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.
Distance: 2 miles 3 k
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.
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.
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.
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.