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Prestatyn to Orrell Park: 76.62 Miles.

Prestatyn to Orrell Park

16th to 19th January 2020: 4 days

Introduction

Introduction

My intention had been to do the final link between Prestatyn and St Bees by sea, for the simple reason that a boat provided a relatively straight course between the end of Offa’s Dyke and the start of the Coast to Coast. Having completed the rest of my circumnavigation I considered anew how I should complete the expedition and quickly came to the conclusion that it had to be attempted on foot. Otherwise I could not claim to have walked around the country.

Accordingly, as soon as I had finished the Ivinghoe Beacon to Oakham walk I set about planning Prestatyn to St Bees. It seemed to fall into neat packages:

  1. The Welsh Coastal Path

  2. Link

  3. The Trans Pennine Trail

  4. Link

  5. The Lancashire Coastal Path

  6. Link

  7. The Cumbria Coastal Path

 

I planned a different approach to accommodation than I had hitherto adopted. I would base myself in our touring caravan at locations that enabled easy access, by public transport, to the start and/or end of each day’s walk.

Kym then retired on 31st October 2019 and volunteered to do some or all of the walk with me. So it was that we settled on 16th January 2020 to start the ‘Last leg: part 1’.

The Journey

The Journey

We drove, on 15th January, to a Caravan Club ‘Certificated Location’ at quiet farm near Sealand, Chester. We enjoyed a pleasant evening meal in the ‘van’ washed down with beer and wine. The weather was fine and we took little notice of how cold it was.

16th January 2020 – Prestatyn to Flint: 19.1 miles

Day 58

Day one of the walk dawned very cold. We had a quick breakfast then drove, against the traffic, to Flint station where we caught the 08:38 to Prestatyn. The train took about twenty minutes, following pretty much the same route we would walk back on.

Alighting at the station to which Phil and I had returned after completing Offa’s Dyke, we walked down to the seafront and the Nova Centre, pausing to take a photo and send it to Phil.

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Ready for the off!

We then headed east along the beachside path as the sun rose over the hills behind the town. A few hardy souls were out walking dogs but they thinned out as we left the car park behind and skirted the dunes.

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Gronant Dunes

It was tough going. We followed the well signposted Welsh Coastal Path inland, through dunes known for their natterjack toads, though there were none to be seen on this cold morning. After passing through Prestatyn’s mega caravan park we rejoined the beach and crunched our way over piles of shells, razor clams being particularly numerous. We also saw lots of skate egg cases, a jellyfish and shells of the type that formed the coastal path logo.

After a couple of hours walking we made the Point of Ayr, where its 18th century lighthouse stood in splendid isolation on the beach.

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Point of Ayr lighthouse

The wind had got up: it was cold and the skies were darkening ominously. A couple walking dogs gave us a clue that we were near a car park and sure enough, as we crossed over the dunes, there was an enormous area of hard standing. We passed by the Irish Sea gas receiving plant with its gas flares blowing in the wind. Kym did some bird watching as we had now turned the corner onto the Dee Estuary.

The path wound round the site of the old Point of Ayr coal mine, which was now almost completely overgrown, its former use apparent only from the headgear that had been left in place. The many information boards provided a good explanation of what was a huge industry in its day. Every effort had been made to make the path attractive: cut out steel panels lined the old docksides. We passed a wooden sculpture depicting a miner and pit pony.

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Former colliery, Point of Ayr

Heading inland we passed under the railway line that we had travelled on earlier before following an embankment to the hamlet of Tanlan. We crossed the A548 to see more winding gear and to learn, from the information boards, more about life here before the mines closed.

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Tanlan

We walked along the austere road and through Ffynnongroyw, with its many churches, most now converted to private dwellings.

We emerged from the village onto the main road and followed a pleasant path that wound through trees parallel to the highway. The path met the road at a large building which appeared to have been a substantial roadside hotel in its day. As we passed a dreadlocked, sunken cheeked chap came out and told us all about the nice walks to be had in the hills behind the building. We explained that we were following the Welsh Coastal Path so he advised us to “turn left at the traffic lights”. Before we got there it started to rain so we took a seat in a bus shelter, ate some snacks and put our rucksack covers on.

