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The outsider's guide to visiting the the Wirral peninsula

The beach at Hoylake. Nigel Howle
The beach at Hoylake. Nigel Howle

Famed for its world-class golf links, chic towns and café culture, the Wirral is where the Cheshire countryside meets the sea.

The peninsula is just 15 miles long and seven miles wide but towns and villages from Willaston, via Neston, Heswall through to Hoylake and West Kirby offer good housing, schools, leisure, countryside walks and beaches.

Woodland trails through the Wirral Country Park make the area popular with dog walkers and bird watchers and lead to spectacular coastal views and beach walks at points including Thurstaston, West Kirby and Hoylake.

Take a stroll along the promenade at Parkgate and enjoy an ice cream while enjoying the village’s old-fashioned charm. Parkgate is a seaside town without the sea. Once a port to rival any on the Mersey, it retained its seafront promenade despite the River Dee silting up and transforming into marshland.

You’ll find plenty of cafés, restaurants and pubs including the Ship Hotel, the Boat Gate, and Chows Eating House, a highly acclaimed Chinese restaurant known to the locals as Mr Chows.

Parkgate’s famed ice cream is made in the village by Nicholls Ice Cream, a well-known name in the area since 1937.

The neighbouring market town of Neston is home to the Elephant Collective coffee shop and bar where you can enjoy coffee roasted on the premises by day and beer and cocktails each Thursday to Sunday. There is a second Elephant lounge bar in Parkgate and visitors to Cheshire Oaks can get the full range of Elephant hot drinks served from a vintage coffee van.

Great British Life: Heswall at sunset. (c) Getty Heswall at sunset. (c) Getty

Heswall offers a vibrant town centre with a wide variety of shops, bars and restaurants. Just a 20-minute drive from Chester or Liverpool, it is a much sought-after destination for home-buyers. According to the Office of National Statistics, Heswall had a median house price of just under £410,000 in 2021, the highest on the Wirral.

The town centre, on and around Trafalgar Road, is bustling and the Heswall and District Business Association says the town enjoys, a strong coffee shop culture.

The night-time economy is a further strength. Restaurants include Gusto, and Burnt Truffle, opened after restaurateur, chef and hospitality entrepreneur Gary Usher launched a crowdfunding campaign, raising more than £100,000. Funders who visit the restaurant can search for their names on one of the walls.

The town centre received a further boost in November with the opening of the Harry Beswick pub in the town’s old police station. The building had been empty for a decade before being acquired by Holts, a Salford-based brewery, in 2021. The company has spent £2.3m on an extensive transformation.

Rubens coffee shop is popular with Heswall residents and bars include the Jug and Bottle, the Otto Lounge, Franklyn’s Bar & Kitchen and the wonderfully named Bow Legged Beagle craft ale bar.

At the start of the 19th century, Heswall had a population of less than 200, but the advent of the railways led to the town becoming a popular place to live for merchants looking to move away from the port city of Liverpool.

The rail line connects the towns of the Wirral with Chester and Liverpool, via the Mersey Rail Tunnel.

Not far from Heswall, you’ll find Caldy. It’s a small village with a big name in English sport as it’s home to a Championship Rugby Union club. Formed in 1924 by past pupils of Calday Grange School, the Paton Fields club has had an extraordinary rise in status, moving from the ninth tier of English Rugby Union in 1996 to its current position, just one league below the Premiership.

Consequently, the club has a thriving social scene attracting supporters from across the Wirral and beyond.

A short drive westward, will take you to an iconic sporting venue treasured by golfers around the world. The Royal Liverpool Golf Club is located in Hoylake with golf links stretching from close to the town centre to the sea. The historic golf course is one of just a few on the Open Championship rota and hosted the world’s greatest golfers for the 2023 event. Past Open winners at the Meols Drive course include Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Red Rocks Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, can be found on the Dee Estuary, lying close to the golf links with views of Hilbre Island. Managed by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Red Rocks is accessible for walkers via a series of marked trails.

