259 evening – Hilbre Island

It’s 6:15 pm, and the light is bright in my eyes as I look westward towards Hilbre Island. There are figures out there, crossing the sand. It looks an easy stroll.

a01 walkers coming back from Hilbre Island, Ruth's coastal walk

A board by the lifeguard hut explains that high tide will be around midnight. Low tide is now. You can cross over to the island within a 3 hour window either side of low tide, but if you miss the crossing deadline, you must wait on the island for 6 hours until the tide goes down.

Someone told me the crossing only takes about 20 minutes and so I leave my rucksack (and phone) in the car. Carrying only my Garmin and my camera, I set off across the sands. It’s not exactly a dry crossing, as you have to splash through standing pools of water, luckily most are only a few inches deep.

a02 Ruth Livingstone, walking out to Hilbre Island

In fact, there are three islands out here. Hilbre Island itself, Little Hilbre close to it, and somewhat further away is Little Eye. The advice is to head for Little Eye first, and then turn north to walk up past Little Hilbre until you reach the main island.

It’s further than it looks, but eventually I reach Little Eye, passing around behind it, as the advice suggests.

On the other side of Little Eye, and looking across the Dee Estuary, I can see the coastline of Wales. There’s the slender finger of the lighthouse at Talacre, on the Point of Ayr, the north-east corner of Wales. Beyond is a hump – looks like an island – which I think must be the Great Orme. How wonderful to see those familiar landmarks again.

a03 Ruth walking around Little Eye, Hilbre Island

Little Eye consists of a striated outcrop of red sandstone sitting on top of a flatter shelf of rocks. The island is covered in short scrub and I can see a ruined building of some sort.

a04 around Little Eye, Ruth walking to Hilbre Island

I would like to climb up and explore the place, but realise I’ve taken 15 minutes to get this far.  Now, I feel the first pang of anxiety. There’s nobody else around. When exactly was high tide? Did I read the board wrongly?

I look northwards and see Hilbre Island itself is still some way away. And so I decide there’s no time to explore Little Eye, because I don’t want to get caught out by the tide.

a05 Hilbre Island from Little Eye, Ruth's coastal walk

The route is drier here, as I’m walking along a ridge of rocks and sand that connects Little Eye with Hilbre. On the way I pass several groups of people heading back the way I’ve just come.

a06 walkers, hiking back from Hilbre Island, Ruth Livingstone

To my right, across a vast plain of sand and water, is Hilbre Point on the mainland. It’s the westernmost part of Hoylake and the sun catches the buildings and makes them glow.

a07 view across to Hilbre Point, Ruth hiking the Wirral

Onwards. I hear a noise behind me and turn around to see a Land Rover making its way across the sands. Lazy tourists!

a08 driving across the sands, Ruth hiking to Hilbre Island

I reach what I think is Hilbre Island, but realise it’s only Little Hilbre. It is a humpy, grass-covered mound, long and thin, with some interesting rock formations. I think I’m the only person here, until I spot a young couple tiptoeing cautiously along a rocky ledge. looks slippery.

a09 Little Hilbre Island, Ruth Livingstone

I walk over the top of Little Hilbre, it seems easier than walking on the rocks around it. When I check my watch I realise it’s already 7pm! It’s taken me 45 minutes to get this far

Now there is Hilbre Island. Dead ahead. Hard to see the details of the island because it’s silhouetted against the bright evening sun.

a10 Hilbre Island, Ruth's coastal walk, The Wirral

The seaweed-covered rocks are slippery and, rather worryingly, after seeing the young couple heading back to Little Eye, there is nobody else around. And I haven’t got my phone with me. Nor my poles. Slowly does it – I can’t afford to risk an injury.

I remember the Land Rover. If I injure myself, I can always ask for a lift back to West Kirby and the mainland.

Then I turn around and, with the sun behind my back, can finally take some decent photographs of Little Hilbre.

a11 looking back to Little Hilbre, Ruth's coastal walk

Onwards, walking along rocky ridges, avoiding slippery green areas, I finally reach my destination – Hilbre Island. I’m not sure where to go, but see tyre tracks heading around the back of the island, and so I follow them.