Suitably refreshed we walked along the busy main road, duly turning left at the lights to skirt Mostyn Docks, which was the scene of much industry. A strange looking boat with four jacking legs was in dock and being loaded with parts for offshore wind turbines.

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Wind turbine maintenance ship, Mostyn Quay

We stopped at a bench that had been ‘wrapped’ in strange designs and looked back at the service ship.

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Wrapped bench, Mostyn Quay

Kym did some more bird watching and I followed the progress of a fast boat that beat against the waves to dock by the larger vessel. Our route then followed the estuary along the flood defences. The fields to our right were lower than the water to our left and looked sodden. We had good views across the estuary to West Kirby, Caldy and the Hillborough Islands.

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Flood defences, Glan-y-don

Looming ahead of us and at right angles to the estuary was a large ship which, as we drew close, we saw to be the Duke of Lancaster. A sign told us that it had been moored here in 1979 before being ‘taken by pirates’!

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Duke of Lancaster in dry dock

We walked round the dock that held the ship. This was a large detour to rejoin the coastal path which then took us along the side of some huge flood defence boulders that ran for a boring couple of miles. I measure the time it took to walk between two telegraph poles and then the number of poles between us and the blue factory in the far distance: my heart sank.

Sheep grazed in the muddy fields but other than that there was little to relieve the monotony of this section of the walk. We walked towards a distant wind turbine, the angle of which indicated that we were walking straight into the wind. After an age we reached the ‘works’ at Holywell. It was a huge complex operated by ‘Kingspan’ and seemed to be very busy. It took quite some time to walk past the factory but eventually we regained the coastal path. There we saw, first, an excellent steel dragon sculpture and later another of a chain mail clad warrior.

We skirted Bagillt where Kym was caught short. The rain came down and it became pretty miserable. The path again followed close to the grey waters: Heswall and Parkgate in Wirral visible on the far side of the estuary. Below the levee there was a narrow strip of green grass with a strange path worn into the area adjacent to the water. As we approached Flint there was a section that looked like cliffs viewed from an aeroplane at height though they were, in fact, only about twelve inches high. Some larger sandy cliffs followed them.

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Foot high cliffs, Flint

We ignored a sign to Flint Docks and on my insistence walked over the tatty headland and found ourselves fenced in. Tired, wet and unwilling to retrace our steps I found a path that went through gaps in the fence, eventually to emerge at the once busy Flint Dock. We decided to walk round the dock, out to the headland and back to Flint Castle. It was imposing but seemed not to have been taken up as a tourist attraction.

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Flint Castle with Queensferry in distance

Walking through a council estate we found the railway line, which we crossed via a footbridge. Kym returned to the car and I bought a notebook to use as my journal from Tesco. We drove back in the pouring rain. Once at the van we rigged up a line in the van and tried to dry our wet things for tomorrow before having a shower in the freezing cold toilet block in the adjacent farm buildings. We finally sat down to a hot drink and dinner and to write up ‘day one’.

Day 59

17th January 2020 – Flint to Chester: 14.02 miles

After a quick breakfast we drove to Hoole where we parked, changed into our boots and headed for the station where we caught the 08:23 train to Flint. It was raining most of the way. We alighted at yesterday’s finish point and stopped to first pack and then unpack Kym’s binoculars as the rain abated. A young American girl was interested in our exploits. Crossing the line we headed, in the driving rain, for Flint Castle and an information board that explained its interesting history. Next to the board was a steel cut-out of Richard II and his dog.

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Richard II, Flint Castle

We descended into the boggy moat then across to wooden sculptures of a lifeboat man and a fisherwoman.

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We then followed the pleasant path beside the estuary. The broad, well maintained, gravel path gave way to a waterlogged gravel path and then became a muddy track as we headed across the marsh. We passed by Oakenhalt paper mill after the path had crossed the railway line then followed the A548. The next mile along the main road was uninspiring but we soon came to a cycle way which left the main road to join the B5129.

