The industrial inland port of Runcorn is a treasure trove of architectural styles, from medieval ruins to 1970s utopia. Its impressive bridges across the River Mersey mark the gateway north to cosmopolitan Liverpool and south to leafy Cheshire. Very much off the tourist trail, it nonetheless has some surprising hidden gems for curious urban explorers.
Runcorn was founded in 915AD as a Mercian fortress to guard against Viking invasion at a narrowing of the River Mersey. The earliest written reference to the town is in the medieval Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is spelled "Rumcofan", literally meaning 'a wide cove or bay'. To this day, there is a friendly rivalry with the townsfolk of Widnes to the Viking north.
Did you know...
The remains of the Mercian fort were discovered by the Victorians when digging the foundations for the railway bridge across the Mersey, so they styled the bridge to look like the towers of a castle.
Runcorn was a small, poor village until the industrial revolution in the 18th century when the extension of the Bridgewater Canal to the town made it an industrial hub.
Although an ancient settlement, it was designated a 'new town' in the 1960s and greatly expanded eastwards, swallowing neighbouring settlements. Idealistic planners created a brand new town centre with 'Shopping City', an Amercian style mall, at its heart. So Runcorn effectively has two town centres; the 'Old Town' and 'The City'.
The Silver Jubilee Bridge by night
The town is well placed between the North West's two main international airports; Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Manchester Airport. Both are easily accessible via the road and railway networks. Use Runcorn station for services to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Runcorn East station for Manchester Airport.
Runcorn has two railway stations:
- Runcorn station is in the Old Town. Use this station for services north to Liverpool, west to Chester, and south to Birmingham and London. Trains here are operated by Avanti West Coast, West Midlands Trains and Transport for Wales. West Midlands services stop at Liverpool South Parkway (for Liverpool John Lennon Airport), whereas Avanti services head straight for Liverpool Lime Street, a journey which takes around 20 minutes. Use Platform 1 for Chester, Birmingham New Street and London Euston. Use Platform 2 for Liverpool South Parkway and Liverpool Lime Street. The station has a small shop, two waiting rooms, two lifts and a first class lounge.
- Runcorn East station is in the New Town to the east. Use this station for services west to Chester and North Wales, and east to Manchester. It is a small, unmanned station and you will need to either get a taxi or a bus if travelling to the town centre from here. It also has two platforms. Use Platform 1 for Manchester Piccadilly and Platform 2 for Chester and Llandudno. Trains to Manchester Piccadilly take around 45 minutes, to Chester take 30 minutes, and to Llandudno take an hour and thirty minutes.
Runcorn is well connected to the motorway network. To the south is the M56 motorway to Manchester, Chester and North Wales. The M6 lies to the east and the M62 is to the north in the neighbouring town of Widnes.
But motorists beware; the two road bridges across the Mersey for Liverpool are both tolled. There are no toll booths but you must pay the toll to Merseyflow online by midnight the following day or face a £40 penalty.
There are good bus connections with neighbouring cities and towns, including Liverpool, Chester, Widnes, Frodsham and Warrington.
There are two main bus interchanges. One is in the Old Town near the railway station and the other at Shopping City.
Bridgewater Canal route map
The town has two canals. The Manchester Ship Canal is not open to non-commercial traffic, but the Bridgewater Canal is open to public use and is popular with pleasure boaters. The Bridgewater Canal terminates in Runcorn Old Town but there are plans to reopen the flight of locks to connect the Bridgewater Canal with the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Weaver Navigation, creating a second Cheshire ring.
There are two canal boat docks in Runcorn. Waterloo Junction is the main dock in Runcorn Old Town. The second dock is privately owned and is located further west. It can be accessed from Halton Road. Bridgewater Motor Boat Club is based in Runcorn and can give advice on moorings in the town.
When Runcorn New Town was built, a system of dedicated busways was constructed, completely separate from the road network. This makes getting around by bus fast and easy.
There are two main bus interchanges. One is in the Old Town near the railway station and the other at Shopping City.
Getting around Runcorn by car is easy using the high-speed dual carriageway system which surrounds the town in a figure of 8. Each area of the town has its own junction. The network is so well designed that traffic congestion is unheard of.
Runcorn is spread out but walking and cycling in Runcorn can be a real pleasure. Because Runcorn is a planned New Town, it was designed so that pedestrians and vehicles are kept totally separate.
The Bridgewater Canal forms a lovely walk from east to west. In fact, you can walk all the way from Runcorn railway station to Runcorn East station just following the canal towpath, though it is a fair distance. Town Park in the east forms a pedestrian link between all the communities in that area. It links to Runcorn Shopping City by raised walkways meaning you never have to cross a busy road.
