Wirral walk - Thurstaton and Dungeon Gorge

the Dungeon, Thurstaston

Unexpected in its farmland setting, the Dungeon is a steep-sided sandstone valley with this impressive cave entrance, and even a tiny waterfall - Credit: David Dunford

A stroll along a Wirral beach with the surprise of woodland and waterfall 

The Dee Estuary

The Dee Estuary - Credit: David Dunford

You can leave the swimming goggles at home: the Dee estuary isn’t a safe place to swim, even if the mudbanks don’t put you off. But do take a towel – there’s a decent strip of yellow sand above the tidal silt and you’ll probably be tempted to go barefoot for part of the way along the shoreline below the crumbling red clay cliffs, before brushing off your feet, slipping your boots back on and heading inland.

Thurstaston beach sign

Beach ready - Credit: David Dunford

As always, the strand becomes less populated as you get further from the access point, and the shorebirds start to outnumber the beachgoers. 

The return is a surprise, though. After a sandy path leading away from the shore to the former railway, now followed by the Wirral Way, an oak-shaded footpath continues to the Dungeon – a deep little wooded gorge overlooked by a good-sized cave entrance with a small waterfall at its head.

At this time of year, of course, the stream is unlikely to be more than a trickle, but even so, it’s an unexpected sight. 

Beyond the grand Victorian church of St Bartholomew at Thurstaston, you can head straight back to the National Trust car park via the popular Cottage Loaf pub, but we recommend you take the opportunity of a short, easy detour to the top of Thurstaston Common to finish off your walk with superb views over the Dee into Wales in the west and to Liverpool in the east. 

Family on Thurstaston beach

Family fun on Thurstaston beach - Credit: David Dunford

Note: At very high tides, the beach is inundated right up to the foot of the cliffs. Consult tide tables before you go, and use the parallel Wirral Way instead if the shore route is unavailable. 

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1. From the far end of the car park, a path leads through the trees parallel and close to the main road, before meeting another path. Turn right here to the road, and then left along the pavement to the Cottage Loaf. 

2. Beyond the pub, cross over at the traffic island before the roundabout, pass a gate lodge and bear right into Station Road, signposted to the parish church and Dee Sailing Club. For a short distance, the pavement disappears, until you reach a road junction by the church. 

3. Turn right, and then follow the road round to the left. There is now, mercifully, a pavement on the right-hand side. Pass the old school and then follow the straight road for three-quarters of a mile down to the estuary, passing the Strawberry Moon on the right, and Flissy’s Coffee Shop by the Wirral Way.

Cross the old railway bridge beyond the latter, and continue to the end of the road beyond the turning for the sailing club, where a hand-painted sign announces THIS WAY TO THE BEACH. The path indicated winds around before heading down uneven sandy steps to the shore. 

4. Turn left along the beach and follow it for almost exactly one mile. Partway along, don’t be tempted by some steps up a wooded gully in the cliffs (which gives access from the Wirral Country Park). Instead, carrying on alongside the estuary.

The route leaves the shore within sight of the moorings below Heswall, at a point where the crumbling red cliffs (designated as an SSSI for their botanical and geological interest) dwindle to nothing and a small stream dribbles onto the beach. 

5. Take an eroded sandy path (a permitted route) by a notice to the left of the stream. Continue to a crossing, where you continue straight ahead along a track whose hedgerows are lined with wildflowers. At a junction by a gate, turn right. 

The Dungeon, Thurstaston

En route for the Dungeon - Credit: David Dunford

6. On meeting the Wirral Way, cross to the second of the two parallel routes and turn left, shortly passing a bench on the left. Just beyond a second bench and boundary stone, turn right, off the main trail, onto a side path signposted: The Dungeon. Follow this fenced path along the side of a field and through a glade of oak trees. 

7. When you reach the bottom of the Dungeon gorge, cross the footbridge over the stream and climb the steps to the left of a large cave entrance.

At a bench at the top, pause to admire the view before turning right and continuing through the trees above the cave, with the valley on your right. At the top of the wood, you pass above a trickling waterfall on your right, before continuing on a root-strewn path beside the stream. 

8. When you meet a perpendicular path after a boardwalk, turn left over a footbridge. The hedged path beyond leads eventually to a gate into a farm track, where you bear right.

On our last visit, a singer was rehearsing the Four Seasons’ December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night), somewhere behind a high hedge here, bringing an incongruous touch of New Jersey to the Wirral countryside. 

Path from the Dungeon towards t St Bartholomew’s, Thurstaston

Homeward bound: the path from the Dungeon towards the spire of St Bartholomew’s, Thurstaston - Credit: David Dunford

9. After some brick barns when you meet the metalled road, turn left into the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s. The tower of the former church, dated 1824, stands in the churchyard near the imposing tomb of Thomas Henry Ismay (an early owner of the White Star Line of Titanic infamy).

Rounding the east end of the newer church, pass the war memorial and exit via the lychgate. 

10. Turn right and walk back up Station Road to the A540 Telegraph Road. Cross again at the roundabout and turn left past the Cottage Loaf. Turn right at a National Trust sign into Thurstaston Common. After 50 yards, the quickest way back to the car park is via the path you followed previously, on the left, but a short and recommended detour is to continue straight ahead, which leads behind a primary school. 

11. When you meet the end of a road, turn left along a path onto the common that leads up to a fine viewpoint at the top of the gorsy hill. Having admired the view, turn back and, shortly after the trig point on the right, take a path on the same side which descends over eroded sandstone bedrock back to the car park. 

Compass Points 

Area of walk: Thurstaston, Wirral 

Start point: Thurstaston Common car park, CH61 0HH 

Distance: 4½ miles 

Time to allow: 2–3 hours 

Map: OS Explorer 266 Wirral & Chester 

Refreshments: 338 The Cottage Loaf, Telegraph Road, Thurstaston, CH61 0HJ greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/merseyside/cottage-loaf 0151 6482837 

Cottage Loaf, Thurstaston

The Cottage Loaf in summertime - Credit: David Dunford

Classics at the Cottage Loaf

This roadside hostelry does a roaring trade selling food and drink to passers-by. There is a large garden to the front of the pub. The wide menu has starters, burgers, sharing plates and pub classics, as well as a range of more ambitious dishes labelled as signature classics.

These include a tempting seabass and scallop risotto, hunter’s chicken and Scottish mussels and fries, as well as a range of speciality pies, plus vegetarian and vegan options.

Meat-eaters may choose from a range of steaks, while lighter appetites will be satisfied by the lunch club range (served until 5pm) of toasties, open sandwiches and jacket potatoes. If you get there early, something from the brunch menu might set you up well for your walk. 

There are two other opportunities for refreshments on the way round. The Strawberry Moon is a newish venture housed in a converted barn surrounded by fields, with a daytime café and live music in the evenings. Next to the Wirral Country Park on the same road is the more traditional Flissy’s Coffee Shop, where you can pick up an ice cream for the nearby beach.