in September. The ticket price is a reasonable £10 for adults and £5 for children. For this, the passengers get a three hour cruise. Tickets must be bought in advance either at the ferry terminal or online at www.merseyferries.co.uk/shop/index.aspx.
The cruise is designed to allow visitors to encounter the wonderful wildlife that now lives in the Mersey estuary. Once considered the most polluted river in Europe (urban myth whilst I was growing up was that if you fell into the Mersey, you would not drown, you'd die of poisoning!), a multibillion pound programme has ensured that the river is cleaner than at any time in the past 100 years.
In fact, the Mersey estuary is one of the top ten estuaries in Britain for wildlife and is home to many species of fish, breeding birds, and grey seals. Harbour porpoises and bottle-nosed dolphins sometimes visit this once toxic waterway.
Much of this wildlife is not easy to see from the shore, so the wildlife cruise is a superb opportunity to get close to nature, in really comfortable surroundings.
The modern ferries are well equipped vessels; warm and cosy inside seating, a snack bar serving sandwiches, hot drinks and alcohol, together with two decks of outside benches. Whatever the weather, it's possible to get a good view of the river whilst eating or drinking in comfort.
The cruises are jointly run by the RSPB, and Liverpool Museums and a commentary is given during the event, with 'spotters' finding the wildlife and directing people to where they can be seen.
The ferry departs from the Pier Head, stopping at Seacombe and Woodside terminals before heading towards the estuary mouth. The commentary by RSPB staff is helpful and interesting and as the ferry sails, the peregrine falcons nesting in Hamilton Square and the kittiwake colony on the dock wall will be highlighted.
Once out into the estuary mouth, the ferry stops and 'chumming' starts. This involves throwing a mess of fish parts out of the back of the boat to attract seabirds. Usually present are gulls, terns, and arctic skuas. The chum brings the birds extremely close to the boat and passengers get superb views of a cloud of feeding seabirds from only a few feet away (with excellent opportunities for photography).
Once the birds have been fed, the cruise carries on to the Crosby shore. Here, it's likely that grey seals will be encountered, hunting the shallows for fish. With luck, close views of these massive mammals will be gained as the curious seals study the passengers as intently as they themselves are studied!
At Crosby, Antony Gormley's 100 statues (called 'Another Place'), rising out of the waves onto the beach can be viewed from an unusual perspective (from the sea rather than the land). These have been in place for several years now and are man-sized iron sculptures that feel as if they've been there forever.
The return to the three seaports offers more opportunities to see the wildlife and something unusual often turns up. In past cruises, really rare birds, and even ospreys have been seen.
The August cruises (i.e. during the summer holidays) are very child friendly. Staff from Liverpool Museums are on hand with activities and exhibits to entertain the children. Whilst moving, a net is dredged into the water and the water life examined under a microscope for everyone to see. These activities add an extra element and all the children on the cruises I've been on have enjoyed them immensely.
All too soon, the cruise will be over and it will be time to depart from the ferry. I've been on three of these cruises and enjoyed every one immensely. If you like wildlife, boats, the sea, or want to get a fantastic view of the most famous skyline in the world, the Mersey Ferry Wildlife Cruise could be for you.
If not, Mersey Ferries offer many other types of cruises. One that's happening soon is a cruise around the Queen Mary II which is visiting Liverpool on 20th October 2009. Other regular cruises include a tour of the Manchester Ship Canal, Liverpool fireworks, and party nights. Check the website for details (www.merseyferries.co.uk/).