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Uncommon Delights at Thurstaston

Panoramic views from a heathland crest, and the edge of a grand estuary.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 345ft (105m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Some road walking, sandy tracks and bare rock, then field paths, 2 stiles

Landscape Woodland and heath, farmland, seashore

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 266 Wirral & Chester

Start/finish SJ 238834

Dog friendliness Dogs have several opportunities to roam

Parking Wirral Country Park at bottom of Station Road, Thurstaston

Public toilets In Country Park Visitor Centre adjacent to car park

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1 From the car park, loop round past the visitor centre and wildlife pond, go out to Station Road and go straight up for ½ mile (800m). At the top it swings right.

2 Turn left before the church and go up to the A540. Go left, past the Cottage Loaf, then go right through a kissing gate. Follow the track straight ahead to the end of a cul-de-sac.

3 Go through a kissing gate to a broad path then go right on a smaller path. Cross a track near a cattle grid and take the left of two paths. This swings left and crosses a clearing. Go right to meet a clearer path just inside the edge of the wood. Go left, following the course of Greasby Brook.

4 A boundary wall appears ahead. Turn left alongside it. Where it ends keep straight on, passing the model railway. Alongside Royden Park the wall resumes. Where it ends again turn left by a sign and map. Cross a clearing to a junction.

5 Twenty yards (18m) further on is a kissing gate. Turn right before it, on a narrow path. Cross another path and plough through gorse for 20yds (18m) to a broader path. Go left then up past a marker stone, over tree roots and bare rock. Descend steps, pass a small pool, then ascend to a larger area of bare rock. Go right here and when the path forks, go left, then right, through a band of trees. Go left on a broad path to a sandstone pillar with a map/view indicator and then the trig point. Descend a broad path that rejoins the outward route. Retrace your steps past the Cottage Loaf and down the top section of Station Road.

6 Turn left past the church. When the road swings round to the left, a lane continues straight ahead. Cross a stile and follow a well-marked footpath. In a dip cross a stream and turn right at a footpath sign. After recrossing the stream, zig-zag down a steeper slope into The Dungeon.

7 Cross the stream again and follow it down. Climb on to an old railway embankment and go right. When green gates bar the way, sidestep left. Continue for another 220yds (201m) to a gap in the hedge. Follow a path, winding past a couple of ponds then out to the cliff tops above the estuary. Go right for 240yds (219m), then bear right across grass towards the visitor centre and the car park.

This is a walk of two distinct halves. It's somewhat unfortunate that the busy A540 underlines this division, but not that there's so much variety in a small space. You start near to the shoreline but, saving that for the end, climb long straight Station Road. This is an uninspiring opening but easy and quick. The grand Church of St Bartholomew signals the end of the beginning and once the main road is crossed you're on Thurstaston Common.

Many people expect 'common' to be open but the name really refers to common grazing. Where this right is no longer exercised, unless the land is managed in some way, it's quite normal for it to revert to woodland. In fact most of the common is wooded but there are still good open stretches where heathland survives. It's obviously difficult for trees to gain a foothold in the thin sandy soils of the more exposed parts.

Most of the ground is dry but there are a few damper hollows. One such hollow is skirted early on. In summer it's marked by the white tassels of cotton grass. The wet patches are also home to cross-leaved heath, not the ling and bell heather of the drier areas. Its flowers grow in clusters rather than spikes. Also found are sundews, low-growing plants with reddish, hairy, sticky leaves. These trap insects from which the plant gains nutrients lacking in the poor soils.

Just below the summit you break out on to a bare sandstone crest which gives a view over the Dee Estuary and out to sea. On a clear day the Great Orme behind Llandudno stands out boldly. You might also spot a gas platform or two out in the Irish Sea. From the summit itself the view spreads to include the Liverpool cathedrals. The Forest of Bowland and Winter Hill rise to their left, and you can also identify Formby Point.

After retracing your steps as far as the church, the second half of this walk begins innocuously across farmland, but as you descend towards the sea, there's an unexpected moment of drama as you arrive at the ravine of the Dungeon, complete with tiny waterfall.

Below this you join the old railway which is now the Wirral Way. Past ponds, home to water-lilies and moorhens, you soon reach the brink of the slope about 50ft (15m) above the estuary. It's stretching it a bit to call it a cliff, but it's steep enough to be no place to slip. There's little solid rock exposed in these 'cliffs', which are composed of boulder clay. This is nearly the end of the walk, but you may want to linger and savour the view across the wide estuary to Wales.

Where to eat and drink

Location, location, location? It's hard to resist the Cottage Loaf, which is passed twice during the walk. There's good hand-pumped beer and an extensive menu, with a no-smoking dining area. There's plenty of outdoor seating too, but it all fronts on to the busy road and is unfenced - you'd hardly want children or dogs to wander off here. GJ's Café, by the car park entrance, is equally convenient and the standard café fare is well done and well-priced.

While you're there

Port Sunlight is named after a soap and built around a soap factory. The creation of William Hesketh Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, it's one of the country's finest garden villages, spread over 130 acres (53ha). At its centre stands the Lady Lever Art Gallery, noted for its collection of furniture as well as painting and sculpture.

What to look for

Thurstaston Common, despite its modest extent, is a real haven for wildlife. Listen for the curious laughing call of the green woodpecker, (probably the origin of its old name 'yaffle'), as well as the rapid drumming as it drills for invertebrates in tree bark. If you see one it will be unmistakable. Keep your eyes peeled and you might also see a fox - we did.

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