Beat over the Mersey to a polished peninsula

Costa Rica

The Wirral, the small-scale and very distinctive peninsula between Liverpool and North Wales, is the film location for the new BBC TV comedy Candy Cabs. I took the  Mersey Ferry there, and found a fascinating mix of additional attractions, including Wallace and Gromit, a haven for seals, a German U-boat, the model Victorian village, and the face that sold a million bars of soap. I dined at Sheldrakes restaurant, Lower Heswall, where they filmed a scene for the series. Photo: Bubbles, by John Millais - Lady Lever Museum, Port Sunlight. (c)

Life acquatic

Historians still don''t know why German submarine U-534 refused to surrender on the first day of the peace in 1945. As a result it was sunk off the coast of Denmark by British bombers. All but two of its crew of young sub-mariners escaped.  The vessel was raised in 1993, but then languished on a quayside. Now it’s the Wirral’s new star turn. The U-Boat Story, in Birkenhead, opened in 2009. It’s full of crisp, informative graphics, and bright cases displaying items salvaged from the craft. U-534 is cut into sections, glassed-over so you can look inside. Museums like this will never be boring. The “Ferry ‘cross the Mersey” goes straight there from Liverpool.

Grand Adventure

I continued my tour of this neat, square-edged peninsula at the new “Wallace and Gromit in Space” exhibition at Spaceport in Birkenhead. The amiable pair lure you in to a lively and information-packed space museum ( Then it''s a case of following the road along the coast, up along the Mersey, for that epic vista of Liverpool, and to New Brighton for views far up the Lancashire coast. West Kirby is a  traditional seaside resort, with a promenade and good beaches. Hilbre Islands, with their booming bird life, are a two mile walk over the sand when the tide is out. The many open spaces include the North Wirral Coastal Park. We drove back through Thornton Hough, one of the pretty little Wirral villages.

Boy in Blue

One of the earliest, and best loved advertising images was a painting of a winsome boy in blue, selling soap. Even today, John Millais’ Bubbles, hanging in the Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight, is instantly recognised, even if it''s a too sentimental for some tastes. Lord Lever had a passion for art, and built this gallery with his enormous wealth in memory of his wife to give everyone the chance to see and be inspired by his collection. (Entry is still free.) There are other works by Millais, alongside more of Lever’s superlative collections of Pre-Raphaelites – they include Holman Hunt’s Scapegoat, and Rosetti''s Blessed Damozel-and works by Turner, Stubbs, Gainsborough and Reynolds.

Soap star village

Lord Lever was one of the most enlightened of Victorian bosses. In 1888, when most housing in industrial Britain was smog-swathed and desperate, he built a clean and spacious village for the workers at his soap factory, naming it Port Sunlight after his most successful brand.
I walked the wide, green boulevards, wondering why so many urban planners failed to copy this example. Port Sunlight Museum tell the story ). I stayed in the former cottage hospital, now the boutique standard Leverhulme Hotel. They kept the structure and restored original details, such as the mosaic floor in the lobby, and sash windows. Room are fitted out in the art decor style, with walnut doors salvaged from a London bank.

Garden glory

Ness Botanic Gardens is a place of famous horticultural beginnings. It’s the legacy of local industrialist Arthur Bulley, whose passion for plants helped change the face of the British garden. His collectors brought back species from China and the Far East. They were planted at Ness, and propagated by seed company Bees Ltd, which began here. We strolled through the Lombardy poplars, holm oaks, Scots pines and Italian alder that Bulley planted, ending up in the garden''s newest transplant, Roses Tea Rooms. The entire cafe, named one of the top 10 in Britain in a recent survey, was moved here in 2010. It''s in the new Visitor Centre, an airy, low-energy building with a growing sedum roof.

West walks

The best walks on the Wirral are along the west coast,  with momentous views over the Dee Estuary to the mountains of Wales.
The 22 mile Wirral Shore Way links villages, railway stations and vantage points for bird-watching and views of the seals basking on the West Hoyle sandbanks. The excellent Sheldrakes restaurant, at Lower Heswall, caters for the weekend walker. Its Sunday carvery stays open all afternoon. We went on a summer evening and took a window table to see the sun go down over the wide mudflats, precious habitat for multitudes of aquatic birds. This is a happily cosmopolitan restaurant. The manager is Greek Cypriot, and the service is full-on and friendly. 
 0151 342 1556. 
The writer travel with Virgin Trains to Liverpool. There are also services to Chester.

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