The countryside next door: Victoria Ekpo explores Liverpool’s Green Belt
Lecturer, poet and walking enthusiast Victoria Ekpo recalls a sunny spring day that inspired a new adventure – exploring rural landscape and heritage so close to the city.
The spring started on a promising note – great swathes of blue skies, enduring sunshine and seemingly unending daylight. The warmth of a long-remembered summer filled us with hope – of an end to lockdown, retiring the winter coats and reuniting with family, friends and colleagues.
This spring (more than the last one), carries many expectations, so when the weather promises so much, there is a skip in my step.
So, on this particular Saturday, after a week of working from home and only managing to catch an hour of sunlight on the odd break, I needed an extended local walk to stretch my desk-bound legs and rekindle my contact with the outdoors.
Merseyside offers many options for this, and from my home we can do a ‘park to park’ walk – taking in Newsham Park, Croxteth Hall and Country Park, Calderstones Park, Sefton Park and back home in a circular route. But we had exhausted these routes over the lockdown and needed somewhere fresh and challenging.
From the doorstep to the great outdoors
The Wirral is practically on our doorstep but visits had been somewhat restricted during the lockdown. It is easy to forget the city in the unusually dense wooded trails that dot the region. Enticed by the prospect of its famous views and buildings, we decided on a Bidston trail I had once failed to complete successfully.
But how do we get there? Armed with bottles of water, sunscreen and a bank card (in case we needed extra refreshments), we decide to extend the original Bidston trail by doing the walk straight from our doorstep – the Kensington to Bidston Observatory circular!
The residential area of Kensington in Liverpool is well-known for its expanding student population, mainly due to its proximity to the university campuses, various hospitals and Liverpool city centre. To get to the Wirral, we will need to cross the River Mersey. It’s a leisurely walk downhill, taking the short-cut through Phythian Park. In the early morning, we are met by people either rushing past us to work or returning from a night shift at the Royal Hospital.
A city of culture
I walk the same streets most days but often do not stop to look around or notice the little bits of historical references that are scattered here and there. Passing number 38 Kensington Road, a blue plaque confirms this is where the group that later became the Beatles made their first sound recording.
We descend to St. George’s Hall, through the city centre, past the statue of Queen Victoria to James Street station. The only way one can make the short crossing from Liverpool to the Wirral is through the road tunnel or by ferry. The 2-mile tunnel has been used for the filming of scenes in Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows – Part 1 (2010); the Danny Boyle film Yesterday (2018) and the BBC mini-series The City and The City (2018). If you shut your eyes long enough, you may very well hear the characters and imagine yourself in one of those scenes.
The number 437 bus gets us to the Boundary Road stop in Bidston in 28 minutes where we can start the Bidston Hill and River Fender Circular walk. We retrace our steps to go past the water tower on Boundary Road and turn onto a public footpath leading through the beautifully landscaped Wirral Women’s Golf Club. You might be tempted to dawdle here, but do not forget that this is a well-used golf course, look out for signs to stop – you don’t want a sore head when the walk is just getting warm.
A glimpse of village life
The golf course gives way to a shady country lane and the walk immediately becomes very ‘countryside’. This is where we are reminded that Bidston is indeed a village and had been far less busy and populated up until two decades ago. Apparently, Shakespeare had performed here as part of a band of actors and the village retains its medieval outlook, especially in the houses that line the country path behind the golf course.
As we walk through, we make up stories about the history of the houses: were they farmhouses? Who lived where? What must it have been like before the roads and housing estates? We can vaguely hear the cars on the Upton and Boundary roads but we can also imagine the horses and carts that must have used that path instead. For a more comprehensive history of this fascinating village, check out wirralhistory.uk.
This shady path gives way to a slightly sleepy modern housing estate. We appreciate the cleanliness of the streets and the wide path that cuts through the houses leading to the river Fender, allowing young children to walk their dogs or play without fear of vehicular traffic.
A scenic route
We continue down to the riverside and on through to Upton into the Thermopylae Pass. Covered in gorse and wildflowers in the spring and summer, it provides a scenic route to Bidston Hill and a good challenging climb at this stage of the walk. Be sure to keep to the left-hand path. My first attempt to do this walk with a friend was a disaster from this point: we took the right-hand path and got completely lost!
It is delightful on the hill, like an enchanted forest. There are a couple of children playing hide and seek and one or two people reading on the benches. With its imposing views across to Liverpool and the Welsh hills, a historic windmill and the observatory, here one feels the full import of Dachlan Cartwright’s poem, Bidston:
The water fount the noblest Windsor made
Will quench us as the gloaming woodlands sigh
Across the bridge they call Thermopylae.
A spick and spartan mill with silent blades
Stands sentinel, as Bidston Hill parades
A leonine ridge where observators try
To pry the final secrets from the sky
Before we purse our ‘pocalypse and fade.
Across the Dee in dusk the Clwydians drown.
A thousand pinlights prick the Mersey towns.
The sun still percolates the Irish Sea
And melts old Triton from Titanic’s lee.
Thanks hilly ghosts to host our Beat’s brief tenure.
Let’s hope this sandstone kramat lasts millennia.
© Dachlan Cartwright
After a stroll around the observatory, we go back to the hilltop for a snack stop and to admire the views some more. The way back to the bus stop is through the woods onto King George’s Way – a footpath opened by King George V and Queen Mary in 1914.
I have since taken a few friends on this trail, sometimes driving to Bidston to start the walk with young children in tow, eager to play by the windmill.
An epic city to woodlands walk or a heritage stroll? You’d be surprised what lies at your doorstep. Where would you go next!?
Victoria Ekpo is a lecturer, teacher, poet, writer, itinerant hiker and lover of the English countryside. In 2020, Victoria was the winner of a presitigious outdoor writing competition organised by TGO (The Great Outdoors) magazine and Black Girls Hike UK. Follow Victoria’s FootSteps walking group on Instagram @FootStepsNW.