Wigg Island is a popular cycle route. The route is not open to cars and you can cycle all the way to neighbouring Warrington following the Manchester Ship Canal. Many people cycle a loop starting from Wigg Island, to Warrington, across the River Mersey, follow the Mersey back along Spike Island in Widnes, cross the Silver Jubilee Bridge and back to Wigg Island.
Halton Castle overlooking the Mersey Gateway Bridge
- Norton Priory Museum & Gardens is the most excavated monastic site in Europe. Boasting the ruins of an abbey, 12th century undercroft and an 18th century walled garden, it is located within an oasis of tranquil woodland and wildflower meadows. The museum displays thousands of artefacts from Norton’s 900 year history, including the internationally significant 14th century statue of St Christopher. The museum is open year round but the Walled Garden closes for the winter from 1st November - 1st April.
- One of only two Norman castles in Cheshire, Halton Castle sits atop Halton Hill near the geographical centre of the town. Only ruins of the castle survive, but there are widespread views from the top of the hill. Incorporated into the castle walls is the Castle Hotel pub, which used to be a Georgian courthouse. The castle is only open to the public at special times of year but for the price of a pint the pub will let you in their beer garden and you'll have free reign of the castle.
- A stroll along the promenade in Runcorn Old Town offers views across the River Mersey, the Manchester Ship Canal and the three bridges that cross it. There is also a cantilevered walkway on the Silver Jubilee Bridge which offers good views over the waterways and the town. The town plays host to the largest free fireworks show in the North West on Bonfire Night every 5th November which can be viewed from the promenade.
- Completed in 1856 as a mansion for Thomas Johnson, a local industrialist, Runcorn Town Hall is a Grade II listed building in the Italianate style set in a small parkland. It is modelled after Osborne House, Queen Victoria's residence on the Isle of White. As a working office, the building is only open to members of the public at certain times of year, usually at Christmas time, but the park is open year round.
- Another landmark is Norton Water Tower, built of Runcorn sandstone, 112 feet (34 m) high, which holds 672,000 imperial gallons (3 million litres) of water and supplies it to Liverpool. It is a major feat of Victorian engineering and can be viewed from impressive vistas in Town Park in the east of the town.
- Runcorn Hill Park and Local Nature Reserve is in the centre of the western part of the town, partly on a dis-used nineteenth-century quarry. It incorporates natural woodland and heathland with more formal landscaping, playing fields, a bandstand, model boating lake, sporting facilities and cafe. A Chirotherium dinosaur footprint discovered in the quarry can be viewed in the cafe.
The distinctive 'Runcorn red' sandstone quarried from what is now Runcorn Hill Park has been used in hundreds of buildings all over the world, including New York Harbour and Liverpool Cathedral
- Wigg Island is a large park and nature reserve in the north of the town on the banks of the River Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal. It covers 23 hectares of a former industrial site and includes several bird watching hides. During the Second World War, this was the site of the top secret Wigg and Randle Works which manufactured mustard gas to be used in case of Nazi invasion.
- Town Park forms the centre of the eastern part of the New Town and is accessible from all of the surrounding communities. It also forms the pedestrian link to Runcorn Shopping City. Runcorn Ski Centre and Halton Miniature Railway are located in the park along with a children's play area. Phoenix Park adjoins Town Park to the north and includes a cafe, rock climbing wall and skate park.
- A war memorial to those who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars, as well as those killed in later conflicts, is located at the end of Moughland Lane along with a statue of Thomas 'Todger' Jones VC. There is a second memorial in Castle Road, Halton village, commemorating residents of the village who served in the Boer War.
- For those interested in town planning and modernist architecture, Runcorn is a treasure trove of buildings constructed in the late 1960s and 1970s. Runcorn Shopping City, at the heart of the New Town, was designed by Fred Roche CBE and at the time of its construction was the largest covered shopping centre in Europe. There are also several listed buildings in Runcorn of some importance, including All Saints Parish Church and Holy Trinity Church in the centre of the older part of the town, St Mary's in Halton village, St John's in Weston, and Christ Church in Weston Point. All Saints' Church, a Grade II* listed building, dates from 1849 and was built by Anthony Salvin in red sandstone. The oldest surviving houses are the Seneschal's House in Halton village (1598), Weston Old Hall (1607), Brookfield Farmhouse (1691) and Halton Old Hall (1693). Other outstanding houses include Runcorn Town Hall (formerly Halton Grange), Camden House and Cottage in High Street and Bridgewater House near the Ship Canal.