The rocks here are very red – their colour accentuated by the low rays of the sinking sun. It’s the Wirral’s own version of Ayers Rock.

a12 red rocks at the back of Hilbre Island, Ruth Livingstone

I follow a paved track up to the top of the island. And, to my surprise, discover a group of small cottages. Do people live here?

a13 bungalows on Hilbre Island, Ruth's coastal walk, Wirral

On the highest point is a circular hut with wide windows. At first I think it’s a lifeboat lookout station – because a lifeboat house is marked on my map – but later I realise the circular building is a bird observatory.

a14 Hilbre Mark, Ruth's coastal walk, Wirral

I spot the Land Rover. It’s parked behind one of the cottages. Doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. So much for a lift back. People must live here after all. I spot a man painting the side of a hut, but otherwise the place seems deserted.

a15 the landrover, Ruth's coastal walk, Wirral

A ruined building stands at the end of the island. That must be the lifeboat house. No longer used, obviously. Beyond it is a tidal gauge – according to my map.

a16 ruin at end of Hilbre Island, Ruth's coastal walk, Wirral

A few hundred yards away, on the sands between Hilbre and the mainland, a group of young people are playing football. They look like match-stick men from this distance but the sight is a relief, because they seem in no hurry to cross back to the other shore – which is reassuring. On the other hand – the thought strikes me – maybe they’re staying on Hilbre overnight?

I check my watch. Crikey! It’s 7:20 pm. 1 hour and 40 minutes since I set off. And 1 hour and 40 minutes until the 3 hour cut-off time for returning.  Another thought strikes me. Is it OK to set off 3 hours before high tide? Or must you actually complete the crossing by then? I don’t know.

Anyway, I abandon my plan to try to circumnavigate the island. It feels too risky to spend any more time here.

Why didn’t I brink my rucksack. Or, at least, my phone. I’ve got no food, only a thin cycle-top over a thin T-shirt, and – most importantly – no water. To be stuck here overnight would be most unpleasant.

Fighting down a sense of panic, I begin retracing my steps at a brisk trot.

I only take a few photos on the way back. But can’t resist this shot – taken on full zoom – of the 4 towers of the Connor’s Quay power station over the water catching the sun, and the single strut of the Flintshire Bridge.

a17 power station and bridge, Flint and Connor's Quay, Ruth Livingstone

Passing in front of the Little Eye seems the shortest route. (Actually, I have to fight the urge to head for West Kirby in a straight line – but there must be a reason why the official advice is to go around the Little Eye. Maybe there are sinking sands out there? Or deep and non-wadeable channels?)

Alone, with no other soul in sight, I march through pools – and feel the water soaking my socks and getting into my boots. Is it my imagination, or is the tide higher now? How rapidly does it come in? Is it like Morecambe Bay where the incoming water moves faster than a person can run?

It’s only once I’ve covered a significant part of the distance that I can begin to relax. The pools, in reality, are only a few inches deep. I’m splashing – because I’m hurrying – and that’s why my boots are filled with water. I’m being silly.

Close to the shore now, I turn and take a final photograph of Hilbre Island (to the right of the photo below) and Little Eye (to the left), across that vast expanse of sand and mud.

a18 leaving Hilbre Island, Ruth Livingstone

Onwards towards West Kirby. The sun slips down under a finger of cloud and sends a wash of light across the buildings along the promenade. I’m nearly there.

a19 Ruth hiking back to West Kirby, Wirral

Safely back on dry land I check my watch. 8:01 pm. A good hour before the cut-off time. It only took me – in my panic – 40 minutes to get back here. I’ve been walking at 3.5 mph, despite the difficult terrain. That’s a record speed for me!

Anyway, it’s a good job I didn’t need rescuing The lifeguards have gone home.


