Walk to Hilbre Island, all you need to know

If you are in Wirral, I recommend a walk to Hilbre Island for an adventure. It’s a great way to spend time in nature. Here’s all you need to know about walking to Hilbre Island.

The walk to Hilbre Island is a beautiful one! With plenty of wildlife to spot along the way. Once you arrive at the island, there’s plenty to see, such as the remains of the Lifeboat Station, the Telegraph Station and distant views of North Wales. I recommend packing up a picnic and making a day of it. Here’s my experience and all you need to know if you are considering walking to Hilbre Island; I promise it’s worth the effort.


What is Hilbre Island?

Hilbre Island is a popular destination for visitors, both local and from afar. The walk across the sand to Hilbre Island is a beautiful experience, especially when the sun is shining!

View of Hilbre Island from Middle Eye.
View of Hilbre Island from Middle Eye.

You can find the Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve in the Dee Estuary, an archipelago of three islands. This area is highly esteemed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area. Additionally, it is a Ramsar Site, which is a Wetland of International Importance and a candidate EU Special Area of Conservation. The Metropolitan Borough of Wirral manages the freehold property of the three tidal islands – Little Eye, Middle Eye, and Hilbre Island – and the surrounding foreshore.

Hilbre Island, Wirral CH47 1HZ


My experience of walking to Hilbre Island

I chose a sunny late April afternoon to walk to Hilbre Island. With some prior planning, by checking the tide times and the weather, I set off on my journey from West Kirby beach to Little Eye.

Approaching Little Eye.
Approaching Little Eye.

I found the sign on the beach with the time you needed to be off Hilbre Island, and further information very helpful. There were lots of people on this day who had the same idea to walk to Hilbre Island. However, it was still very peaceful and not overly busy. I love Wirral because it never feels jam-packed.

Hilbre Island information and tide times signpost.
Tide times and further information at West Kirby beach.

I’ve lived in Wirral for nearly 30 years and have visited the islands only a handful of times. Sometimes prior planning can put people off, but it is one of the most relaxing and calming walks I’ve ever taken. I love to be surrounded by the sea, wander along the beach and feel immersed in nature. Plus, the walk doesn’t half get your steps up for the day!

Girl walking to Hilbre Island.
Walking to Hilbre Island is a great way to spend some time.

After reaching Little Eye, I turned right to head over to Middle Eye. This is following the safe crossing route suggested. I love Middle Eye as much as Hilbre Island. Maybe even a little more! I love walking along the top through the bluebells watching the swallows dive and dip with the view of Hilbre in the distance. It’s a poet’s dream! I spent a little time here taking photos and collecting a few bits of sea glass before continuing over the rocky section to Hilbre Island.

Middle Eye Bluebells.
Bluebells at Middle Eye.

The main island is gorgeous. You feel like you could be anywhere in the world; many people were picnicking and gulping up the views. I took some time to walk around the island and enjoy the views myself before wandering down to the Lifeboat Station ruins.

Hilbre Island Lifeboat Station.
Remains of Hilbre Island Lifeboat Station.

Hilbre Island Lifeboat Station

The Lifeboat Station on Hilbre Island was operated from 1849 to 1939; in that time, it saved 21 lives and had 44 launches. The lifeboat house and slipway were an alternative deep water launch due to the difficulty of launching the Hoylake Lifeboat at high tide. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company initially operated the lifeboat and was taken over by the RNLI in 1894. It had a crew of 12 and 1 oarsman. The station closed in 1939, and it’s impressive to see the remains of it left today.

The Hilbre Island Light Beacon

You can also view Hilbre Island Light Beacon, a port landmark for the Hilbre swash in the River Dee Estuary. It was established in 1927 by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company but has been operated by Trinity House since 1973. It was converted from acetylene gas to solar-power operation in 1995.

Hilbre Island Lifeboat Station slipway remains.
Hilbre Island Lifeboat Station slipway remains.

I found the walk easy, taking just under one hour

It took me under an hour to reach Hilbre Island, but I’m a quick walker, and the recommended time it takes is 1 hour. The walk is easy, and you can take it at a pace to suit you. As it is a beach walk the terrain is uneven, sandy, muddy and slippy at times, and there are a few small climbs to be noted, but it’s not strenuous. Wear sturdy shoes; trainers, walking boots or wellies are fine weather depending. Pack a picnic and enjoy a day exploring this natural wonderland.


How to get to Hilbre Island safely

It is essential to plan your trip to Hilbre Island to make sure you get there and back safely.
It is essential to plan your trip to Hilbre Island to make sure you get there and back safely.

Crossing over from West Kirby 3 hours after high tide is safe, and you must leave the island at least 3 hours before the next high tide.

If you would like to stay on the island over high tide, this can be possible, but you must arrive on Hilbre Island no later than 3 hours before high tide, and you cannot leave the island again until 3 hours after high tide. Overnight stays are not allowed.