Runcorn is often used as a filming location for TV programmes so you may recognise some settings such as the old Waterloo Pub - now a Buddhist temple - from Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
Halton Miniature Railway in Town Park
- The Brindley is an award winning theatre, arts centre, bar and cafe in Runcorn Old Town aside the Bridgewater Canal. It hosts everything from stand up comedy to musicals and film showings.
- A 7 1/4" gauge miniature railway runs through Town Park in the east of the town for almost a mile. First opened in 1979, Halton Miniature Railway is staffed entirely by volunteers and operates services most weekends.
- There is a privately operated outdoor dry ski slope, also in Town Park. It consists of three dry ski slopes: an 85-metre main slope, a 45-metre extended nursery slope and a 25-metre nursery slope. The centre offers skiing and snowboarding lessons as well as children's 'tubing' parties.
- Located at Trident Retail Park next to Runcorn Shopping City, Cineworld multiplex cinema chain shows the latest international blockbusters in 2D and 3D formats.
- The main sport played in Runcorn is football, with the town having two senior football teams – Runcorn Linnets FC and Runcorn Town FC – both playing in the North West Counties League. Rowing is also a common sight on the River Weaver and the annual Heads in March and October and the Junior Regatta in March often draw a crowd.
The town has five secondary schools: The Grange Academy, The Heath School, Sandymoor School, Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy, and St Chad's Catholic and Church of England High School.
The nearest universities are in Liverpool, Chester and Manchester.
There are two public libraries; one at the Shopping City and one in the Old Town.
- Runcorn Shopping City is the main shopping location in the town. It comprises over 60 stores, including banks, eateries, clothing shops, hardware, electronics and department stores, supermarkets and more. In addition to big name stores like Argos, The Range, Specsavers, Wilko and Boots, the centre hosts many smaller retailers and has introduced an incubator for local start up outlets in 'The Box'. The centre is complemented by surrounding developments, including large supermarkets, drive through fast food restaurants, and the adjacent Trident Retail Park and its multiplex cinema. Local amenities like the main library and Council 'Direct Link' centres are also attached to the Shopping City in the civic quarter. However, it is not a major shopping destination regionally and its main purpose is as a local shopping mall. Parking here is free and it is well served by local buses.
- The Old Town area of Runcorn hosts smaller independent retailers such as a butcher, book shop, bakery and picture framers. The main areas are High Street, Regent Street and Church Street.
The Bridgewater Canal in Runcorn Old Town
Cafes, bakeries and lunchtime meals
These eateries are not open in the evenings but are ideal for a quick bite at lunchtime.
- Devonshire Bakery. Popular independent bakery making fresh sandwiches, pies, cakes and bread baked fresh everyday using traditional methods. Quite expensive but good for a treat!
- Quigley's Bakery. Busy with locals from breakfast to lunchtime, this small, cheap bakery serves up a range of pies, warm baps and even takeaway Sunday lunch.
- Bridge Deli. Family run coffee shop serving excellent fresh sandwiches, baked potatos and cakes.
- Monks Delicatessen. A family run delicatessen that has been selling fine food since 1884. Bacon, sausage, pies, cheese, cooked meats, sandwiches, biscuits, jam, chutney.
- The Bake House. Serving breakfast, lunch, gin, coffee and amazing cakes. Dog friendly and near to Runcorn Hill Park.
- Esposito's Deli. Cafe set in Runcorn Hill Park so very popular on a sunny day - especially for iced cream!
- Prepped 2 Go. Healthy, freshly cooked food to eat in or take out using locally sourced ingredients.
- Tropicana Cafe. Popular cafe in Runcorn Shopping City. The scouse is recommended!
- FJ's Restaurant. Basic greasy spoon cafe.
Restaurants and gastropubs
Most evening meal restaurants are in the Old Town but there are good pub restaurants isolated in various parts of the town which are worth seeking out.
- Melenio. Cosy family run restaurant serving fresh authentic Italian food. Popular with diners before heading to the Brindley Theatre.
- atmoesphere. Trendy restaurant serving Middle Eastern cuisine.
- The Ferry Boat Wetherspoons. Located in the Old Town, this is the busiest pub in Runcorn and offers a range of cheap eats. It is named after the old ferry boat which brought passengers across the River Mersey from Widnes.
- The Barley Mow. Serves carvery - ideal for a Sunday lunch.
- Ten Lock Flight. Familiar pub classic dishes plus steak and pizza.
- Tandoori Night. Indian restaurant with cool, modern decor offering Indian classics, tandoori specials and takeaway.
- Pizza Hut. Family-friendly chain known for its made-to-order pizzas. Perfect for a bite after catching a movie at the neighbouring cinema.