Great British Life: West Kirby on the north west corner of the coast of the Wirral Peninsula, Merseyside, England, across from the Point of Ayr in North Wales. (c) GettyWest Kirby on the north west corner of the coast of the Wirral Peninsula, Merseyside, England, across from the Point of Ayr in North Wales. (c) Getty

The town of Hoylake, between West Kirby and Meols, is notable for its independent shops, restaurants and bars. Dine out at Lino’s a long-established family-run Mediterranean restaurant, enjoy tapas and cocktails at the 21st Amendment bar, or drop into The Black Toad, on Market Street, if you are looking for a micropub and bottle shops serving a selection of craft beers.

West Kirby is a small town with a lively atmosphere and a reputation for its restaurants and bars. Close to the seafront, you’ll find food for all tastes in restaurants and bars on and around Banks Road and Grange Road. These include Figo’s Mediterranean Kitchen, Est.Italian, the Tapas Kitchen, Green Onions, and Cibo Italiano. Beer lovers will enjoy the West Kirby Tap run by the Spitting Feathers brewery, which is based at Waverton, near Chester.

West Kirby Lake is home to the Wirral Sailing School. The man-made saltwater lake is 52-acres in size and five feet deep. The school offers courses in sailing, windsurfing and canoeing and visitors can walk around the lake or along the nearby stretch of beach from West Kirby to Red Rocks at Hoylake.

The sandy beach at Meols is popular with horse riders and sand buggy riders.

The Wirral is home to six selective grammar schools: West Kirby, Calday Grange, Wirral Grammar School for Girls, Wirral Grammar School for Boys, St Anselm’s College, and Upton Hall School.

Great British Life: Wirral Country Park was the first designated country park in Britain, opening in 1973. (c) GettyWirral Country Park was the first designated country park in Britain, opening in 1973. (c) Getty

Walk the Wirral Way

The Wirral Country Park was the first designated country park in Britain. It has magnificent views over the River Dee and is popular with bird watchers.

The award-winning country park neighbours Thurstaston Beach an unspoilt area of coastland and gives access to the 12-mile-long Wirral Way, which was formed from an old railway line axed during the infamous Beeching cuts.

Facilities include a café, toilets, bird huts and a bike hire centre at Thurstaston. From here you can enjoy the North West Wirral Cycle Route. The circular route covers 15 miles and is predominantly traffic-free.

Great British Life: The Dell bridge in Port Sunlight village. (c) GettyThe Dell bridge in Port Sunlight village. (c) Getty

Visit Port Sunlight

Port Sunlight is arguably the finest surviving example of early urban planning in the UK and has remained largely intact since its foundation by the industrialist and philanthropist William Hesketh Lever in 1888.

The village is home to more than 900 Grade II listed buildings, created by at least 30 different architects, set in 130 acres of parkland and gardens.

William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme, built Port Sunlight to house the workers at his soap factory, Lever Brothers, which is now part of the global Unilever brand. The village represents one man’s vision to provide industrial workers with decent, sanitary housing in picturesque surroundings.

The Port Sunlight Museum and Garden Village offer unique insight into the life of the villagers and workers of Port Sunlight, during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Visitors can enjoy a guided walking tour of the village and learn about the science of soap at the interactive SoapWorks exhibition.

Port Sunlight is also home to the Lady Lever Art Gallery, which houses world-famous collections including outstanding furniture, the finest collection of Wedgwood Jasperware in the UK, and world-famous works of art, including Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces and the work of Gainsborough, Stubbs, Constable and Turner.

The Port Sunlight estate has a four-star hotel and spa, The Leverhulme.

Ness Botanic Gardens, owned by the University of Liverpool, is another popular visitor attraction. Situated off Neston Road, 10 miles from Chester, the gardens, which celebrated their 125th anniversary in 2023, stretch across 64 acres with views of the River Dee and North Wales.

Great British Life: Parkgate saltmarsh. (c) Nigel HowleParkgate saltmarsh. (c) Nigel Howle

DID YOU KNOW?

In the 1700s, Parkgate was the ferry port for the city of Chester with ships sailing to Ireland. The salt marshes seen today formed in the mid-19th century following man-made changes elsewhere on the River Dee, making it impossible for ships to dock in Parkgate.

The marshlands have now become home to a wide variety of wildlife and are managed by the RSPB.

During the Second World War, when English ports were targeted by the German air force, lights were dotted around the marshes in an attempt to fool the pilots they were attacking a built-up area of Merseyside.



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