Please be aware these times are based on your crossing time, taking 1 hour and using only the recommended safe route. When the tide is over 9.5 metres, please allow an extra 30 minutes. You can find further information here.


Check the tide times

Access to Hilbre Island depends on tide times and the weather, as you will be completely open to the elements. The tide surrounds the islands for up to 6 hours twice a day. Most people choose to visit the island at low tide.

Tide times are displayed on the noticeboard at Dee Lane, West Kirby, and you can also find them here.


Follow the recommended safe crossing route 

Make sure you plan to follow the safe crossing route, which takes you from the Marine Lake/ West Kirby beach straight towards Little Eye, right and across to Middle Eye, and then straight over to Hilbre Island.

Safe crossing route to the islands.
Safe crossing route to Hilbre Island.

Please do not attempt to walk straight across from Hoylake. There is a deep and muddy channel here that can be dangerous. 


Further visiting safety and what to wear

It’s essential to be aware that the weather on the estuary can be unpredictable and change quickly. Please remember to consider this when planning to cross to or from Hilbre. It’s strongly advised not to attempt this after dark, in foggy conditions or if fog is forecast. The tidal conditions can also be affected by changeable weather conditions such as wind and air pressure.

Be safe when visiting.
Be safe when visiting Hilbre Island.

Wearing suitable footwear, warm waterproofs and sun cream is recommended to ensure your safety and comfort. Additionally, be careful around rocks as they can have sharp edges, and those covered in seaweed or mud can be slippery. Lastly, staying away from cliff edges is essential to avoid accidents.


Are there any facilities on the island?

The only facilities on the island are a couple of simple composting toilets. If you need to use the restroom before setting off, you can use the ones at the Dee Lane slipway between 10 am and 6 pm in the summer.


Hilbre Island history

Hilbre’s history is genuinely captivating, spanning from the times of the Triassic dinosaurs to the use of the islands as a decoy during World War II. Today, Hilbre, Middle Eye, and Little Eye are recognised as three distinct islands. However, they were once connected to the mainland and only became tidal islands after the last Ice Age ended approximately 11,500 years ago.

Hilbre's history is genuinely captivating, spanning from the times of the Triassic dinosaurs to the use of the islands as a decoy during World War II.
Hilbre’s history is genuinely captivating, spanning from the times of the Triassic dinosaurs to the use of the islands as a decoy during World War II.

Dinosaur footprints?

The islands consist of a ridge of Bunter sandstone that dates back to the Triassic period ( 180 million – 225 million years old). During the 1990s, footprints were found on Hilbre Island after a rock fall. They were considered Chirotherium, a Triassic trace fossil consisting of fice-fingered footprints and whole tracks. It is thought that the creature that made these footprints were probably Pseudosuchia Archosaurs, related to the ancestors of the Crocodile. They were roughly six feet tall and up to twelve feet from snout to tail.

The first humans to use Hilbre Island

After the Ice Age, hunter-gatherers were the first humans to use Hilbre, who used flint tools and survived off fish, shellfish, deer, nuts, and berries. Around 4000 BC, settlers cleared the land to farm and rear animals. Stone tools have been found on the islands. A human burial dated to the Bronze Age and evidence of cooking and field boundaries were found here.

A monk’s cell was established on the island

In 1080 the Norman Earl of Chester granted Hilbre to an Abbey in Normandy. Later Chester Abbey had control over West Kirby and Hilbre. A monk’s cell was established on the island and maintained by two monks. Unfortunately, there is no remaining evidence of the cell today.

Incredible views from Hilbre Island.
Incredible views from Hilbre Island.

An anchorage for shipping in the Dee Estuary

During the 16th to 18th centuries, Hilbre Island played a significant role as an anchorage for shipping in the Dee Estuary. This was particularly important as the river at Chester was silting up. However, over time, erosion of the sand banks led to the splitting the protective bank into two parts. This resulted in the Lake disappearing rapidly in the 19th century.

Salt refining

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Hilbre became a hub for rock salt refining. This was after the discovery of rock salt in Cheshire in 1670. A plan was hatched in 1692 to produce salt on the island, which was shipped in along with coal from the Lancashire coalfield via the Mersey. The salt was then boiled in seawater on the island.

An ale house

The islands were also home to an ale house during the 18th and 19th centuries, which was rumoured to have been involved in smuggling. For most of its life, the inn had no name but was later called The Boat. It is still remembered locally as The Seagull Inn, although this name has yet to appear in official records.

Incredible views from Hilbre Island.
Endless views from Hilbre Island.

The Telegraph Station

The Telegraph Station was established in 1826 as part of the telegraphic system Holyhead to Liverpool. The current structure was erected in 1841. Two masts with three arms each, controlled by levers underneath, were used to display coded messages along the line of stations. Binnacles, rotating sockets in the big bay window, permitted telescopes to watch adjacent stations and sea vessels. In 1861, a more sophisticated electric telegraph was installed, but the Hilbre station was kept operational until the line was decommissioned in 1939.

