25: Woolton Hill, City of Liverpool

The Liver Building, behind the Museum of Liverpool.

Date: 11th February 2021. One day short of a year since I completed walk 7/8 in the Home Counties.

Weather conditions: Last night, parts of northern Scotland apparently experienced Britain’s coldest temperatures for 25 years, but where I was today you wouldn’t have suspected that. It was a little chilly, particularly when beside the Mersey, but otherwise, a very fine day for walking.

County Top bagged: Woolton Hill, which has a spot height of 292 feet/89m above sea level at grid reference SJ419873, and is the highest point in the City of Liverpool.

Summit of Woolton Hill
The water tower built on the highest point of Liverpool.

This is one of the metropolitan boroughs for which my 2010 edition of the Times Atlas of Great Britain does not specify a summit. I established its status by doing my own inspection of the Ordnance Survey map. Liverpool’s Wikipedia page suggests the summit stands at 70m in the Everton Hills, but blatantly, the 1:25,000 OS map indicates a spot height of 89m at the grid reference I have cited. It is marked by a water tower (pictured).

I use the name ‘Woolton Hill’ because it seems appropriate, though the road on which the summit stands is called Reservoir Road. Woolton Hill is the name given to the surrounding area on the OS map, but I do not know whether it is formally appplied to the lump of high ground on which the summit stands. By altitude, it ranks 157th of the 172 modern Tops, and 180th of the full list of 196.

Flooded area
Flooded and icy bit of Calderstones Park.

After that of Derby, this is my second fully urban County Top. As with several other urban authorities, the highest point you can actually get above ground (without wings) in Liverpool is in a building: in this case, the top of West Tower at 440 feet/134m.

[ << Blackstone Edge, Rochdale (24) | (26/27) Winter Hill, Bolton/Blackburn with Darwen >> ]

Start and end point of walk: Started at Hunts Cross railway station, which I reached by way of an hourly service from Manchester Oxford Road. Finished at Liverpool Lime Street station, from where I could have caught a train to half the country, as far as Norwich if I’d really wanted. The walk took me 4¼ hours.

Pub at end: If only I could have patronised one of the many pubs which speckle Liverpool city centre. When, or let’s say if, sanity returns, you are not going to struggle to find an acceptable drinking hole at the end of this walk. In my opinion the best one near to Lime Street station is Doctor Duncan’s, but bear in mind I am something of a traditionalist.

Palm House, padlocked
The Palm House in Sefton Park — padlocked and closed.

Distance walked: 10.25 miles/16.5km approx.

Feet of ascent: It can’t be more than 200 feet/60m approx. today. The starting point at Hunts Cross is already 44m up. After you come off the summit, everything is downhill until the Mersey, and then flat until a final, but trivial, ascent to Lime Street station. This works out as 19.5ft per mile, making it the flattest of all my CT walks to date.

Difficulty: ★. Length alone might see it push two stars. But it can be done in trainers, and, if you get tired, shorten it by stopping at one of three intermediate railway stations (Mossley Hill, St Michaels or Brunswick) before the city centre.

Ease of access: ★★★★. There are plenty of trains to Liverpool Lime Street, but it’s too far to walk to the summit and back from there. Thus, you need to change trains to access Hunts Cross, or one of the other suburban stations mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The entrance to Festival Gardens.

Scenic qualities: ★★. It’s a little disappointing that there are no views of the city from the higher parts of the walk. The Mersey looks good though. Generally the day is spent in pleasant surroundings. Don’t expect inner city decay — I was surprised how suburban this walk was.

The area: Many of my recent walks have crossed the boundary of at least two different local authorities, but today the time is spent wholly in the territory of the City of Liverpool. This has been independent of Lancashire since 1889, which suggests that my ‘historic’ list is just as arbitrary, in its way, as the modern one. For a while from 1974 it was subsumed into the county of Merseyside, of which Billinge Hill was the Top, but nowadays the five authorities of that county (St Helens, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley and Liverpool) are governed separately.

It’s fair to call this one of the world’s more famous provincial cities. With a population that approaches half a million, it is the 10th most populous local authority in the UK. For my feelings about it, see the commentary at the bottom of the page.

Map of walk 25

Map: Completists will purchase OS Explorer 275: Liverpool, St Helens, Widnes and Runcorn. But the app on your phone will get you round just fine.

On this summary map, the walk proceeds east to west (right to left). The summit is not marked, but it comes before reaching the school that lies just before the crossing of the first principal route, marked in green.

Route: I enjoyed this walk. It is wholly suburban, and there are no views from high up. But there are still things to see, and on a sunny day it was an agreeable experience. You could do it the other way around, but Liverpool city centre will be a better climax than the suburban acres of Woolton and Hunts Cross.

In Woolton.

When you come out of Hunts Cross station, turn right up Speke Road. Continue along this as it winds through the unfriendly-looking golf course and up into Woolton. Cross over the double main road (near the establishment pictured here) then take the first left up Mason Street and admire the very cute — but, like everywhere else, presently closed and semi-derelict — Woolton Picture House. Then turn right at the end, go up past the church of St Peter’s, and look for Reservoir Road on your left.

