We were walking the dog this morning along The Parade, a street which used to be a quayside of a small fishing port, but is now just a road alongside a huge expanse of marshland. The village is Parkgate, on The Wirral, in Cheshire
In the 1700s, it was the main embarkation point for people wanting to travel from England to Dublin. Trans-Irish Sea ships would moor in the main cut of the river, and small lighters would be rowed to the quayside that you can see here. Handel did his final tweaks to “The Messiah” here, prior to its debut in Dublin and Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress, used to take the waters here.
In the 1730s, part of the river was canalised, which diverted the main flow to the other side of the estuary, leading to a gradual silting up on the English side. This, together with the opening up of Liverpool as a commercial dock and the pushing through of the turnpike road to Holyhead, meant that the village’s trade with Ireland came to an end.
Just before the Second World War, grass was planted further upstream to stabilise a firing range – within 30 odd years it had taken over the whole of the estuary. Today, for the most part, the estuary is an odd mixture of marsh grass and inlets – “the remains” as my young daughter called them – trapped ponds being “the remains” of the River Dee. The marsh is now a nature reserve, administered by the RSPB and the local authority.
A couple of times a year, with the spring tides, the water is high enough to reach the quayside once again. I have known this place 20 years, and I have seen it breach the wall when the tide is exceptionally high. Today’s is only 10m, but there was an 11m tide a few years ago. If the wind blows up the estuary, that can add another 1m to the level.
The real beauty of living here is that from our house, in 5 minutes, we can be watching any number of wading birds on the marsh. Anything from various gulls, oystercatchers, herons, egrets, a couple of spoonbills are now resident too. We get short-eared owls patrolling the marsh of an evening and a hen harrier is a regular visitor.
What a privilege.