Wednesday 18 May 2011

Island 102 - Hilbre, Dee Estuary, Wirral

There are 3 islands in a chain in the Dee Estuary - Hilbre, Middle Eye and Little Eye.  They are part of the Bunter Sandstone Ridge and were once much larger but erosion has reduced their size.   Hilbre can be accessed on foot across the sands from West Kirby on the Wirral 4 hours either side of high tide.  The instructions from the Wirral Council, which owns the island, say that you should not try and walk to the islands direct from Hoylake.  The islands are about a mile offshore but the route you have to take to Hilbre is via Little Eye and Middle Eye and is about 2 miles in total.

I visited Hilbre in May 2010 and June 2014.

All 3 islands are designated as Local Nature Reserves.  The Dee Estuary is one of the top 10 most important estuaries in Europe for overwintering wildfowl and waders.  The islands are also visited by lots of migrating birds.  There has been a bird observatory on the island since 1957 and they use a Heligoland Bird Trap to capture birds for research and ringing purposes before setting them free again.

Neolithic remains have been found on the islands.  There was once a small church and monastic cell with a shrine dedicated to St Hildeburgh.  It was in use by Benedictine monks of St Werburgh, Chester for 400 years until the dissolution in 1538.  After the dissolution ownership of the islands passed to the Dean and Chapter of Chester Cathedral, who leased them to a succession of private individuals.  There was a pub on Hilbre by the late 18th Century.

In 1828 the lease was obtained by the Trustees of Liverpool Docks, who bought the island in 1856.  In 1945 they sold them to Hoylake Urban District Council.  They passed to Wirral Borough Council when it was formed in 1974 and they still own them.

There are a couple of private cottages on Hilbre, the Mersey Canoe Club, the remains of a lifeboat station and a slipway.  There are no visitor facilities on the island but it is a great place to come to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  


One of the cottages on Hilbre

The wardens' landrover

I'm not sure of the original purpose of this building.  The storm clouds are gathering

Another of Hilbre's cottages

I presume this low stone wall has been constructed to slow down the rate of erosion

Old Lifeboat Station at the north end of the island

The track up on to Hilbre

Freshwater pond

Slipway at the Old Lifeboat Station

The track on and off the island - looking towards Middle Eye

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