43: Poll Hill, Wirral

Dee estuary, tree and birds
The Dee estuary; the scenic highlight of the day. You will be seeing more of it on this page.

Date: 5th January 2022.

Weather conditions: Despite a brief shower at the beginning of the walk, very good. Bright, sunny and not too cold.

County Top bagged: Poll Hill, which has an altitude of 354ft/108m above sea level, and is the Top of Wirral local authority. The summit resides at grid reference SJ267823. Historically, this point (as with the rest of the Wirral) was in Cheshire, but then it was transferred to Merseyside, and since the metropolitan counties were dismembered in 1986 it has been a modern CT (one of six, I make it, that reside within the pre-1974 borders of Cheshire). By altitude Poll Hill ranks 150th of the modern Tops and 173rd of the full list.

View from Thurstaston Hill
Part of the view from Thurstaston Hill.

The walk also takes in the top of Thurstaston Hill, which has a trig point on it with a measured altitude of 299 feet/91m, though the actual summit is a few feet higher.

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Start and end points of walk: Started at West Kirby train station, which can be reached on regular services (every 20 minutes) from Liverpool Lime Street. Ended at Heswall bus station, from where buses can be caught back to West Kirby, and indeed to Liverpool (which probably would have made for a quicker journey home, with hindsight).

The walk took me 3¼ hours. It could as easily be done the other way around.

Dee at high tide
Braving the Dee at high tide. (I saw nothing of its supposedly extensive sandbanks today.)

Pub at end: I have no idea who Johnny Pye is or was, but he has a pub named after him in Heswall, just behind the bus station. It’s very pubco (Marstons, specifically) but it’s OK.

As I had to walk past it twice in fairly quick succession, I failed to avoid the Cottage Loaf in Thurstaston, part way through the walk. Which is much the same, to be honest, except in this case, owned by Greene King.

Distance walked: 7.25miles/11.5km approximately.

Feet of ascent: 460 feet/140m approx.

Shower over North Wales
A shower somewhere over North Wales.

Difficulty: ★★. This is a walk of easy gradients. However, note that the geological base of the Wirral is apparently ‘Mercia Mudstone’ and this gives a hint as to what much of the walk is like underfoot — namely, muddy. There is also an outbreak of rockiness on Thurstaston Hill. I’d wear proper boots.

Ease of access: ★★★. This required a little bit of planning. It was easiest to come through Liverpool, changing trains at Lime Street to reach West Kirby — note that you need to leave several minutes to make this connection, as you have to go down to the underground platforms.

On the Wirral Way
On the Wirral Way, along which the walk begins.

Heswall does have a railway station of its own, but its service is less frequent than on the Merseyrail line to West Kirby, particularly at the moment, thanks to some Covid bollocks (well, it is). And to reach Liverpool still requires a change of trains. The West Kirby line is much more convenient.

Scenic qualities: ★★★, though with reservations. As I hope the photos reveal, some views on this walk are excellent, but the line of sight is too often obscured by hedges, caravan parks, expensive housing, former railway embankments, and other human-created phenomena.

The area: While the local authority that governs this place is just known as Wirral, the peninsula of land between the estuaries of the Mersey and the Dee usually takes the definitive article, that is, THE Wirral, as if there might be another one somewhere.

In Thurstaston
In Thurstaston, proof that the Wirral is not all dockland.

Archaeological evidence from around the village of Greasby suggests that it has been continuously populated since at least 7000 BC. Its main town of Birkenhead is one of those places that is best known for having a view of another place, namely Liverpool, across the Mersey. That east side of the Wirral is rather run-down, but over in the west there are more affluent suburban districts and plenty of golf courses. It’s alright if you like that kind of thing.

Map: You probably could get around without bringing OS Explorer 266: Wirral and Chester, but it was, at least, useful to have access to a copy in order to find the actual summit of Poll Hill.

Map of walk 43

Route: Poll Hill itself has zero to offer scenically, but this was obvious in advance from the map, so I designed a walk around what appeared to be the best combination of highlights and transport options. And it turned out to be a decent itinerary; when they emerge, the views are very fine. However, it’d be better without the frequent obstacles that intrude into both route and views such as hedges, housing estates, a caravan park and so on. (I just about absolve the golf course, which at least added to the photo below, rather than detracted from it.) There is also a little too much road-walking. The detour to Thurstaston Hill could be omitted to shorten it by a mile or so, but I wouldn’t do this, as that’s the main highlight.

Outside West Kirby station, cross the road, turn left, then after a couple of hundred yards, turn right down the ‘Wirral Way’ path — this is, obviously, a disused railway line (a former continuation of the one that now terminates here).

Golfers, the Dee and Moel Famau
The Dee, Moel Famau and three other guys who were not ‘working from home’ today.

You could stay on this for all of the first couple of miles, but that way you will miss the most interesting views on offer along this stretch, looking out over the Dee estuary to Wales beyond. Moel Famau, CT of Flintshire and highest of the Clwydian Hills, is visible, identified by the Jubilee Tower on the summit (see picture above). I tried to walk along the coast whenever possible, but the aforementioned obstacles do preclude this except at two points, both of which are obvious when reached — the first when the houses finish, the second after the golf course.

Thurstaston station (and try saying that repeatedly, even when sober) still exists, but don’t wait for a train there. Once you reach it, turn left up Station Road, and leave the Wirral Way behind. Station Road rises gently up to Thurstaston village, passing a couple of cafes on the way.

Station Road
Station Road.

