Island dreams and staying upright

The track beside the Manchester Ship Canal which runs from Wigg island to Moore Nature Reserve. It was rather icy on this occasion.

I am off to visit an island and so I cast a vision in my mind of sun drenched sandy beaches backed by palm trees with deep blue skies and a sparkling sea. Hang on a minute as I came to my senses, this island doesn’t have any of these ingredients.

It’s a cold December day and it’s true that I am visiting an island except this place tells a very different story. Wigg Island is a slice of land lying between the estuary of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. With a reasonable day of weather I want to see if I can do a circular walk by taking in part of the Mersey Valley Trail on my return.
I want to find out if the path between Wigg Island Community Park and Moore Nature Reserve is open to the public. I knew that the track east from Wigg Island had been closed due the construction of the Mersey Gateway Bridge but I am glad to see that it had reopened despite some closure signs still in place. On close inspection, the closure had expired in October 2017.

Parking at Wigg Island Community Park I’m setting off to walk towards Moore Nature Reserve via the track cum path which runs along the northern bank of the Manchester Ship Canal. I soon pass beneath the new Mersey Gateway Bridge. There is a little snow left on the ground but a slow thaw is setting in and the bright sunshine of the previous day is not going to be repeated. A veil of high cloud is slowly spreading in heralding a change in the weather later in the day.

Now Wigg Island has had a rather unattractive history. Being hemmed in between the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey, the island was the location for the chemical industry. Wigg Island Alkali Works once dominated the area and during World War II due to its isolated location, it was a site for the production of mustard gas. Today the area has been long cleared of anything obnoxious and the site has been developed as a nature reserve.

Fiddlers Ferry Power Station is reflected in the River Mersey on this still December morning.

Walking east, I follow a rough lane and later path which is not marked as a right of way on the map but there are no restrictions. I have decided not to wear micro spikes as there isn’t much snow but the unseen problem on this lane is the areas of black ice. Heading generally east, I have the place to myself and continue on the track with many icy puddles and hemmed in between the Manchester Ship Canal on my right and security fencing on my left.
A security gate further on is fixed open and seems to have been in that position for some time judging by the vegetation around it. Beyond this spot I am back on a right of way and soon reach a spot where the Mersey Estuary comes close to the Manchester Ship Canal. I pause briefly and take a few photographs across to the Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station which is reflected in the waters of the River Mersey. The track leading to Moore Nature Reserve is extremely icy today and almost impossible to walk along and so I cross to the rough ground on the southern side where progress is much easier and there is a wide grassy path.

I re-cross the Manchester Ship Canal via Moore Lane Swing Bridge and soon take a field path towards the village of Moore. At the rugby club on the near side of the village I opted to divert, with thoughts of stopping for an early lunch if I find a bench. I edge my way around the car park which is covered in sheet ice and find some undercover picnic benches which is an ideal spot for my break. It has a view across the snowy rugby pitch and beyond to the Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. This place is called ‘The Gentlemen of Moore RUFC’ and today being a weekday it is an idea spot to stop for lunch but perhaps not on a Saturday.

A cold winters day beside the Bridgewater Canal near Moore. Days like this can make for good walking when the ground is frozen.

I set off again to enter the village of Moore but the pavements are extremely icy. I leave the village by taking a path beside the village pub then it is out cross snowy fields, over the railway to reach the Bridgewater Canal. The canal is frozen as I follow the towpath south passing the Daresbury Science Park on the way. Later, I leave the towpath and take a muddy path downhill passing beneath the railway before crossing the valley of Keckwick Brook. A reasonable path leads across to the Runcorn arm of the Bridgewater Canal, which I now follow north along the towpath for three quarters of a mile and crossing sides at Norton Bridge.

The outline of old canal side crane beside the Bridgewater Canal west of Moore.

My plan is to follow the Mersey Valley Trail around to near Halton Castle which is largely through woodlands. Way-marking is a bit ‘hit and miss’ and there were many paths to choose from which calls for careful navigation. I stop many times to check my course and thankfully keep on the right route, however it would have been very easy to take the wrong path. I later cut up to a road as I near the historic village of Halton. It is ironic that despite being in Runcorn, I haven’t actually walked on a road since leave Moore several miles back. The village of Halton has been swallowed up by Runcorn but still retains many interesting and historic buildings. I make for the ruins of Halton Castle which is set on a hill with panoramic views. The castle ruins date from the 11th century and during the English Civil War was a Royalist stronghold but was attacked by the Parliamentarians twice. Afterwards the castle was largely dismantled, and over the following centuries deteriorated further. The path around the base of the castle walls provide a good view particularly out towards the new Mersey Gateway Bridge.

Probably the best view you can get of the new Mersey Gateway Bridge as seen from Halton Castle.

Leaving the hilltop I descend via steps and continue through Halton passing on the way Seneschal House which dates from 1598 and the oldest house in Runcorn. I have some road walking now to reach Boston Avenue before turning right between houses and crossing open ground to reach Stoneshill Lane. At the foot of the lane I cross the Bridgewater Canal and head west along the towpath before taking a path down to the swing bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal where it is just a short walk leading to Wigg Island. By now it has turned out a rather grey afternoon and the car park is near on empty.

I will be leading this walk again in the opposite direction on the 20th January so why not come along to walk in an area unfamiliar to the group.