Birkenhead Park
 

In 1843 the city fathers of Birkenhead came up with a bold and revolutionary concept. In the midst of their growing conurbation they set aside 226 acres of marshy ground, sponsored an Act of parliament to allow them to develop it as a public amenity and then employed Joseph Paxton the top landscape architect of the day to design a “People’s Park”. It was the first of its kind in the world. It is all too easy to take the municipal park for granted but imagine how you would feel if Moor Park Preston, Stanley Park Blackpool, Williamson Park Lancaster, Mesnes Park, Wigan was enclosed by a high wall topped with razor wire with forbidding “Keep Out” notices everywhere. That would be deprivation indeed. This walk takes you to the place where the notion of public green space was first established.

Start. Birkenhead Park Visitor Centre Park Drive CH41 4HY

 

 

Distance: 2 miles 3 k

Time: 1 ½ - 2 ½ hours
 

Grade: Easy

Map: An easy to follow map of the park can be downloaded from www.wirral.gov.uk Follow links to parks and open spaces.

 

 

Directions: While the visitors centre

 

is a perfectly good place to orientate yourself to enjoy the full "park experience" I suggest exiting the park by a footpath leading round to the left which places you on Park Road North, turn right and walk along 400yds to the Grand Entrance. I doubt if there is any grander entrance to any public park in the world. The triumphal arch is a statement of civic pride. Designed by Liverpool architect Lewis Hornblower it was modified by Paxton who required a slightly smaller structure. Even at 19 metres high it is still pretty impressive.

 

Pass beneath the central arch to the junction with park drive. Here at the Jackson Memorial an obelisk dedicated to John Jackson turn right and then immediately left onto a path through trees to reach the Lower Lake. Across the water as if dropped there from the gardens of Alhambra or Tuscany is the Roman Boat House.

 

It is a strikingly enough structure in our own times but try to imagine what effect it would have had on a 19th century shipyard worker and his family as they took their Sunday recreational walk.

Turn left in front of the lake and then go right crossing the Rustic Bridge following a walkway to the Swiss Bridge. This is another arresting feature made so through its bright colours which are hardly suggestive with our notions of the sober minded Swiss. The story is as related to me by one of the park's rangers is that Paxton and his assistant Kemp were at odds with this feature. Kemp wanted a Chinese Bridge but was overruled by his superior. However Kemp was in charge of the paint store and ordered it to be decorated with the almost gaudy red and yellow colours seen today. In September last year the bridge was badly damaged by vandals who attempted to burn it down. Happily the bridge has been fully restored at a cost of £20,000.

 

Crossing the bridge makes you want to view the bridge and this is an aspect of Paxton's genius - the serpentine paths give the visitor different angles and viewpoints. Once over the bridge go left at first on a sweeping path which will give you a fine view of Swiss Bridge.
 

Returning to the junction leading from the Swiss Bridge there is another interesting feature. In keeping with Paxton's desire to try to recreate a natural look to this area of the park (leaving brightly coloured bridges aside) he designed a rockery making use of stone excavated when Birkenhead Docks were under construction.

 

There is an apocryphal story connected with this feature. Andrew "Sandy" Irvine the mountaineer lived nearby and it is not too much of a stretch to imagine him playing on these rocks as a child in the early years of the 20th century. Irvine sadly died alongside George Mallory on the 1924 ill fated expedition to climb Everest. He was just 22.

Taking the path through the Rockery there is a marked change of scene as you arrive at the wide open spaces of Birkenhead Park Cricket Club. This venerable institution possesses one of the oldest sports pavilions in the country.

 

The creation of sports amenities was another part of Paxton's vision. Besides cricket rugby union, football, tennis and bowls are provided for in different areas of the park.

 

Crossing Ashville Road takes you into the Upper Park. On entering bear left close to the Performance Area to arrive at the Upper Lake - a haven for birdlife.

 

Back in May when I checked the walk out the first thing I saw here was a heron preening itself on a log enjoying the spring sunshine.

 

This in a city of 80,000 souls.

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