This slopes up fairly steeply, and at the top, the summit is obvious, first because of the water tower, and then because of the nearby street named ‘Summit Way’. At the end of Reservoir Road, turn right, then left, and then look out for the Salvation Army hostel on the left: your first Beatles reference of the day. Although not the original building, this is the real ‘Strawberry Field’, as immortalised in the song by John Lennon, who grew up a few hundred yards down Menlove Lane — which you now cross.

Strawberry Field
The gates of Strawberry Field (s forever).

Turn right once you have crossed the busy road and then enter Calderstones Park. Head for the little lake, then bear right, and follow the signs to Four Seasons Gate. Once through this, turn left down Calderstones Road, and keep going until just before Mossley Hill railway station — the first point at which you might end the walk if tired, but come on, you’ve only done 4 miles (it took me about 90 minutes to reach this point).

So let’s carry on, up Bridge Street, which winds through Victorian terraced housing and then debouches onto Penny Lane, where turn left. Yes — that’s the Penny Lane, as immortalised in the song by…. well, you get the picture by now I am sure. If you want a road sign to snap (see below), there are two at the end of the road. There, turn right, then left down Greenbank Lane. At the end of this keep going straight on into Sefton Park.

Penny Lane road sign
And another Beatles reference. This road sign has its own pin on Google Maps, dontcha know.

Here head for the Palm House, seen clearly from this point, but I found the grass en route rather swampy, so you might eschew the short cut. However you get there, once at the Palm House, go round it to the right, keep going down this path and then go straight on down Livingstone Lane, where the housing is the most opulent yet: where all my inner-city preconceptions of Liverpool came from, I have no idea.

Go straight across Aigburth Road and head down what becomes Southwood Road, passing the surprisingly rustic St Michaels’ station (your second potential terminus). Go on through the woods, then through Festival Gardens, and you will come out onto the banks of the Mersey.

View to the Wirral
View over the Mersey, to the Wirral on the opposite bank.

Turn right here, and further routefinding advice is redundant for the 3.1 miles/5km or so along the river to Albert Dock. The quickest route to Lime Street station then emerges if you bear right just as you reach this (pictured below). Keep going across the very busy street of Wapping, keeping the police HQ on your left, up Liver Street, which becomes Hanover Street. From here, just follow the signs, or your phone. Bear in mind it’s at least 10 minutes’ walk from Wapping to the station.

Dreams of a lost city: If our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has ever had an actual job it was that of journalist. While running right-wing magazine, The Spectator, in 2004, in an editorial Mr. Johnson repeated the since disproven allegation that Liverpool FC fans were responsible for the disaster at the Hillsborough stadium in 1989, at which 96 died. He wrote that while he acknowledged Hillsborough was a “tragedy”:

Albert Dock
The Albert Dock, but you knew that.

That is no excuse for Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon… The police became a convenient scapegoat, and The Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident.

The Sun article to which he refers was entitled “The Truth” and appeared three days after the disaster, claiming that Liverpool fans had picked the pockets of corpses and urinated on policemen who were trying to help victims of the disaster. The falsity of these stories, and the fact that the disaster was in fact caused by a catastrophic failure of police crowd control, were confirmed by the public enquiry in April 2016. In other words, Johnson was repeating lies and false allegations.

Mersey buoy
A buoy out in the Mersey.

Building on this, Johnson extended his contempt for Liverpool FC fans to encompass the whole population of the city. Referring to the murder of Liverpudlian engineer Ken Bigley in Iraq, Johnson then wrote:

Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune ­— its docks were, fundamentally, on the wrong side of England when Britain entered what is now the European Union — and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They … see themselves, whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status, yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society.

The view down the River Mersey

Regardless of what you or I think about Liverpool — and I admit it is a place I have always liked — this is just rude, lazy stereotyping from someone who even at the time, should have not abused his position of power as a way of reinforcing an Establishment-backed narrative that slandered the dead, as a means of protecting the bad decisions made by the powerful from being scrutinised. But what is worse is that this is the person now in charge of the UK. Forgive me for speculating whether has Liverpool’s best interests at heart.

It is difficult to explore this place without being made aware that it gave the world the Beatles, usually cited as the most successful and influential pop group of all time. And you have to give them credit for keeping it going so long and never getting crap, even if, personally, I think some other bands of that time just rock out more. (But I’ll give them A Day In The Life, for sure.) I hadn’t planned the walk to pass the two landmarks mentioned above (and you can also see Lennon’s childhood house if you want to: it’s only 200 yards off route), but it was nice to encounter them as it shows how Liverpool was still enough in the minds of these guys, even at the peak of their success, to be incorporated into their art. Mundane little corners, but now known worldwide, forever.

This is a cosmopolitan place, always has been. Liverpool has the country’s oldest black community, it’s oldest and largest Chinese community, large numbers of Welsh and Irish. On Greenbank Lane I passed “John Mitchel’s Gaelic Football club”, its fixtures board frozen in time, still advertising the game that was to be played on the 4th November. Now like everywhere else, Liverpool is a city of the nearly dead, inhabited by a few masked zombie-like figures. Adverts tell us that it’s all our fault, that we must live in fear. I mourn the loss of the country in which I started this project. And I cannot perceive Boris Johnson as being the man to lead any recovery.


4 thoughts on “25: Woolton Hill, City of Liverpool

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