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A peninsula on the Mersey River


Mersey Ferries
Wirral Country Park
Port Sunlight
The Wirral peninsula is just a stone's throw from Liverpool, on the opposite bank of the River Mersey. It's bordered on the other two sides by the River Dee and the Irish Sea, cutting most of it off from the land. Nowadays there are road and rail tunnels right under the water, but that clearly wasn't always the case.
The traditional method of getting across the river is via the Mersey Ferries. They were started by monks in the Middle Ages, around 850 years ago. Over time the service grew and grew, until huge paddle steamers were arriving several times a day. The ferries are still running now; in a few generations they'll reach a full millennium of operation! If you like, you can turn your journey into an hour-long cruise, down the river and past Liverpool's skyline.

The Mersey Ferry
Photo by Timitrius
Still, the ferry's survival wasn't always guaranteed. In the 1800s, when more modern forms of transport arrived, its popularity started to wane. The owner of the service down to Eastland, Thomas Stanley, decided to encourage business by building an extensive pleasure garden. Its varied entertainments included live music, tightrope walkers and a zoo. The place has since been converted into a public country park.
This is just one of the many beautiful green spaces squeezed into this small peninsula. Another, the Wirral Country Park, was the very first country park in Britain. It's based around the Wirral Way, a 12-mile walking route that was once an old railway line. Much of the time it runs along the Dee River's coastline, offering views across the water to Wales. The Ness Botanic Gardens, meanwhile, regularly win awards for their carefully-sculpted displays of colourful flowers.

The Wirral Way
Photo by SomeDriftwood
Another park, in Birkenhead, inspired the designer of Central Park, in New York! Like its American cousin, it sits among an otherwise urban area. Birkenhead is directly opposite Liverpool, and it's the main point of arrival from that side of the river. Its attractions look both back to the past and forward to the future. First, there's the Priory, the oldest building on Merseyside. The monks living here were the ones who set up the ferry, all those years ago. Then there's the Spaceport, where projections and interactive exhibits explain the mysteries of the universe.
Just down the coast from here is Port Sunlight, a village that looks like an architect’s sketchbook. The man responsible was William Hesketh Lever, the owner of a soap company. He wanted to share his business' profits with his staff but, instead of just giving them the money, he invested it for them. The result was this collection of beautiful buildings. Each section of the village had a different architect, and every house is unique. Altogether there are 900 listed properties!

Buildings in Port Sunlight
Photo by Nick Bramhall
One of these is the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Lever opened it to show the villagers the furniture, paintings and sculpture he spent a lifetime collecting. There are over 20,000 in total. Most are British, but Chinese and Roman designs also caught his eye.
The Wirral packs a lot into its relatively small peninsula. Between the urban areas and landmarks are plenty of open spaces, with golf courses and sandy beaches next to quiet, rural villages.
Visitor Information
Ellesmere Port Tourist Information Centre, Unit 22b McArthur Glen Outlet Village Kinsey Road, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, CH65 9JJ. Tel: 0151 356 5562

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