We glimpsed the power station and the attractive ‘tuning fork shaped’ suspension bridge over the Dee through the houses on our left as we approached Connah’s Quay. I had in mind a craft coffee shop but, on entering the town, realized that it was a forlorn hope. Connah’s Quay was a bit of a dump: lots of closed down pubs and little else. It may qualify as the most dismal town I have visited on the entire walk to date.

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The River Dee at Connah's Quay

We crossed over the railway line to a viewpoint for ‘The Rock’: a former quarry, now partially tidied up and affording a good view of the power station and the enormous Tata steelworks. We followed the dog dirt strewn trail down to Connah’s Quay wharf, where we stopped for a coffee and a ‘doorstop’ bacon sandwich in the Kathleen May Heritage Centre. A wheezy woman and an autistic lad attended to us. They were both lovely and mad us very welcome. We had a quick look in the adjacent heritage centre itself before heading back out into the rain and following the path between the River Dee and a light industrial estate.

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We followed the Wales Coastal Path trail across the fields to Hawarden railway bridge, which looked to have recently been painted. Passing underneath we followed the muddy levee along the river. A dog walker warned us of very poor conditions ahead: clearly he hadn’t walked where we had! We got a good view of the house of the original owner of the steel mills: now sadly unoccupied and boarded up.

At the next crossing: a blue road bridge on the A494, we walked across to the north bank of the River Dee and descended to the tarmac cycle path that ran dead straight for the next three and a half mile.

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A494 crossing and River Dee towards Chester

Kym spotted wildlife with her binoculars as we plodded on and on and on… We were passed by the occasional cyclist but no other walkers.

We stopped at a bench to eat our sandwiches and watched as a cormorant tried to swallow a reasonably sized flat fish it had presumably dived for. After struggling for some time it was robbed of its food by a crafty seagull that then flew off to finish its easy meal elsewhere.

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The River Dee, Hawarden

Pressing on, we passed the dock where Airbus wings are loaded onto the barges that take them to the dock downstream for transfer to ships and onward passage to Toulouse. Just after we passed under the flight path for Hawarden Airport the Airbus ‘Beluga’ transporter landed, providing good photo opportunities.

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Airbus 'Beluga', Hawarden Airport

We left the path to negotiate Higher Ferry Bridge having spied our caravan across the fields to the left and resisted the temptation to return there for a rest. Once around the bridge it was back onto the Deeside path for another half mile before it veered slightly left towards Chester: what a relief! The end of the Wales Coastal Path and the border with England was marked in a very understated way: the path didn’t change though.

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Leaving Wales.......and entering England, Sealand

We could see the Sealand retail park to our left and light industrial units across the Dee to our right. All the time the light brown river flowed swiftly and straight between the banks of the ‘Cut’. The water had clearly been quite a bit higher of late, judging by the amount of debris and rubbish along the banks. We reached the City of Chester as the Dee made its sharp right turn towards The Roodee. As we left the path and walked through a small park we saw that hundreds of drinks cans had been discarded  behind a park bench that backed onto the river.

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Welcome to Chester!

We crossed the park and then the road to follow the Shropshire Union canal to the city walls. It was hard climbing the steps up to the top of the wall but we did, only to have to climb down immediately as that stretch of wall was being renovated. We descended to Northgate Street and stopped for a hot drink at the Jaunty Goat Café. We tried to plan how we could extend today’s itinerary, given that the sun had broken through and we probably had two more hours of daylight. Unfortunately, for tomorrow’s distance, we couldn’t make it work. We walked on to the bus station to check but the chap behind the glass confirmed that our route forward was not well served by public transport.

We had no option other than to walk along above the route of the canal and back to our car, stopping at a shop for the paper and provisions. The traffic was getting busy as we drove back to the caravan but we weren’t too much delayed. Unlike yesterday we were relatively dry on arriving back, but we still had to try to air our clothes as everything was very clammy. After a shower we felt much better and settled down for a hot drink and nibbles before a later dinner.

Day 60

18th January 2020 – Chester to Runcorn: 22 miles

We skipped breakfast and drove off just before 07:00, parking again at Hoole Street from where we started walking at 07:20. Taking a long, straight, street we passed apartments on the way to the canal where we turned left and followed the towpath. There were one or two people about despite the early weekend hour. The new developments along the canal were attractive.

