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Friday, 23 August 2013 00:00

Around Liverpool they like walking on water

by Peter Frost

A couple of top summertime walks near the Mersey

Looking for an unusual ramble for the family before the kids go back to school?

Here are two amazing and adventurous walks for readers within easy reach of Liverpool and the Mersey estuary.

Both are only possible at low tide so you will need a local tide table or pick up the information from local papers or the internet.

West Kirby is at the tip of the Wirral just across the river from Liverpool. The jetty here is the starting point for a unique country walking experience.

At low tide adventurous walkers can head across the drying sands to the Hilbre Islands. Access to the islands is across firm sands but only for a few hours each side of low water.

Make sure you check the notices at the West Kirby slipway as the route isn't straight across the sands to the island.

Make sure too that you are aware of when the tide will come back in. It isn't unknown for walkers to be cut off by the incoming tide and be trapped on the islands. If all this is all a bit daunting then the rangers from the nearby country park often organise safe guided walks across.

These are even safer and also have the bonus of a knowledgeable guide to tell you about all the wildlife you will see on the walk.

Guide or not, the three tiny rocky islands are certainly worth the effort of a visit. They are alive with all kind of plants and animals. Grey seals make their home here and it is one of the best staging posts for migrating waders and other water birds.

On the other bank of the Mersey, Liverpool has its own coast with seaside resorts from Southport to the city. Crosby is just one of these holiday resorts. This is where we'll take our other ramble.

Here we are heading there for high art rather than sun and sand beach life but this is where again we need to consult our tide tables.

Antony Gormley's impressive collection of 100 cast-iron men dot the Crosby sands and seem to go out to sea for miles. Each is a slightly bigger than a full-size replica of the artist's naked body and each is just a little different.

The sea washes over them all at every tide. As the water retreats you can walk along the beach among the still-glistening sculptures that stretch for miles along the sands.

In the background the wide Mersey is busy with shipping heading for the still-busy port of Liverpool.

Most low tides brings crowds of visitors to the beach. Everyone has an opinion on the sculpture and, as this is Merseyside, the chances are they'll share their opinion with you.

If you tire of man-made beauties move along the coast a little towards Formby, along one of the many way-marked paths among the nature reserves in the coastal dunes.

Along the way you have a good chance of seeing two of the British countryside's rarest beasts.

Britain's native squirrel - the red - has long been threatened by an American immigrant, the grey. Now both reds and greys are being threatened by a new and fearsome black squirrel that has arrived in British forests and woodlands.

There is a very good chance you will see the rare red squirrel in these dunes north of Liverpool but our other quarry is much more secretive and harder to spot.

The dunes are also a last stronghold for the natterjack or running toad - one of Britain's rarest amphibians. The natterjack has always been rare but like all of our frogs, toads and newts a strange viral disease is reducing numbers, some to endangered levels.

Even if you don't catch a glimpse of the natterjack you will certainly hear him. The distinctive chirruping mating call has given it the local name of the Formby Nightingale.

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