- The Prospect Inn. Family run pub serving quality beers, ales and home cooked food.
- The Royal Oak. Small family run village pub at the heart of Weston since 1865. Serves real cask ales, speciality craft gins and homemade traditional food.
- The Norton Arms. Traditional, friendly and lively little pub in Halton Village, Runcorn. Serves a good range of beers and home cooked food.
- Evenwood Farm, Dining & Carvery. Large pub/restaurant serving British dishes and a carvery, with children's indoor play area.
- Beefeater. Large steak restaurant next to the Premier Inn hotel.
- Ring O Bells. Rustic-chic pub, with contemporary fittings and a tiled floor, serving steaks and global dishes.
Big name fast food outlets are concentrated around Runcorn Shopping City, many of which are drive throughs. Smaller independent take aways, burger joints and fish & chip shops can be found in the Old Town.
- Burger King
- Dominos Pizza
- K.Lee Supper Bar
'The Castle' pub - a former Georgian courthouse - in Halton Village
The main area for nightlife is in the Old Town where the bars and pubs are busiest on Friday and Saturday evenings, but there are pubs dotted across Runcorn where you can get a quiet drink. If you like historic surroundings then be sure to check out the pubs in Halton Village.
Did you know...
The captain of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, Edward Smith, was a regular visitor to the pubs in Runcorn. He stayed with his good friend and best man at his wedding, Thomas Jones, at Leinster Gardens. He planned to retire here and buy a house. Sadly, he would never live in it...
- Society Ltd. Contemporary bar with beer garden underneath the railway arches in Runcorn Old Town. Serves a wide range of keg and cask lines, ciders, wines, cocktails and street food.
- The Ferry Boat Wetherspoons. Located in the Old Town, this is the busiest pub in Runcorn and offers a range of real ales and craft beers. It is named after the old ferry boat which brought passengers across the River Mersey from Widnes.
- The Barley Mow. Popular with locals of a weekend, this listed building hosts open mic karaoke. One to avoid if you're looking for a quiet night!
- The Royal. Busy sports bar, popular for watching Premier League football.
- Chambers. Runcorn's only nightclub, Chambers is open on Fridays and Saturdays till late.
- The Castle. Although not offering a great range of beers, the big draw here is the spectacular views across Cheshire from atop Halton Hill and the cosy fireplaces in winter. The pub is teeming with history - the beer garden is within the grounds of Halton Castle and the pub itself is a former Georgian courthouse. Don't drink too many though or you may struggle to get back down the hill!
- The Norton Arms. Situated at the base of Halton Castle, the Norton Arms is ideal if you don't fancy a trek up Halton Hill. It serves a good range of drinks, pub food and often hosts live music.
- Hotel Campanile Runcorn. The Campanile Runcorn Bed and Breakfast hotel is a 53 bedroom hotel situated next to Runcorn Railway Station. Access to rooms is via motel style open air walkways.
- Fountain's Hotel. Basic accommodation catering mainly for contractors.
- The Wilsons Hotel. Comfortable rooms above a classic pub with a beer garden.
- The Wellington Hotel. Rooms above a lively pub.
- Bridge View B&B. Bed and breakfast with a bar for guests and the general public. Has a large function/conference room that can be used for business seminars, christenings, weddings, funerals, birthday and anniversary celebrations.
- Runcorn Jubilee B&B. Warm, clean and friendly bed and breakfast. Prices start from £36.00 per night B&B for a single room with shared bathroom and up to £64.00 per night B&B for a double en-suite room.
These are mostly situated on the outskirts of Runcorn so best only if you're driving or happy to get a bus or taxi into the town.
- Holiday Inn. 3 star redbrick hotel with an indoor pool and bar, located on the outskirts of Runcorn in Beechwood.
- Premier Inn. 3 star hotel offering en suite rooms, an on-site pub/restaurant and free parking. Close to the M56 motorway to the south of the town.
- Daresbury Park Hotel and Spa. Contemporary rooms with free WiFi, plus an airy restaurant, coffee shop and indoor pool. Situated to the east of the town in Daresbury.
Runcorn is generally safe during the day. As in most town centres, the Old Town can attract drunken behaviour at night, particularly at weekends which sometimes leads to violence. Some areas have high levels of poverty and bad reputations for crime, including parts of Halton Lodge, Halton Brook, Palace Fields, Castlefields and Murdishaw. More affluent and safer areas include the Heath, Weston, Beechwood, Sandymoor and Norton.
The local police force is Cheshire Constabulary and Runcorn Police Station is adjacent to the Shopping City. Call 101 for non-emergencies and 999 for emergencies.
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