Out to the west of Chester on the banks of the River Gowy is the Hockenhull Platts Nature Reserve, a large area of natural meadows rich in both wildlife and plant species. The area covers 5 hectares and is often seen with sheep grazing across its open spaces. Public footpaths also cover the reserve, making it a popular place for both wildlife enthusiasts and people looking for a beautiful place to stroll. Dogwalkers are encouraged to keep their canine chums on a lead so they don’t distract the local nature.
In the nature reserve are three medieval sandstone bridges that are still in use, forming part of the main footpath that runs through the centre of Hockenhull Platts. They also form part of the Mill Trail that people can follow by signposts and noticeboards put in place by Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
Hockenhull Platts Nature Reserve is home to a range of different habitats such as a plantation of poplar trees, reedbeds and of course the area of wet meadow that surrounds the river. Over recent years, work has been done on the reserve to create new pools and wetlands, creating more environment for the benefit of water voles that have begun to nest in the area and grow in number. The area of the reserve covered by the poplars is sparse and its damp environs have allowed an unusual stand of common reeds to grow on the ground.
The reserve is also rich in bird life, with over 64 species recorded throughout the year. Summer-visiting warblers create a beautiful sound in warmer months, including the sedge warbler, grasshopper warbler and reed warbler. Peaceful creatures such as otters have been seen on the banks of the Gowy, and there are signs they often nest near the bridge. Snipe can be seen over winter and there are good numbers of dragonflies and damselflies in the summer months.
Although the bridges are in England, they are not far from the Welsh border and it is likely that their name is derived from a combination of English and Welsh roots. Based on the Old English and Welsh parts of the name, it is possible that the name Hockenhull Platts roughly translates as “the bridges on the old peddlars’ way”, referring to the three small bridges in quick succession.
Right next to the central bridge is an ancient earthwork that can really only be seen as more prominent when the sun is low. There is a low ditched rectangular mound and an adjacent ring ditch. It is likely to date from around the same time as the bridges, making it around medieval or post-medieval in origin.