“ The point of Ayr (or Air) itself is a renowned high tide roost with superb views of Pintail, Oystercatchers, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Ringed Plover. In the Spring and Autumn migrating birds swell the ranks including both Black and Bar-tailed Godwits. An RSPB hide overlooks the best area. „
Point of Ayr is the most northernmost point of mainland Wales and is situated at the mouth of the Dee Estuary. The site is managed as a nature reserve by the RSPB and forms part of the Gronant and Talacre Dunes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Despite the conservation classifications, this is one of the most popular beaches in North Wales. Conveniently located within an hour's drive of Chester and the Wirral, it receives plenty of visitors, whatever the weather.
The beach is easy to find; follow the A548 'coast road' from Chester. The beach is signposted from the A road at the roundabout just after the village of Tanlan.
There is a large car park which forms part of the beach at the very end of the straight road from the roundabout. As this car park is prone to flooding and closure at times of high tide, I prefer to use the car park to the rear of the Smuggler's Inn, just 100 yards before the end of the road. Toilets are located in the Inn, which also serves pub meals.
From the beach car park, there are three directions to explore. Straight ahead takes you to the beach, left to the 'Warren' and right takes you to the RSPB observation point.
The Warren is an area of sand dunes, interspersed with grassland and scrub. This is a great place to explore as the sand dunes restrict visibility and create paths between the sand hills. Small pools are dotted around the area and in spring and summer the grassland is a riot of colour with some spectacular flowers.
The beach itself is deservedly popular. Miles of golden sand are lapped by the clean waters of the Irish Sea. Views to the north from the beach are extensive, with only the North Hoyle wind farm between the beach and the extensive horizon. To the East is the coastline of the Wirral peninsular, and a good view of Cheshire's island; Hilbre.
Even though popular, the size of the sands means that the beach rarely feels too crowded. If there are too many people for you, simply move off towards the west and find a bit more peace and quiet. For even more solitude, visit at sunrise. Here, the sun rises from the east, lighting up the whole length of the beach with a buttery glow, with only the cries of the gulls to disturb the scene.
Located on the beach is the Point of Ayr lighthouse. Built as long ago as 1776, this lighthouse fell into disuse in 1884. At 18 metres high, it's not particularly big, but painted white, it is quite impressive. At high tide, the lighthouse is cut off from the beach by around 40 yards of water (so don't get cut off whilst exploring the base). Sadly, time is taking its toll on the structure. It would be nice if someone could restore this and open it to the public.
One of the reasons for the site's SSSI classification is that the Dee Estuary is a vital haven for wintering birds. The wildfowl and waders, at low tide, feed out on the miles of rich estuarine mud. At high tide, when their feeding grounds are covered, they congregate on the spit of land at Point of Ayr in their thousands.
Oystercatchers, dunlin, redshank, curlew, black-tailed godwit, pintail, mallard, teal, and cormorant can all be found here in huge numbers; packed onto the small shingle spit, or paddling just offshore. Often, much rarer birds are seen such as skuas and divers: Point of Ayr is a great spot for watching birds. The flocks are frequently disturbed by a marauding peregrine falcon. This attack is spectacular to watch; the birds desperately wheeling and diving to avoid the attentions of the speedy acrobatic falcon.
To protect the birds (disturbing birds at a roost in winter can be fatal to them; it forces them to use energy to escape that they may not be able to replace), the RSPB has a warden present at high tides. The wardens show visitors the birds, through high power telescopes which give great views, whilst ensuring that the birds are not 'spooked'.
To get a better view of the birds, the RSPB observation point can be reached by walking east from the car park. Here, a screen is to be built protecting the viewers from the weather, allowing relaxing views to be obtained directly across the bay to the spit.
Whatever the weather, Point of Ayr has something to offer lovers of the seashore such as myself. Gloriously sunny windless days in summer are lovely, but so too are clear, icy cold winter days, and stormy autumn mornings. The character of the beach changes with the weather and the state of the tide meaning that no two walks here are ever the same. For the people of North Wales, Cheshire, and Liverpool, this is a great place to visit to answer the call of the sea.