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Shropshire Union Canal, Boughton

We stopped off at Waitrose for a coffee, croissant and the toilet before heading off again in an easterly direction. I got some good reflection photo shots in the dawn light.

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Dawn reflections, Broughton

After  a while we left the canal and taking care on the icy pavements, made our way through the Chester suburbs to Piper Ash. We walked along quiet lanes watching the sun rise before arriving at Guilden Sutton and its attractive looking pub.

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Sun rise, Guilden Sutton

We rounded the pub and left the village behind as we passed a farm and descended to the River Gowy. The fields became increasingly muddy, particularly on the ascent to Great Barrow where we passed an impressive restoration project on a beautiful old property.

We missed the path but turned left at the B5132 and enjoyed a pleasant walk on the footpath that ran all the way to Little Barrow where we passed over the Chester to Altrincham railway line. A little further up the road we turned onto a footpath through more fields of wet grass. That path eventually gave onto the lane that ascended to Dunham-on-the-Hill. My feet had started to hurt badly: the left was especially sore across the top of the foot behind the big toe. I would later discover that this was the first indication of arthritis in the joints of that big toe.

We sat down in the centre of the village for a snack, noting that the old blacksmiths, with which my ancestors had a connection, appeared to have closed down.

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The old blacksmith, Dunham-on-the-Hill

Ducks, geese and hens strutted undisturbed around the centre of the village. At the bottom of the hill, just as we reached the A56, we took a footpath on the right which passed a property from whose grounds a fire belched out thick, white, stinking smoke that hung over the whole valley ahead of us. To make things worse, the fields were thick with mud which we struggled to wade through. Fortunately the going got easier with each successive field.

We managed to traverse the fields to Peck Mill Farm where we were grateful to move onto a small lane that led us past a golf course and up a long steep hill. Four ‘ultra’ runners passed us but promptly slowed to a walk. A chap on a bike kept going up and down the steep gradient: clearly in training. I stopped to take photos of some cattle that were knee deep in the mud that surrounded their feed cage.

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Hard going, Peck Mill Lane

At the top of the lane we crossed the B5393 near Alvanley and walked uphill, looking across to the fine Jacobean Alvanley Hall. The views behind us extended all the way to Queensferry showing just how far we’d come since yesterday morning.

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View back to Queensferry from Alvanley

At the top of the climb we came to a familiar looking road that we followed for a short distance uphill to where the Sandstone Trail crossed. We took the trail, heading north and immediately encountered yet another muddy track which led us down to another lane.

We skirted a static caravan site and started the long climb to the ridge above Helsby. Again the trail was very muddy and on this stretch, quite crowded. Glimpsing views through the trees we pressed on ‘till we came to a bench with a good view back towards Flint.

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Water on the go

We sat and ate our sandwiches, reflecting on how far we had come. Moving off, we followed more muddy sections of the path, eventually to arrive at Frodsham War Memorial. The memorial was being restored , with the surrounding area being made into a memorial park. The views back whence we had come and forward to Runcorn where we aimed to finish today, were amazing.

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View from Frodsham War Memorial

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We walked past the Overton Hotel and onto the lane that descended to Overton. Resisting the temptation to stop at either of the two fine looking pubs, we instead ventured into St Lawrence, the parish church of Frodsham and where I believed my ancestors were baptized in the late 18th century.

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St Lawrence's Church, Frodsham

Finding no signs of ‘the Greens’ we left the church and descended, crossing over the Frodsham to Delamere road to a housing estate where I got us lost.

When I eventually got sufficient phone signal to use my OS map app it was clear that we had to ‘go up’ to ‘come down’ – aagh! The first part of the subsequent descent to the River Weaver valley was fine but eventually the path again became very muddy and the water went over the tops of each of our pairs of boots. The path came out on the A56 after a very narrow squeeze between two properties.

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River Weaver

We walked over the Weaver bridge above the fine wide river and then across the swing bridge that crossed the Weaver Navigation.

