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17 September 2014
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Formby coastal walk

Coastal wild walk

Freshfiled sign

Formby Beach and Pinewoods are a popular tourist spot both for holidaymakers looking for summertime fun and for wildlife-watchers, thanks to a beautiful stretch of coastline which is as easy on the eye as it is an ideal natural habitat.

Formby - nationally important nature spotting

This walk takes a circular route comprising woodland and coastline, beginning at Freshfield Station, taking you through the famous Red Squirrel reserve and along to the sand dunes.

A walk along the beach takes you via Mad Wharf to Formby Point, where you then cross back over the dunes and head back via grassland path to the man-made lake and Wicks Woods, ending on Kirklake Road which leads to Formby station.

Distance: Two-three miles
Time: One and a half to two hours

Top tips

Moth* Visitors are advised to pick up a map of the various footpaths from the Warden's Office.

* Birdwatchers will benefit from bringing binoculars to watch rooks and tits in the high branches of the pinewoods.

* Some useful items to bring - a camera, wet wipes (to clean your feet of sand), and sun protection cream/sunglasses on hot days.

Start - Freshfield Station

Take the Merseyrail Northern Line to Freshfield Station. Turn right off the platform and walk down Victoria Road towards the squirrel reserve.


Red SquirrelAlthough the National Trust Red Squirrel Reserve is a popular tourist attraction, the walk does not include a tour of the squirrel walk as a feature.

Visitors who wish to do so may enjoy a brief detour at this point to watch the comical Red Squirrels scurrying from tree to tree - nuts for feeding the squirrels are available at a small cost from the Warden's Office.

To continue on the walk, return to the main pass and walk straight ahead towards the beach car park, where you will see the sand dunes and a glimpse of the Irish Sea.

ACTIVITY: Squirrel spotting

Red SquirrelThe Red Squirrel reserve is the perfect spot for wildlife watching as the squirrels are quite used to humans and will come much closer to you than most wild animals.

Take a camera for some great photos - here are our top tips:

* Crouch as low on the ground as possible and stay still and quiet.

* Rest your elbows on a static object, for example a rock, to keep your gaze steady.

* If possible, avoid using the flash which may startle the squirrel or cause your pictures to come out red-eyed.

* Don't waste shots in motion - wait until the squirrel settles momentarily and then snap several pictures, which will help you capture a more interesting pose, for example nibbling on a nut.

* Remember - wildlife comes first - if you appear to be distressing the animal or causing it to miss out on food, move away and find another subject.


DunesThe main pathway to the beach leads you to the main stretch of Formby's famous sand dunes, which are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to their geological significance.

The dunes, overlooking the Irish Sea, provide great views extending as far as the fells of South Cumbria and the Lake District, or even Blackpool Tower, depending on visibility and which direction you look in.

This sandy habitat, widely populated with marram grass and sand lizards, is home to a wide array of insects as well as the famous natterjack toads, which are best seen at dusk when they can be located by their loud call.


CrabOn crossing the dunes you will see a wide stretch of beach open up in front of you.

This area of Formby Beach is called Mad Wharf, and leads southwards towards Formby Point, where the walk continues..

When the tide is out, visitors can collect shells and spot small crabs and jellyfish washed ashore.

Numerous clusters of fish eggs also wash up on the sand, providing rich pickings for a host of marine birds including Knots, Gulls, Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Sanderlings and Dunlins.

History fans will also be interested to know that Formby Beach has long been considered an important archaeological site, with ancient footprints baked into the mud underneath the sand.

These are believed to date from when the Vikings invaded Formby, originally called "Fornebei" - meaning "village belonging to Forni".

ACTIVITY: Beach debris

Sand ripplesAside from collecting shells and making sandcastles, there are plenty of other fun and interesting activities to do on the beach.

Looking for beach debris, such as interesting items washed up on the shore, is a good way to find out about the day-to-day life of a particular coastline.

* When the tide is receding, walk out towards the wet sand, which is more compact and easier to walk on.

* Look out for rippled patterns in the sand, left by waves when the tide came in, and try to spot small wormholes and lugworm trails.

* Common items to wash ashore are dried-up mermaid's purses (small leathery cases containing the eggs of a small shark called the lesser-spotted dogfish), as well as clusters of fish eggs, small jellyfish and miniature crabs.

* These are very interesting to look at but should not be touched for fear of bite or sting.


Formby PointWalking South along the beach brings you to Formby Point, the westernmost part of the Sefton coastline.

Exit the beach at this point when you see a small wooden boardwalk, signposted with a yellow beach marker, which leads you over the dunes and onto a partially-covered wooden pathway down to Kirklake Path.


PoppiesKirklake Path, marked by wooden posts with a green band, cuts through acres of open grassland, widely populated with many different heathers and flowering shrubs.

