The excitement of a bracing walk across vast, flat sands to a trio of tidal islands at the mouth of the Dee Estuary makes for a great outing on a winter’s day.
The Dee Estuary is among the top 10 in Europe for overwintering wildfowl, such as wigeon, teal and various species of goose. Surrounded by mudflats, marshes and sandbanks, the islands – Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre – are an important roosting site and rest point for migrating birds.
At low water, the easy walk from West Kirby to the islands, two miles offshore, takes around an hour each way, however it is essential to follow the safest route and timings posted on the Dee Lane slipway noticeboard to avoid quicksand and being cut off by the tide.
West Kirby from LIttle Eye, Hilbre Islands ©Getty
Striding out in sturdy boots to splash through shallow pools of seawater, there’s an overwhelming sense of adventure. Boats and windsurfers on West Kirby’s famous marine lake are soon left behind. The islands beckon, and the wide horizon is dominated by the magnificent mountain ranges of north Wales. It’s an exhilarating sight – best enjoyed wrapped up in a thick coat and a cosy hat and scarf.
1. Songs of the sea
The haunting chorus of Atlantic grey seals often accompanies the approach to Little Eye, the first and smallest of the islands. Basking on West Hoyle sandbank, the noisy colony numbers up to 400 in summer.
Squawking waders compete for rich pickings in muddy gullies and mounds of empty blue mussel shells encircle the sea-worn sandstone islands.
Atlantic grey seal ©Getty
2. Two and three
From Little Eye, it is just a short stroll to Middle Eye, negotiating the rockpools and slippy muddy stone slabs between them.
The islands and rocks form an uninhabited local nature reserve, yet there is a cluster of attractive buildings on Hilbre, including clapperboard cottages, an old lifeboat house and the remains of an 1841 telegraph signaling station, one of a chain between Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey and the port of Liverpool. Look out for the solar-powered lighthouse here.
On a clear day it is a delight to sit in a sheltered sunny cove with a picnic lunch and flask of hot chocolate. There are no amenities on the island, so do take all you need for a day trip, including binoculars to observe the plentiful birdlife; brent geese and purple sandpiper are of particular interest.
Savour the spectacular views from the islands, stretching right across to the Lake District and the Isle of Man. And, if you’re lucky, the trip might end with one of the brilliant tangerine sunsets that illuminate this coastline.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
HOW TO GET THERE
Travel by train is easy; from Liverpool mainline stations there are regular trains to West Kirby and a good bus network too.
FIND OUT MORE
Wirral Country Park, Thurstaston, Wirral CH61 OHN. 0151 648 4371
Hilbre Bird Observatory
14 Banks Road, West Kirby, Wirral CH48 0RD
For quality fish and chips, right on the shore.