A walk from Formby to Ainsdale

The Wednesday of my week off work was looking promising for a walk but where to go? J’s foot was still swollen after twisting over her ankle in Conwy Castle, so this was to be a solo trip. I didn’t leave her unattended though, as our son was also off work. I decided to take the train to the coast for a half day walk along the beach and through the dunes from Freshfield station near Formby, which is between Liverpool and Southport.

People have been living around Formby for a long time. The suffix -by is derived from the Scandinavian byr meaning “homestead”, “settlement” or “village”, so like a number of towns and villages in Lancashire and north Cheshire, Formby was originally a Viking settlement.

From the station is was just under a mile to the Pine Forest and Red Squirrel Reserve, looked after by the National Trust.

Rather than head straight to the beach I took a path through the forest and wandered through the pines across to the asparagus fields.

No squirrels spotted, unfortunately.

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After cutting through the asparagus fields, taking a few moments to look at the information boards and the wooden sculptures dotted around the route, I took the path across the sand dunes

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over to the beach.

Formby beach is part of an extensive spread of golden sands, backed by an important dune system, which stretches all the way from Crosby (home to Antony Gormley’s iron men) to Southport.

The tides here often reveal prehistoric mud layers underneath the sand, some of which contain human and animal footprints from the late Mesolithic to the late Neolithic periods, approximately 8,000 – 5,000 years ago. I didn’t spot any during my walk, though, although I left plenty of footprints myself!

It was low tide when I arrived so it was quite a way to the sea.

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But I wanted to get my boots wet so made my way across the sands to the water’s edge.

Looking south I could see a ship sailing through the off shore wind farm at the mouth of the Mersey towards the docks at Liverpool

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Being half term there were other people about, mainly clustered near the National Trust car park, but other than that it was very quiet and I enjoyed the solitude. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife about but I spotted gulls (not surprisingly) a few Oystercatchers and Sanderlings pottering about on the sand, but too far away to catch on a photo.

I carried on heading north along the beach for a while, with the extensive sand dune system over to my right

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After a bout a mile I cut across towards the dunes and then doubled back along the beach towards the “Fisherman’s Path” which I joined and headed inland through the dunes into the Pine Forest.

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The sand hills between Formby and Ainsdale are a Nature Reserve but there are a number of way-marked paths and routes to follow. I’d planned a route that would take me through the woods to Ainsdale.

It’s a variable landscape with mature pines, areas of deciduous trees and grass covered dunes

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The Nature Reserve is rich in flora and wildlife, including the Natterjack Toad and Great Crested Newt. There’s also herds of cattle and sheep, introduced to control the undergrowth. I spotted some sheep, including some Herdwicks, natives of the Lake District brought south onto the dunes.

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I carried on meandering along the paths through the Nature Reserve

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until I emerged next to the Pontins Holiday Camp at Ainsdale. After a final look over the beach towards the Fylde coast across the Ribble estuary (I could just about make out Blackpool Tower)

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I headed inland and on to the road that took me towards Ainsdale village and the train station. After a short wait I was on the train to Southport where I was in good time for my connection back to Wigan.

It had been a cold, but sunny day and an enjoyable walk. I mustn’t leave it so long before I go back – I enjoy walking on the beach on a cold, clear, sunny day in the winter.

Arriving home I dug out a favourite book of mine Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach by the poet, Jean Sprackland who used to live in the area and enjoyed walking along the beach here, picking up flotsam and jetsam, including mermaid’s purses, lugworms, sea potatoes, messages in bottles, buried cars, beached whales, and a “perfect cup from a Cunard liner”. I didn’t find anything like that – perhaps I need to look more carefully next time!

North Bull Island

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At the end of my weekend in Wicklow I was booked on the afternoon ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. I had to check out ofthe campsite mid morning so had planned to drive over to Dublin, park around either Merrion or Fitzwilliam square and have a mooch and visit one of the galleries in thecity centre. It didn’t quite work out like that, though. Driving in there were signs regarding a half Marathon and when I arrived in the city centre found that both Merrion and Fitzwilliam squares were closed off as the starting and finishing points for the race. So I had to change my plans.

I reckoned that with the half Marathon on it would be busy in the centre and parking might be difficult. I also thought I could get tangled up in traffic and diversions when it was time to drive across the city to the port. So what to do? I decided to drive over the Liffey and then across to North Bull Island, a low lying, dune covered sand spit in Dublin Bay off the coast of the city’s north side which I see every time I sail in and out of the port. It was a sunny day so a good opportunity to visit the island and take a walk on the beach.

