Freshfield to Southport

Well, 2020 has been a real “annus horriblus” so far. First the storms in February which more or less kept us indoors, no walks no gallery visits, no theatre, no cinema. And now, to top it all, the Corona virus. At the moment I’m stuck inside on a nice day, work in limbo, wondering how our small training and consultancy company is going to survive, and pondering whether I should go out for a walk while maintaining “social distancing”. Oh well, an opportunity to catch up with all sorts of things I’m behind on, reading, watching some films and TV, DIY (ugh!) and, of course, writing up some blog posts.

Walking during February was mainly restricted to local walks around the Plantations during any “weather windows” that occurred. Just 2 weeks ago I took a week off work, as our son was using up some holidays, intending to get out for some family days out. The weather was awful on the first couple of days but the Wednesday afternoon was looking reasonably promising in South West Lancashire so I decided to get out for a walk by the coast near Southport. The family declined to join me preferring to stay indoors.

I travelled over by train (on reflection that might not have been such a bright idea) over to Freshfields, which is at the northern end of Formby. Leaving the station, I followed the path that runs along the east side of the railway line. I was soon walking through some woodland.

I crossed over the railway line

and was soon crossing the golf course (watch out for flying golf balls!) towards the extensive pine forest on the sand dunes.

There’s a network of paths in the woods and although I had a rough idea of where I wanted to end up I decided to wander randomly, taking twists and turns as I fancied. There were a few other people walking through the woods and several cyclists riding solo or in groups.

Eventually I came out of the woods and started following the path through the dunes in the direction of Ainsdale.

That was a bit of a mistake. Expecting relatively easy going I’d come out in my walking shoes rather than my boots and I started to encounter lengthy sections of the path which were flooded, too deep to consider wading through.

and most of the sections didn’t have conveniently placed (if rather wobbly!) stepping stones to cross on. I persevered, finding ways around the worst of the flooding and boggy areas and I eventually crossed over the dunes on to the beach at Ainsdale.

The sun was shining and the sky was blue but there was a strong southerly wind whipping across the beach so although I’d originally intended to walk back along the beach to Freshfields I decided I’d carry on in the direction of Southport. A little longer but, I thought, it would be easier going with the wind behind me.

The going wasn’t as easy as I thought

and eventually I reached an impasse where a wide channel of fast running water blocked my way. I had to retreated turning back along the beach walking into a strong head wind.

After about 20 minutes, when I was half way back to Ainsdale, there was a path into the dunes which headed in the direction of Southport. I set off through the dunes, thinking I’d either divert off to catch the train at Birkdale or, if I felt up to it, carry on to Southport.

Walking was reasonably easy on a good path sheltered from the wind, but I could see dark clouds looming out at sea which seemed to be rapidly approaching, driven by the strong wind. No worries – I had a waterproof coat in my rucksack.

I carried on, deciding to continue past Birkdale and on to Southport. It’s somewhere with a lot of memories for me as we had regular days out there when I was a child. My fathers parents both came from the Victorian sea-side town and we had family there, including great grandparents, who we used to visit. I think another reason for visiting Southport, through, was that it had fewer costly attractions than the brasher Blackpool further up the coast!

As I got closer to the town I was amazed just how much of what had been a sandy beach had silted up and had turned into salt marsh.

Reaching the outskirts of town I passed Pleasureland, looking rather sad and forlorn being closed for the winter

but then reached the Marine Lake.

Southport was always famous for the sea being a long way out, so the Marine Lake was created to compensate for this and give visitors a chance to promenade alongside the water, so that’s what I decided to do!

I walked along the lake as far as the pier, and took the steps up on to the deck. The wind was still blowing so I decided against walking down to the end (the tide was way out, anyway) and set off towards the Prom, but I took a shot down the pier

Reaching the prom I took some shots of a couple of the sculptures held up high on top of long poles.

(Southport used to be famous for it’s shrimps. I used to pester my parents to buy a cone of them during our days out there when I was young!)

Facing the end of the pier is Nevill Street, where my great grandparents used to live in a flat with a view towards the pier, upstairs in this building

I remember looking out past the statue of Queen Victoria which used to be in the very centre of the road – they’ve moved her over to one side now

At the end of Nevill Street is Lord Street, a long boulevard which some people believe inspired Napoleon III to create the boulevards of Paris (he was exiled there for a while living in lodgings just off Lord Street). I stopped to take a look at the War Memorial. My Great Grandfather’s name is inscribed on it, along with many others. (My great grandmother remarried after the war so the Nevill street great grandfather was my grandad’s step father)

It was starting to go dark now and finally beginning to rain, but it was only a short walk around the block to the train station.

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!