The road is a dull passage, but is to be shortly redeemed on arrival in Thurstaston. The village is rather overburdened with traffic but has an impressive church, a pub (the Cottage Loaf) and the summit of Thurstaston Hill, which is worth the detour. To find it, go uphill past the church, turn left at the roundabout, cross over the road (carefully) and, just past the pub, bear right down the path to Thurstaston Common.

The summit of the Hill won’t be hard to find. There are outbreaks of the underlying ‘Mercia Mudstone’ here which give the summit an attractive appearance (see the picture at the bottom of the page), and the view is very good even though you are only just at 300 feet a.s.l. This is the one part of the walk where the whole peninsula is visible, over to the east coast as well, and the docks of Liverpool.

Footpath sign
You go this way: and only this way, apparently.

Afterwards, return to Thurstaston church and take the lane that heads off to its left, signposted at first to the ‘Dee Dog Park’. This is easy to follow, with one hedge-free stretch allowing sight of the estuary again.

Past Oldfield Farm, you reach the suburban acres of Heswall, in which the rest of the walk takes place. There are nature reserves on the right, but these don’t look all that exciting and even if there are views to be had from there, they will be of things that have already been seen. By this point I just wanted to get to the summit. This is reached by carrying straight on, then turning left up Quarry Road, going over the A540 (again, carefully), past the tennis club and then right up Tower Road North: all of this is uphill.

Poll Hill summit
The summit of the Wirral, such as it is.

There are houses right up to the summit of Poll Hill, but you will know when you have reached it thanks to the (inevitable, in urban areas) covered reservoir and mobile phone mast. Other than that, there is nothing to mark this CT except the birch tree pictured here. But never mind, the walk is nearly over. Carry straight on past the summit and then down Tower Road South. Where this ends, turn right, and the centre of Heswall, with shops, pubs and bus station, is a couple of hundred yards away.

Commentary: It seems a while since my trip to Doncaster in late October. In the intervening time I made my promised visit to St Helena, which was a remarkable place with some great walking to be had. But though I did attain the top of Diana’s Peak, which at 2,690 feet/820m is the island’s highest point, I did so in disappointing weather: clouds wreathed the mountain and so its apparently amazing view, of the whole of St Helena and the ocean beyond, went unseen — hence, unphotographed. I decided therefore not to blog about it yet; I am definitely going back, at least two more times, so will go up again at some point (it wasn’t a difficult walk) and wait to add it to this site until I have better pictures.

Coastal view
Looking along the coast, from near the caravan park.

That accounts for November. In December I did one Wainwright walk, but that’s always the worst month of the year in terms of walking conditions — invariably gloomy and grey, not to mention amply supplied with work, and then Christmas inevitably gets in the way (although not in a bad sense). In CT terms 2021 therefore ended two months early.

I like January though. The weather is almost always better than in December; it can be cold and snowy sometimes, sure, but whether it is or not, you are much more likely to get bright sunny days — like today. And at work January is, if not exactly quieter, certainly more flexible, as we’re in the inter-semester period so I’ve few fixed commitments. Anyway, I’m not even pretending that I worked today: consider it the last day of my Christmas break.

View over to Thurstaston.

For Christmas I received a copy of John Burns’s book The Last Hillwalker, most of which I read on the trains today (Northern magnanimously giving me an extra hour to read, thanks to a broken down train: I left my front door at 7:45 and wasn’t walking out of West Kirby station until four hours later). It’s a good book about walking, for sure: making it clear how the true walker is motivated by worship of the landscapes in which they become immersed. But Burns also puts across a sense of fear at times, recounting some terrible experiences in the Lake District, Scotland and elsewhere. Even ignoring the rock-climbing — I’ve done some scrambling in my time but anything requiring ropes and pitons is out for me — some of the simple winter-weather stories are scary enough. Yet I totally get his point. Sometimes it is about pitting oneself, not against the environment but against one’s own sense of what is possible, what your limits are, and using the mountains to test this: to become a different person as a result.

Houses above the estuary
And that’ll be the Dee again; this time, from near Heswall.

As I’m pondering on my own sense of adventure on the gentle slopes of the Wirral, maybe this is a laughable comparison. I can’t say I ever go hiking to experience danger, and the consequent adrenaline rush. Getting up Yewbarrow or Pavey Ark is about as extreme as I get, and though I’ve done some winter walks in my time (see this one, for example), I don’t anticipate doing any of the high Scottish CTs in the snow. But if I’m going to ever complete this project then there are some tough hikes to come, such as Carn Eige (Ross and Cromarty) or Bidean nam Bian (Argyll), and so I am going to have to man up and attempt them before I get too decrepit.

On page 199 of Burns he says he has never seen the point in doing a list compiled by someone else, e.g. Munros, Wainwrights. Fair point, and I say this as someone who’s already spent more than 12½ years doing exactly that (and more than once, too). However, this CT round is my own creation, and I’m proud of what I’ve done so far. The next one will hopefully be from down south, when I’m in London for a weekend at the end of January. But the bigger mountains will come: once spring is here.

On Thurstaston Hill
A place to sit and ponder the landscape, on Thurstaston Hill. ‘Mercia Mudstone’ to the fore.

8 thoughts on “43: Poll Hill, Wirral

    1. Well, I’m counting all separate local authorities where these are the highest level of government…

      1. I’m not doing all the different London local authorities, but for Greater London there’s Westerham Hill, for inner London it’s Hampstead Heath and then there’s the historic top of Middlesex, Bushey Heath — which I might do later this month. Everything is listed on the site menus eg. https://91countytops.wordpress.com/modern-tops/

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