A decoy during World War II

A small group from the Army were stationed on Hilbre during the First World War. This was part of a plan to protect Liverpool and Birkenhead. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company used Hilbre as a base for some operations. During World War II, the RAF set up a “starfish” decoy on Middle Eye to distract German bombers raiding Birkenhead and Liverpool. These ‘starfish’ decoys were controlled fires that imitated an urban area targeted by bombs during an air raid. The RAF operated all this from a control room on Hilbre while the fire baskets and lights were placed on Middle Eye.

You can find even more information about the island’s history here.


Wildlife on Hilbre Island

Hilbre Island’s nature reserve lies within the Dee Estuary. The Dee Estuary is an internationally important wetland for conservation and wildlife. On the island is also the Hilbre Island Bird Observatory.

Regardless of when you visit and the tide’s condition, there’s always something to discover. During the winter months, plenty of wading birds and wildfowl opt to roost and feed around the islands. Hilbre is a well-known spot for migrating birds in autumn and spring. During the summer, seals can be seen hauling out on the sandbanks just off Hilbre. Wildflowers can be seen blooming on the island, and swallows can be spotted nesting in the old buildings.

Seal popping its head out of the water.
I spy a Seal at Hilbre Island.

Grey Seals

The Grey Seals living around Hilbre are lucky creatures indeed! They have access to abundant fish in the clear waters of the Dee Estuary, providing plenty of nourishment. Once they’ve had their fill, they go to the West Hoyle Bank to rest and relax. You will see these beautiful animals basking in the warm sunshine in summer. It’s truly a sight to behold!

Find Seal watch and open days and times here.

Thrift

Thrift is a common wildflower of coastal slopes known as sea pink. During May and June, visitors to Hilbre can enjoy a spectacular show of these beautiful flowers, mainly on the south and western edges of the island. Please remember to avoid picking any, however tempting they look!

Thrift is a common wildflower of coastal slopes known as sea pink.
Thrift is a common wildflower of coastal slopes known as sea pink.

Oystercatcher

Hilbre is home to a few resident birds, including the Oystercatchers. During the winter months, their numbers increase significantly, and several thousand can be seen roosting on the northern end of Middle Eye at high tide. These birds feed in flocks at low tide, searching for cockles and mussels around the island.

Wheatear

The area also attracts migratory birds, such as the Northern Wheatears, which visit the island during their spring and autumn passage. Some birds will eventually travel to their breeding and wintering grounds in Canada and Africa.


Help protect the Wildlife on the island

To preserve the Local Nature Reserve, it is essential to refrain from collecting living creatures, picking or damaging plants, and disturbing the roosting birds during winter. Staying on designated paths or rocks is recommended to prevent the trampling of plants and soil erosion.

Rock formation at Hilbre Island.
Help to protect the islands to preserve the Nature Reserve.

Please make sure to take any litter with you when leaving the area. Fires are strictly prohibited on the islands, and if you come across one, please dial 999. Lastly, it is required that dogs are kept on a lead at all times on the islands.


The Friends of Hilbre

The Friends of Hilbre was formed in 2001 to help Wirral Council maintain these beautiful islands. They aim to promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of Hilbre Sands Local Nature Reserve for the benefit of the public. They also aim to provide funds, volunteer help, educational facilities and other related charitable goods and service.

Become a member or volunteer

The Friends of Hilbre provide support for the management of the islands. Volunteering is a great way to enjoy the islands and help maintain their beauty for visitors. The Friends of Hilbre are dedicated to preserving and promoting the islands. They warmly welcome all new members and express gratitude to present members for their ongoing interest and support.

As a member, you will receive The Friends of Hilbre newsletters every three months, featuring event updates sent directly to your email. Membership runs from May 1st to April 30th and can be annual for £10 or lifetime for £100. 

Find more information about volunteering and becoming a member here.


Girl looking through a cave in Hilbre Island.
Prepare for a beautiful day out.

I hope you found this article useful and enjoyed learning about Hilbre Island. Hilbre’s stunning natural beauty, rich history, and diverse wildlife offer something for everyone. Just be sure to plan your trip carefully, bring appropriate supplies, and respect the island’s fragile ecosystem. Let me know in the comments if you have ever visited and what you thought.

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8 thoughts on “Walk to Hilbre Island, all you need to know”

  1. Brilliant description of the islands. Visited them today.
    Thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Thank you for going to so much trouble to promote a first class experience.
    Used to visit in the 1950’s!
    Mike Huddart

    Reply
  2. Your blog is very informative! And Hilbre island is now the second favorite place in Liverpool to me, just behind Anfield 🙂

    Reply

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