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Weaver Navigation swing bridge

It was then necessary to continue on the main road, up the hill to the Holiday Inn Hotel, where I used to meet my London based colleagues when working at the DfE in Runcorn. An old chap greeted us at the car park as I checked directions. We took the road adjacent to the hotel, following it north into the maze that is Runcorn New Town. Kym made the sensible suggestion of walking through the parkland that led towards the railway line on the basis that it should lead us to Runcorn station where I had planned to catch our train back to Chester.

It was hard to get one’s bearings and I mistakenly took us the wrong way so we had to retrace our steps somewhat and follow a muddy trail through a wood and out to another area of hosuing and green open space. We were standing by the road, debating how best to complete our journey to Runcorn station when two young lady joggers asked if we were lost. We explained that we had walked from Chester, which they found impressive and that we were heading for the station so as to catch the train back there. They told us that the Chester train went, not from Runcorn but, from Runcorn East station, which was two miles away in the opposite direction!

We thanked the girls and I typed ‘Runcorn East Station’ into Google Maps. It said that it was 50 minutes away on foot. On checking Trainline I saw we had 60 minutes before the Chester train left. I was fuming and Kym not a little miffed to have to extend our walk having already done 19 tortuous miles. We pressed on following Google maps but I was convinced that I had planned the train journey correctly so double checked and found that we could have caught the train from Runcorn Station after all. By now, however, we were closer to Runcorn East so continued in that direction.

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Santa late to Runcorn

This incident not only extended today’s walk, but also gave us an issue for tomorrow as we would finish today some four miles to the East of where I had planned to start ‘day 4’ tomorrow. Undaunted, we pushed on through endless housing estates and down countless litter strewn streets and passageways before finally arriving at the station. We chatted with a chap from Runcorn who was heading into Chester for the evening. It was getting dark and cold so we were grateful for the warm train that delivered us swiftly back to Chester. We waddled, very sore, to the car, drove back and cooked whilst waiting for the water to heat for a shower in the caravan and for the blown air heating to warm the ‘van sufficiently for us to take same shower. We then enjoyed a good meal of tuna/pasta bake.

Day 61

19th January 2020 – Runcorn to Orrell Park: 21.5 miles

It was another early and icy start. Having run the engine to clear the windscreen we drove off to Runcorn New Town. I stopped outside the Arriva bus depot on Beechwood Avenue where we had changed direction from Runcorn to Runcorn East last night. Kym then drove to Runcorn station to park the car leaving me to don my gear and set off on foot, eager not to cheat in my circumnavigation by missing out this section.

The first hundred yards were fine, if freezing, as I stuck to the grass verges. After they gave out I trudged a hazardous 2.16 miles, on treacherous icy pavements. The pace was slow and I worried that Kym might be (a) lost or (b) freezing at the station. The thick fog made the going the more difficult. I stopped at a corner shop to buy the paper from an elderly lady then finally arrived at the station where Kym was sitting in the waiting room with a cup of tea.

No time for a drink for me so after a quick loo stop we set off walking from the station. I asked a chap for directions to the Silver Jubilee Bridge: Runcorn’s answer to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He pointed to where he assure me it was, but visibility was down to a few yards on account of the thick fog and we couldn’t see beyond the station forecourt.

We walked through the streets of terraced houses to an underpass. I walked on a little but, in doubt, asked a dog walker where we were and found that I’d gone the wrong way. We walked back under the A533 but still couldn’t see the bridge. A friendly young girl, fresh from the gym, kindly walked us there and wished us well. Even at the bridge approach we could barely see the structure, which had long been closed to vehicular traffic for renovation.

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Silver Jubilee Bridge, Runcorn

We crossed using the walkway, which had recently re-opened, unable to tell that we were suspended 87 metres above the River Mersey.

At the far end of the bridge we left the walkway and crossed underneath the roadway to pick up the Trans Pennine Trail. We followed this alongside the Mersey, past a succession of industrial units and through Pickerings Fields. Down the steps and across the footbridge over Steward’s Brook we overtook two walkers who were very interested in our expedition.

