Wirral walk - Heswall Dales

Lane leading into Heswall Dales

Lane leading into Heswall Dales - Credit: Archant

Fancy a little sea air? Take a bracing walk along the Wirral coast and down through Heswall Dales, suggests Howard Bradbury

There is an expression more usually applied to the wide open spaces of Montana: ‘Big Sky Country’. That phrase always comes to mind when I find myself on this part of the Wirral coastline, staring across the Dee estuary towards Wales, and then out to sea. The panorama seems so vast, the sky so - there’s no other word for it - big. Yes, this is my Big Sky Country.

Our walk takes us a little way along the estuary before striking inland towards The Dungeon. The name sounds grim, but this is not some ancient place of incarceration but a steep wooded ravine whose name probably comes from the Old English ‘dunge’ or ‘denge’, meaning land next to a marsh.

After enjoying some lovely views across the estuary from one of Wirral’s highest points, our walk takes us back down towards the coast through Heswall Dales. This is recognised as one of the best examples of lowland heath in Merseyside, the other being nearby Thurstaston Common. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest and, since 1991, a Local Nature Reserve.

The heath and scrubland supports grasshoppers, various beetles, butterflies and moths, all of which provide a feast for birds and mammals, including shrews. Wrens, yellowhammers and chaffinches can be found in the gorse.

The path to The Dungeon

The path to The Dungeon - Credit: Archant

It is a fragile ecosystem, so please stick to the paths.

1. Start from Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall (set the sat nav for postcode CH60 9JS). Walk back up Banks Road, away from the coast, and turn left into Broad Lane at the red postbox, then turn left into Target Road, following the signs for the bridleway. As you reach a large metal gate, bear right down the narrow lane and this will bring you to the beach.

Looking back across the fields to the coast

Looking back across the fields to the coast - Credit: Archant

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2. You wander along a wide sandy path on the beach, with panoramic views of the Dee estuary for just a little way until you come to a small stream. Cross it and immediately take a small sandy path up away from the beach and turn left after a few yards passing a National Trust sign saying you have entered Heswall Fields. There are benches along the grassy path here, looking out to sea, but it’s much too soon to take a breather, isn’t it?

3. It’s easy to discern the impressions of thousands of boots which have gone before you, trampling along parallel with the cliff and then arcing right, away from the coast. Follow this well-trodden path and go through a wooden gate, then another gate, crossing over one gritty path and a few paces later turning left onto another path running parallel, following the sign for Thurstaston. This is the Wirral Way, built upon the former Birkenhead Railway, which ran to West Kirby.

View from Oldfield Road

View from Oldfield Road - Credit: Archant

4. Two or three minutes later, take a path to the right signposted The Dungeon. You climb gently on a path with a stream to the left and open fields to the right. Entering the woods, you come to a little wooden bridge; cross over it and ascend the steps hacked into the hillside. At the top, follow the black arrow pointing you to the right and walk around the lip of the hollow.

5. You cross a heavy wooden bridge over a stream, then continue on the right side of the stream, along a section of boardwalk until you reach a T junction in the path. Head right here through a wooden gate. As the path climbs, a wonderful vista across the estuary opens up for you. Keep an eye to the left as well, though. On my visit, there was a field full of appealingly woolly cattle, belonging to Oldfield Farm. This farm has been in the same family for over 280 years, and those ‘woolly’ cattle are Dun Galloways.

6. You reach a stone stile. Go straight ahead with the farm to your right, then bear slightly right, taking the path which becomes Oldfield Road. If ever there was a place to induce postcode envy, this is it. Glorious huge houses enjoy sea views from one of Wirral’s highest points. Follow Oldfield Road for just a few hundred yards and take a right into a lane marked ‘Heswall Dales Local Nature Reserve’. After a few yards, bear left down the hill. and bear left again at a wooden gate with a bridleway horseshoe on it.

7. Keep following the red sandy path downhill until you reach the cul-de-sac Bushway. Continue along for a few yards, turn left into Pipers Lane, right into Delavor Road, over the bridge, bearing right, then left into Banks Road and journey’s end.

Area of Walk: Heswall

Distance: Four miles

Time to allow: 90 minutes

Map: OS Explorer 266

Refreshments: Sheldrakes, Banks Road, Lower Heswall, CH60 9JS, is just down the road from Banks Road car park. There is lots of choice of eateries back in Heswall, but we particularly like Nova at 68 Pensby Rd, Heswall, Wirral CH60 7RE. Or you could drive to nearby Parkgate for an ice cream and a gaze out over the marshes where once the waves lapped at the sea wall.