This walk = 4.6 miles
Total distance = 2,606.6 miles


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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17 Responses to 259 evening – Hilbre Island

  1. Lynne Fields says:

    Made me feel very anxious reading this! There’s a place called Sunderland Point near Morecambe which is at the end of a tidal causeway. As a child I remember walking there on a few occasions with my parents. One time we almost became stranded due to the rising tide, and only just made it back, latterly having to wade up to our waists in water! You will probably be visiting it fairly soon so take care! http://www.sunderlandpoint.org/

    • Hi Lynne, and I realise I’m approaching your old territory! Thanks for the warning. Actually I don’t think I was in any real.danger this time, but got spooked because everybody else had gone home. BW, Ruth x

  2. Di iles says:

    Really pleased you made it to Hilbre Ruth, hope you enjoyed it in spite of your anxiety with the tides, I get a little like that myself, I think it’s magical there though. There are sinking sands as you guessed Ruth, hence the advised route. My husband got caught once when a heavy sea mist came in from nowhere and virtually zero visibility, thank goodness he had a compass with him and was able to navigate safely back. I’ve carried one ever since. The warden no longer lives on the island and the cottages are used by the people who monitor the birds I believe, one of which is my sons boss who stays over sometimes. Sadly they are not available to rent for general public. Love your evening photos, lights lovely.

    • I did enjoy it. The anxiety was needless, but my mind does play tricks on me at times. I would imagine walking back in the mist would have been pretty terrifying without a compass. Good job your husband had one with him. (I have one, but rarely carry it – really must remember to take it with me!)

  3. Very atmospheric post Ruth, my palms were sweating. What a wonderful journey in that evening light. The tide was in when I passed but you make me want to go back and visit.

    • It’s certainly worth a visit. I loved it, despite the panic on the way back. I should probably have set off earlier, but I didn’t realise how far it was. And I do walk VERY slowly. You will find it very easy 😀

  4. jcombe says:

    Lovely photos it looks like it was a beautiful evening. I’m not sure how fast the tide comes in there but I also tend to think it would take a while to come above waste height. Not sure I’d want to find out, mind 🙂 I went out in the morning (with my provisions for the days walk), so getting stuck on the island for 6 hours would not have been a diasaster. A bit different at night though, when it would get cold quickly.

    My photos are here if you are interested – https://www.flickr.com/search/?user_id=70332320%40N00&sort=date-taken-desc&text=hilbre&rb=1&view_all=1

    • A lovely set of photos, Jon. Thank you for sharing. The next morning an elderly lady in my B&B told me she had got stuck on the island as a young teenager, along with a couple of friends. Their parents were pretty worried by the time they got back home. I was never in any real danger – I know that now. I’ve learnt a lesson: I won’t go out to a tidal island without my rucksack again!

  5. I love photos taken in evening sunlight and these are great. What a fascinating walk, I’ve never been there but reading this and seeing the photos has made me want to go 🙂

  6. babsandnancy says:

    A great account of the anxious feeling that sometimes comes with walking in potentially dangerous conditions. My walking companion Barbara says she can always tell if I have slightly lost my bearings as I speed up and go quiet! Hilbre looks magical, I look forward to it as I particularly enjoy watching the little islands along the coast and it is not so very often that it is possible to visit them. I loved Burgh island in Devon and can’t wait to get back to the coast in November as we’ll finally be reaching the mystical county of Cornwall. Congratulations on your book. It seems to be out of stock already. Will more be coming soon?

  7. Marie Keates says:

    I think I’d have been spooked too! It would be easy to get distracted in such a beautiful place and get caught out by the tide.

  8. Karen White says:

    What a tense and scary few minutes reading! I’ve just been in Cornwall and on two beaches we were there as the tide turned and we were surprised at the speed it came in. Easy to get caught out.
    Beautiful photos as always. During my trip I tried taking sequences of shots for panoramas and stitched them together in processing.

    • Sorry to have scared you, Karen 😄 On this occasion I was panicking over nothing. Recently I watched the tide come in through Arnside, and it came in as a visible wave, quite terrifying.

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