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Steward's Brook enters the River Mersey

Eventually we left the riverside and made for the road that led to Hale. I was certain that there was a coffee shop there but alas, there was none and the pub was closed also.

We had a quick sit in a bus shelter then pressed on along the road to Speke. A couple of aircraft landed and took off: we heard, rather than saw, them as visibility was still almost zero. Hale Road was long. We stopped again so that I could try to ease the pain in my left foot and each ate a cereal bar. Crossing the road as we hit the airport perimeter we made our way across the grass to Speke housing estate. It was, quite frankly, a dump: litter strewn and unkempt. The odd ‘cared for’ property merely served to highlight the disregard with which the majority lived their lives. At the end of the road we saw a community café, but our hearts sank when we saw that it was being used to hold a church service. Still no coffee!

Having crossed the road bounding the north of the estate we decided to follow the Trans Pennine Trail cycle path under the A561 and then left, adjacent to the Ford Motor Plant. The area was filthy with rubbish. The road through the new part of the industrial estate was slightly less littered but each time we ventured down a pedestrian alleyway we were met with a carpet of bottles, cans and food wrappers. We could have been walking across a rubbish dump.

After passing through a small park we came to the start of the disused railway line that the Trans Pennine Trail follows around Liverpool. The trees and shrubs that lined the track and the still heavy fog made it hard to see anything, so we plodded on, not a little despondent. We passed the occasional walker, jogger and cyclist: otherwise, not a lot to report.

At Gateacre we engaged in conversation with a pleasant chap walking his dog. He had been out for one and a half hours this morning. He was retired but had worked for the NHS. He told us of a couple of places where we could get a hot drink in Gateacre so we followed him off the trail and he pointed us towards the Black Bull, which we entered without hesitation. Taking a seat by the fire we ordered tea, coffee and beer. Notwithstanding the fact that we had brought sandwiches with us, Kym then had a burger and I ordered the Sunday roast. All was fine except for the long black hair that was wrapped around my cuts of beef.

Feeling rested we pressed on, keeping to the road as far as Childwall as it relived the monotony of the TPT. We did eventually rejoin the trail and were minded to cut the walk short by stopping at Broad Green, from where we could catch a train to Liverpool Lime Street. By the time I was game to remove my gloves, so that I could check my OS map, we had passed Broad Green so continued along the trail.

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Old station, Liverpool Loop, Trans Pennine Trail

There was nothing of note, save the abundance of rubbish until, just after West Derby, the sun broke through, changing the feel of the day. With much improved visibility we could see across the suburbs on either side of us. Away to the left, silhouetted against the horizon, was the imposing structure of Anfield Stadium where Liverpool were due to play Manchester United at 16:30.

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Anfield Stadium, Liverpool

The sun lightened our mood and we strode out, buoyed by a sign that told us the Aintree was only four miles away. Unfortunately, after what seemed like two and a half miles more walking, the next sign said Aintree was three and a half miles away. Still we ploughed on and before long came to the road along which lay the station we were making for. We passed under the road through a long and dirty tunnel but were then stopped in our tracks by a long pond that covered the entire width of the cutting through which the old line ran for about a hundred yards.

Kym spotted a path of sorts up the right bank and I scrambled up to investigate. When I reached the top there was no way out so we slid back down and retraced our steps, back through the tunnel and eventually off the trail along a side road. We bumped into a lady we had seen walking her dog on the trail some time earlier. She was surprised to have done a huge circle since she’d last seen us and asked where we were heading. I explained that we were trying to get to Aintree station but she suggested that we took the train from Orrell Park station which was nearer.

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We found the station easily, bought two tickets and didn’t have to wait long for the train to Sandhills. There we changed on to a ‘bus replacement service’ that took us along the dock road into the city of Liverpool. A magnificent red sunset over the Mersey was a fitting close to our day’s perambulation. The bus set us down outside Liverpool Lime Street station where we hobbled up the steps just in time to catch the Chester train that took us back to Runcorn station.

We got back in the car and drove back to the caravan where we put the heater on, showered and then settled down to eat our well travelled sandwiches. We had a beer and I wrote up the final day of this, challenging, section of walk in my journal.

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