Getting lost in Formby
Twelve miles north of Liverpool, Formby is a town with a beautiful coastline. Wide sandy beaches are backed by windswept sand dunes that shelter pinewoods, home to the rare red squirrel. I recently took a bracing winter walk in this National Trust protected area.
The thing that always surprises me about Formby is that no matter how busy the car park is, as soon as you get onto the beach or onto a trail into the woods, everything becomes peaceful. Despite only being a short journey from the city of Liverpool, this coastal swathe of nature is surprisingly serene. So much so, that in the pinewoods reserve I managed to get completely and utterly lost. I never thought it would even be possible to get lost on the coast. Not properly lost anyway. I’m not talking about not being able to find your spot on the beach because of vast hordes of sun worshippers all looking the same. I’m talking about literally not knowing which direction is the way back to the car park which is going to be locked in half an hours time when you’re at least half an hours walk away.
It all started with a geocache. For those of you that don’t know, geocaching is a treasure hunt for a small container whose co-ordinates are listed online. Using the GPS on my phone we had left the safety of the open beach and headed across the sand dunes on the search for a geocache. We started on an official trail. Being early January the piles of Christmas trees that are used to stabilise the sand dunes serve as an excellent reminder to stick to the path. Excessive trampling is killing off the Marram grass which means the wind can just blow the sand off and flatten the dunes. However, we lost the official trail as our footpath petered out in the woods and we ended up having to skirt a large fenced area. As the trees grew thicker my GPS signal grew weaker, sending us in circles. My formerly enthusiastic marching of my family in the correct direction, turned into a farcical, “It’s this way,” *turn 180 degrees* “Or maybe this way…”
All thoughts of keeping an eye out for the rare native red squirrel were forgotten. The deadly squirrel pox virus wiped out 80% of the local population in 2008, leaving possibly as few as 20 red squirrels in Formby. The good news is that numbers are on the rise again, so if you do look out for them you have a good chance of spotting one. The hunt for the geocache was put on hold as it was decided that getting back to the car before we were locked in the car park was more important. The woods obscured our view to the sand dunes and sea which would have been an obvious clue to which direction we needed to walk. Somebody mentioned how 12 years ago I managed to direct the family to the wrong side of Wales. I was unceremoniously stripped of my role as route decider.
I guess all the panic served us right for leaving the footpath. So the moral of the story is, if you visit Formby do not leave the footpath. You’ll destroy the sand dunes, probably get completely and utterly lost, and forget to look out for red squirrels.
In case you were wondering we just about made it back to the car before the gate was closed. Phew!