This is a fantastic 7.5km return bike ride along the Cheshire side of the Dee Estuary. It follows the National Cycle Network route number 568, running from Hawarden Bridge near the Deeside Industrial Estate all the way to Neston, Cheshire, on the Wirral peninsula. It’s not just for cyclists though, the cycle path is for pedestrians too and would be fantastic for prams, so I’ll include this post in the walks section too.
On a clear day the views across the marshes and estuary towards North Wales are beautiful.
Once upon a time the River Dee ran right up alongside the shores of Burton up to Parkgate. As shipping access to the city of Chester became impossible because of the silting of its port, quays were built in the early seventeenth century (although it’s suspected that quays existed here since medieval times) at Burton and Neston to serve as outports for the city. As they became victims of silting themselves, a further port was built at Parkgate. Between them they functioned as trading ports, ferry embarkation points (to and from North Wales & Ireland) and were also very popular tourist spots at the end of the eighteenth century. It’s hard to imagine all that going on looking out at the marshes now! In 1928 an invasive grass ‘Spartina’ was introduced in nearby Connah’s Quay which rapidly colonized the silted areas producing the marshes we see today. I actually did my GCSE Geography coursework on this just a few (ahem) years ago, can’t remember much about it mind, other than the great ice cream at Parkgate after hours spent traipsing over the marsh with a quadrant.
The area forms part of the RSPB Dee Estuary Nature Reserve, which was created in the 1970’s to protect birds from the threats of industry. Today it rates as one of the best places in the UK to birdspot, so bring your binoculars!
The majority of the route is off road tarmac paths, but some sections are on roads, albeit very quiet ones and we’ve always felt very comfortable taking our 3 on them.
There are various places to park along the route, probably the best place is at the top end of the route, along a road called Quayside (the sat nav route will take you here). Parking is limited here but you can find spaces at the start of the road where it meets the end of Marshlands Road, or further down, past the Harp Inn. However the area with the most parking is on the stretch of Station Road outside the village of Burton, which runs parallel to the estuary ending at Denhall Lane.
Starting at the top of Quayside, you’ll see an information board explaining about the collieries which used to be in the area during the Industrial revolution. Coal was mined from here and shipped as far away as the Americas. You can download this colliery trail walking guide which tells you all about its industrial achievements, the horrendous living conditions of its workers and the bitter rivalry between the pit owners.
Follow the road south (with the marsh on your right), past the Harp Inn, which has some tables on a grassy area where you can look out onto the estuary, I’ve mentally bookmarked this for a drink one summer’s evening.
A little further on you’ll see another small parking area, next to this is a small grassy area called Denhall Quay. You’ll also see another of the colliery information boards. As the name suggests this area used to be a quay, built in 1791 to ship coal to North Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man, today all that’s left are a few sandstone blocks jutting out, but it’s a lovely spot to have a picnic on the benches here.
From here follow the road past some houses which sit facing the marsh, (must be a lovely little spot to wake up to every morning). The road then turns into a cycle/pedestrian path all the way to Nets Cafe, which is a well known cyclist cafe and is very reasonably priced. There’s loads of outside seating so you don’t have to worry about locking your bikes up.
About 400 metres from the cafe there’s a small road section again (Station Lane) before you enter another cycle/pedestrian lane which marks the start of the RSPB Burton Marsh. This stretch to the Welsh border is the best bit of the ride as the views over the marsh are pretty uninterrupted.. You’ll pass a few RSPB information boards along the way which will give you more facts about the marshes.
The kids always love to stop and play in these grasses, but get them to wear wellies or they’ll come out with soaking wet feet!
You’ll see in the near distance a tree topped sandstone outcrop called Burton Point which was once an Iron Age promontory fort (unfortunately the land is owned by RSPB and you aren’t allowed to climb up to the top but you can play on it’s grassy banks).
The highlight of this section is the 3 metre wide raised wooden boardwalk which runs over the freshwater wetlands, it’s only about 300 metres in length, but there’s something about riding on a boardwalk that ticks all the boxes! They/I love it!
On the other side of the railway line is the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands centre, I haven’t visited (yet!) but I’ve heard good things about it and I think this would be a great add on especially if your kids are into nature. Just a note that you can’t actually get to it on the cycle route, you’d need to detour onto the roads through Burton village.
About 100m from the end of the boardwalk is the Welsh border so if restrictions are still in place you’ll need to be mindful of this. From here the cycle route passes through Sealand Ranges, then the Deeside Industrial area, ending at Hawarden Bridge.
At 7.5km return (click on the OS link in the Info Bar to see the route plotted one way) you might want to go further if you’ve older kids. To extend from Hawarden Bridge, you could take national cycle route 5 towards either Chester or in the opposite direction to Flint. Alternatively, back at the start of the route, you can continue on cycle route 568 up to Parkgate. This part of the route runs north through a housing estate to meet the Wirral Way where you can divert off to Parkgate and get some well deserved ice cream. Again have a look at all the bike routes here.
If you’ve had enough of bikes, a walk around the very quaint Burton village and its woods is a nice add on. Or, grab their wellies and walk out onto the marsh and have some fun exploring them.
One final note, being situated on an estuary it is obviously very exposed so unless you want lots of whinging don’t come on a windy cold day!