3. Formby to Southport

A long walk along an even longer beach. I get bored even though I’m in the most spectacular landscape, then end up feeling guilty about it!

The weather forecast for today was bright sunshine. Something seems to have gone wrong… it’s thick fog and 2 degrees Centigrade…IMG_6858You get days in the summer that start off misty, then the sun burns the mist away to reveal a beautiful sunny day. Maybe this will be like that? Maybe. Anyway, that was Manchester. By the time I get to Southport it’s lovely (apparently it stayed like that all day in Manc).

I park up the car, walk to the station and get a train to Formby. Then walk down to the coast, while getting slightly lost in the woods, I find myself at the point that I finished last time. Apparently, there are red squirrels living around here but I don’t get to see any. I’ve never seen a red squirrel.

I wonder why so many people hate grey squirrels so much. I guess it’s true that they have driven the red squirrels out of so many places, maybe almost to the edge of extinction, but it’s not their fault. They’re still beautiful, intelligent little animals, and I love them. Over the millennia new species come and go from these islands (including humans of course), so making a distinction between two species of squirrel seems a bit arbitrary to me. I’m sure I’d probably love a red squirrel just as much, but they don’t make an appearance, so I’ll just have to love them from afar.

This walk is longer that the last two. It’s all along the beach too, which could either make it easier (finding directions) or harder (sinking in the soft sand and mud), we’ll see.

The beach is actually really busy. It’s about midday and there are loads of dog walkers around. However, it’s low tide, and low tide around here means it’s getting on a mile walk to the sea, so it’s not at all crowded.IMG_6869I try to pick a path between the wet sand and the dry sand, so it’s firm to walk on without getting wet, The sun’s on my back and it’s actually getting hot, in mid-January, and I shed my woolly hat and gloves.

The dunes along here are really tall, maybe 40 feet or so. Some are like cliffs with sheer sides facing the sea, only held together by the grasses growing in them. They must recede a lot with every storm.

Although it’s beautiful weather, and the sea is lovely, the sky fantastic, the dunes amazing, I feel embarrassed to say I’m getting just a little bit bored. I’ve been walking along here for the best part of an hour and a half, and it’s all just a little bit….. samey. This is what the scenery looks like at this point….IMG_6907

The sun is still beating down, luckily from behind so it’s not in my eyes, but that does mean that nearly every photograph has my own shadow in it, unfortunately.

When you’re walking along a beach this big, it’s easy to get trapped in a cul-de-sac, surrounded by water. This happens to me several times, and each time I have to choose between double backing and leaping over the streams. Luckily none of them are too wide, and I only get a bit wet.IMG_6873Some of the streams have what look like large pebbles on their banks, but when you stand on them they turn out to be made of clay, sinking you into the water.IMG_6875Ah! Here’s something to break up the monotony, a metal fence going down the beach – no idea what that must be for – and a guy flying a kite. There’s very little wind but this four-string kite seems to doing quite well, until it suddenly falls from the sky and I have to duck under the strings to avoid getting tangled up in it. I’ve never seen a kite with four strings before. It’s pretty cool.

In the very far distance, I think I can see a white structure on the horizon. It’s just to the left of the guy in the black jacket in the picture below, you can hardly see it. I check my compass and OS map, and I reckon it might be Southport pier. That’s my first sighting of my end point for today.IMG_6885I find a completely whole shell, which you don’t see very often. And a sponge (at least I think it’s a sponge). There’s lots of them on the beach. (Actually, I think in hindsight it’s a type of seaweed, but I’m still not totally sure).

Turns out it’s a whelk egg case

In the distance there’s a tractor down in the water. Apparently, they catch shrimps around here.IMG_6915Ah! Wow! Here’s something more interesting…. a tree on the beach!IMG_6921OK, it wasn’t that exciting, but it lifted me for a few minutes. At this point I’m between car parks, and there is absolutely no one anywhere in sight. For such a popular place it’s quite eery, being all alone. I take a panoramic picture.IMG_6911After 6 or 7 miles walking, the beach starts to become more grassy and intermittently marshy, and I head inland a little to try to keep dry. 

Spread across the grass are thousand of empty conch shells. I can only guess that they got washed up here by a high tide, more easily than the much more common razor shells further down the beach. It’s strange to see shells on the grass like this.IMG_6932The problem of plastic pollution in the sea is getting critical and is gradually getting more and more public attention. Dotted around the grasslands here are big piles of plastic rubbish that has been washed up. I come across a huge pile of orange baler twine, and wonder just how that got there like that. Was it dumped, or washed up?IMG_6931I’m starting to get a bit concerned whether I’ll be able to get much further without getting my feet wet, when I come across a defined path in the grass, and follow it inland. Someone has kindly created little wooden bridges to get across some small streams. 

However, they lead me right into the middle of a deep marsh, surrounded by tall bull rushes, and I sink down up to my ankles trying to pick a dry path across it. Oh well, I’ve only got a couple of miles to go.

Even though it feels really warm now, I pass a pond where there is still ice on the surface. The sun on my back makes so much difference.IMG_6947Now I’m on a properly defined path, that eventually is joined by the road. We hear a lot about coastal erosion, particularly on the east coast, but the opposite effect is happening here on the west coast – the land is reclaiming itself from the sea. The sea wall here sits proudly at the top of a meadow several hundred metres from the high tide mark. I climb up onto the sea wall to get a better view and to keep dry. 

I finally reach Southport pier, and the smell of freshly cooked doughnuts fills the air. I don’t really like them that much, but they do smell fantastic today. I climb up the steps and start the quite long walk to the end of the pier, which seems to go on forever. It becomes the first entry in my collection of piers.

I think there are about 40 piers still open around the coast, and this is my first one. I intend to walk to the end of each one.

This walk was completed on Jan 19th 2020. It was about 9.9 miles long. Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…

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