11 September 2014

England: Formby Sands and Southport

This was a truly wonderful day that included a visit to an artisans’ market at a lavender farm, rare red squirrel spotting in the forests behind Formby Sands followed by a long walk along that glorious long sandy beach, topped off by a walk along lovely Lord Street, the esplanade and England’s second longest pier at Southport.

Sarah drove, I navigated – most of the time successfully! Up the M6, along the A580, for a visit to Inglenook Lavender Farm. By chance there was an artisan’s market on so we checked out the stalls – there was nothing of great interest, though I was very impressed with the chainsaw sculptures and and we did get ourselves some yummy lunch for a picnic later.

There was only one small field of lavender, which was a little disappointing – I was expecting fields and fields, great expanses of the stuff. Sarah thought it was because they’d already harvested the lavender but there didn’t seem to be anything in the surrounding fields. Still, there were some guinea fowl and some very cute black-faced sheep mooching around in that one lavender field, which made for a few good photos. I actually took lots of photos but failed to get a single one in really sharp focus, so I was annoyed at myself for that. I think my eyes are the problem – wearing distance lenses and trying to focus on a close subject. That’s my excuse anyway!

Onwards, along more country lanes lined with fertile fields planted with various crops and edged and dotted with interesting-looking old farmhouses and barns. We picked up drinks and chocolate muffins at a Tesco supermarket, then eventually found ourselves at Formby, home to the wealthy footballers who play for Manchester United and Liverpool. I’m sure a few of them sped impatiently past us in their flash cars as we drove more sedately through the streets full of their large, expensive houses.

Head past those streets and you’ll come to an area of extensive pine woodlands, towering sand dunes and the Formby Sands, a long and exceedingly beautiful stretch of coastline that borders the Irish Sea. We ate our picnic lunch, then strolled through the woodlands, hoping to spot one of the small population of red squirrels that lives amongst the trees. The reds used to be the only squirrel species in the UK, until the brash American greys were introduced in the late 1800s – not only do they digest acorns better, they also brought the pox virus with them, which decimated the local red population. Luckily, the reds are making a comeback in this haven at Formby and, even more luckily, we managed to spot a couple. They move fast though, so my photos aren’t very sharp.

We then headed across the dunes and down to the beach for a bracing walk in the stiff breeze. It is a popular place for family picnics, long beach strolls, walking the dog or riding a horse, flying kites and wakeboarding, or trying to locate the prehistoric animal and human footprints that can sometimes be found in the silt beds along the shoreline. We didn’t find any of those, but did spot plenty of black-headed gulls and washed-up jellyfish, marvelled at the large array of wind turbines sited out to sea, and could just make out the tower and the huge rollercoaster across the shimmering water at Blackpool.

Our last stop of the day was Southport, a seaside town that was particularly popular around the turn of the 19th century. Its architecture reflects those halcyon days, with several interesting buildings dotting the Esplanade and even more along the main road, Lord Street. There are some grand sculptural features, including carved heads and classical columns, wrought iron verandahs cover the footpaths, and, in the summer months, gorgeous flowering baskets beautify the streets. Lord Street has a wide central strip with an impressive war memorial, bandstand, cafĂ©s and gardens – it’s all very grandiose for a relatively small city.

As well as being by the seaside, Stockport has a large seawater lake / lagoon that we walked around – seagulls and Canada geese competed for my camera’s attention, as did the big suspension bridge over the water. Southport also has the second-longest pier in England but we only got halfway along its 1112 metres as it closes at night – we had left that part of our wander till last, thinking to watch the sun set over the water.

Dinner that evening was fish and chips – so appropriate after a day at the seaside, and rather delicious it was too! And then we had a 45-minute drive home, an extremely quiet trip along the M6 as most people were glued to their televisions, watching the World Cup final.

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