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The Island was created 200 years ago following the construction of the 1 kilometre-long North Bull Wall was constructed to prevent the port silting up. The surveying of the river prior to the building of the wall was done by a certain Catain Bligh of Bounty fame. Sand gradually accumulated behind the wall forming the island. Today it’s 5km long by 1km wide and it’s still growing. It’s important ecologically and has been designated as a National Bird Sanctuary, a biosphere reserve, a National Nature Reserve, a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive and a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive. That’s a lot of designations!

The island is easily accessible as it’s connected to the mainland by the Bull Bridge, a one-lane wooden road bridge at the southern (Clontarf/Dollymount) end, and by a causeway, approximately halfway along at Raheny. After cutting acoss the city centre, I drove along the front and then crossed over to the island via the causeway, parked up and wandered past the dunes to the sandy beach known as Dollymount Strand.

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The strong wind was in my face as I walked along the beach towards the Bull Wall, but there were plenty of other people out exercising and otherwise enjoying the sunshine. There are views out to sea and over to both Howth Head and the port.

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I could see right over Dublin Bay to the Wicklow Mountains. Completely free of cloud today. Typical!

It’s a popular spot for wind surfing and it seemed like a good day for it.

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As I walked along the beach I could see the Stena ferry I would be boarding later sailing in. I got some good shots of it as I reached the end of the wall just as it sailed past. Good timing!

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Although the sea was quite rough there were a number of bathers who’d taken the plunge. Rather them than me!

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I retraced my steps aling the beach and then back to my car. It was time to drive the short distance to the port ready to board the ferry back to Holyhead.

Porth Dafarch

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Several times of year, for my work related trips to Ireland, I dash down the A55 across Anglesey to board the ferry to Dublin at Holyhead. I never get the chance to see much of the island other than what I can see through the car windscreen. Holyhead isn’t a pretty place. It’s very much a working town without much work available, and that shows. Last week I was staying at Anglesey Outdoors, a campsite just outside Holyhead and it was something of a revaluation. After I’d checked in the campsite and settled into my Pod (I was “glamping”, I’m getting soft in my old age!)

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as it was a beautiful evening I decided to have a wander out to the coast, which was only a short distance away at Porth Dafarch. Arriving at the beach I had a wander along the cliffs. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Niwbwrch beach and Ynys Llanddwyn

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The weather got better and better as I drove across Anglesey towards Niwbwrch(Newborough in English. My objective was the sandy beach a work colleague had told me about. I’m not one for lying around on beaches, I soon get bored, but I was looking forward to a walk along the sand. I parked up about a mile from the beach in the car park by Llyn Rhos-ddu and set off through the dunes and beside the pine forest.

In the distance, beyond the dunes, the mountains of south Snowdonia and the LLyn Peninsula were silhouetted on the horizon. Snowdon, the Glyers and other northern peaks were still blanketed in cloud.

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Eventually I reached the beach – a wide expanse of sand with some shingle stretching across to Ynys Llanddwyn, also known as Ynys Y Bendigaid – “the Island of the Blessed”.

I walked along the beach, and as it was becoming quite hot under the blue sky and blazing sun , I stopped at the main car park for a short rest and to treat myself to an ice cream!

Then I carried on along the beach to Ynys Llanddwyn. In practice it’s more a peninsula than an island as it remains attached to the mainland except for during the highest tides.

Llanddwyn means “The church of St. Dwynwen“, named after the Welsh patron saint of lovers and there’s a ruined chapel and monument tot he Saint towards the end of the peninsula.

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Due to it’s position close to what was a busy shipping lane when slate was shipped from ports along the nearby coast, a beacon, called Tŵr Bach, was built at the tip of the island to provide guidance to ships heading for the Menai Straits. Another more modern lighthouse, Tŵr Mawr, modelled on the windmills of Anglesey, was built nearby in 1845. Cottages were also built nearby for the pilots who guided ships into the Strait.

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I was a little strapped for time as I had to get over to the campsite where I was staying for the next two nights, near Holyhead at the other end of the island. So I didn’t have time to explore properly. In retrospect I’d have been better parking up in the main carpark and avoided the long walk through the dunes and pine forest at the beginning and end of my walk. But hindsight is a marvellous thing.

So on reaching the monument it was time to turn round and retrace my steps. However, I was able to relish the stunning scenery and views as I walked.

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As I got closer to the end of my walk, approaching the car park and looking over the dunes I could see that the cloud had cleared from the northern mountains and Snowdon and the Glyders could be clearly seen in the distance

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