Follow the gravel path, winding along to the right through the shrubs, until you reach the Lifeboat Road car park and noticeboard, displaying the various species of plants and flowers which grow in the area.

Cut through the car park, steering right towards the red and green signpost, which leads to a tree-lined gravel path.

Natterjack habitatAt this point you can take a brief stop to look at a typical Natterjack Toad habitat, just over the sandy mound down to a small area of marshy bog where the rare toads breed before crawling out and heading towards the dunes.


SculptureOn taking the path, look up and to your right as you walk to see an unusual statue, carved from local wood.

This particular path is bordered with bramble bushes and nettles, an ideal landing place for moths and butterflies but watch your legs!

When the path splits into a fork, veer to the left until you reach a walkway leading over a small stream where small newts and pond insects can be seen.

The next marker to look for is marked with a red and green band and a white R - at this point veer left onto a woodchip path through the fields.

Continue straight ahead until you reach the man-made lake.


Man-made lakeThe man-made lake is a picturesque haven for birds, fish and amphibians among the reeds and shaded by the surrounding trees.

The lake is divided into two sections by a small bridge, providing an ideal viewpoint to watch the many birds which congregate there.

From Mallards to Moor Hens and even the occasional Swan, the lake is a safe haven for birds all year round and you can even spot small frogs and frogspawn in the water and on the banks, depending on what time of year you decide to visit.

Walk around the wooden pathway to enjoy views from every angle, before taking the sloping steps up towards the woods and turning left past the picnic area to continue the walk.


PinesAt the top of the hill by the lake are Wicks Woods, bordering onto the Ravenmeols Nature Reserve and the Lifeboat Road area.

Like the rest of the pinewoods, this area consists of mainly Scotch and Corsican Pine, many up to 100 years old dating from when the woods were first planted.

Aside from the famous Red Squirrels, other creatures which can be found in the pinewoods include Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Yellowhammers and even Foxes.

Walk through the woods in a south-westerly direction towards a green wooden marker until you join the main gravel path and continue towards the exit gate to Kirklake Road, which leads straight along and up the hill to Formby station.

If in doubt or if the marker is not clearly visible (it can be quite difficult to spot through the trees), you will also see a small field off to your left.

This area is divided by a small pathway providing an alternative pathway to the Kirklake Road exit, which is marked by a sign which reads "Gateway to the Mersey Forest".

Please note: visitors who wish to drive to the site should park at the squirrel reserve and can to return to this point at the end of the walk by turning right at the top of the man-made lake and following the fenced path to a gated exit at Wicks Lane.

Turn left onto Larkhill Lane and walk alongside the field until you reach Victoria Road. Turn left here to return to the squirrel reserve.

Consumer information

Health and Safety

Safety signThere are several health and safety tips which visitors should be aware of during the walk:

* Formby beach is currently an unsupervised area - swimmers should be aware of strong currents and beach debris, either in the water or underfoot.

* Comfortable shoes are recommended as the walk covers multiple terrains.

* You may need to bring a change of shoes, for example sturdy open-toed sandals, to walk down to the beach comfortably.

* Visitors are advised not to go barefoot as there may be stones and other sharp objects buried in the sand.

* Walkers crossing the dunes should stick to the main access points to the beach, as the dunes are shifting with time and can be unstable.

* Visitors should be aware of tide times before attempting to walk out to the sea, as the tide comes in very quickly and can leave people cut off.

* Always follow the Countryside Code - be safe and plan ahead, leave gates and other property as you find them, protect wildlife and take your litter home, keep dogs under control and consider other people.

When to go

MallardFormby Beach and Pinewoods is open all year round but as with any outdoor spot, there are better times to go than others.

Although many will be attracted to the site by hot weather, it's generally best to avoid peak periods such as the summer holidays, when the area is populated with hundreds of noisy children who might disturb any wildlife-watching opportunities.

Seasonal attractions aside, a general guideline is to visit the area in the morning or late afternoon, when it will be much quieter with less chance of wildlife being disturbed.


DunesRefreshments: Ice creams and cold drinks are available from ice cream vans situated around the site. Visitors are advised to take their own snacks.

There are several seating areas available along the route - at the squirrel reserve, beach car park(s) and man-made lake - as well as several benches along the marked pathways.

Parking: Parking is available at the Squirrel Reserve and beach car park, which is free to National Trust members and £3 for other visitors.

Part of the beach car park is closed at 5.30pm daily from March - October and at 4.00pm from November - December.

Access: This walk is only partly accessible for disabled visitors as suitable walkways and paths do not extend through the whole area.

Public and disabled toilets (open 9am - 5.30pm) are available opposite the main noticeboard at the entrance to the squirrel reserve.

A map of accessible routes is available on request from the warden's office.


Photos and walk design by Carolyn Garlick.



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