Wildlife and sand at Formby Point
The effort is minimal and the rewards are great on this exhilarating walk through an area of great significance for wildlife.
It has to be said that most of the Cheshire and Lancashire coast is fairly urbanised. And as you approach through the town of Formby there's little to suggest that here will be any different. It has become a place to retire to and a commuter suburb of Liverpool. This makes Formby Point all the more remarkable.
Tall, shady pine woods form your first impression. They may appear ancient but were planted a little over 100 years ago to help stabilise the sand dunes. No one at the time could have suspected that they would become such an important haven for red squirrels. Despite a disastrous attack of squirrel pox in 2007 and 2008, the population is recovering and appears to have developed a degree of immunity. So go quietly through the pine woods and you stand a good chance of spotting one.
The dark peaty soils that occur inland of the dunes produce a variety of crops, but a particular local speciality is asparagus. It is still grown in some of the fields that border the reserve early in the walk. On the way out towards the shore you pass a lake, natural in origin, where swans, ducks, coots and moorhens breed.
Miles of dunes
The sand dunes at Formby form the largest dune system in England and are a precious but vulnerable habitat for wildlife. Rough-edged marram grass and skeletal recycled Christmas trees help stabilise the line of dunes immediately behind the beach, but spring tides and high winds can still change their shape in a matter of hours. The feet of visitors also erode the fragile dunes. The beach itself is littered with patches of shell debris. Under the sand there are many invertebrates which attract wading birds. One of the easiest to recognise is the oystercatcher, which is black and white apart from its bright orange eyes, beak and legs. Many other waders and gulls may also be sighted.
As you walk along the beach, you will see darker layers exposed by the retreating tide. These sediments were formed around 4,000 years ago, when the shape of the coast was somewhat different. In places they have been found to preserve the tracks of animals and birds, so that we know, for instance, that oystercatchers were plentiful then too. Human footprints have also been found. These suggest that people hunted and fished here, but the most evocative report is of a medley of small prints suggesting children at play.
A haven for wildlife
From the end of the beach you wind through the sand hills again, past pools where natterjack toads – one of Britain's rarest animals – breed. Two other rarities that are also found here are great crested newts, around the pools, and sand lizards, in the drier areas.
Head back up the main drive. Turn right opposite the toilet block, passing left of an information board on a path signed 'Squirrel Walk'. Go left at a junction and follow the ongoing path that curves right through the woods. Ignore all side and crossing paths, eventually emerging onto Blundell Avenue. Cross to a fainter path opposite and wind with the main path to a more open area. Bear left and keep left, curving past an asparagus field, glimpsed through the trees to the left. The path then rises to a bench overlooking a bowl of hummocky sand hills. Head across, aiming to pass left of a stand of pine trees on the sandy ridge ahead. The path then dips beside the nature reserve boundary to a meet a crossing path at the edge of houses.
Go right, soon reaching a fork. Bear right down steps and ahead past a couple of reed-filled pools. Over a crossing path, the way is signed to the beach. Approaching the dunes, curve left below them, eventually reaching a broad crossing path. To the right, it leads through a gap to the beach.
Walk away to the right for almost 1.5 miles (2.4km) below the dunes, passing occasional markers indicating inland paths. You are looking for the Gypsy Path (SD 275089), but winter storms can remove the markers and change the look of the sand hills. If you reach the outflow of a stream washing onto the sand, you are about 250yds (229m) too far north.
Turn in through a narrow gap breaking the dunes to a waymarked crossing path. Keep ahead passing one of the fenced natterjack toad ponds. Bear right beyond, heading towards the pines. Intercepting a broad path, follow it right between the trees. Keep to the main winding trail, which soon passes behind a small caravan park, seen on your right. Reaching a junction by a set of large wooden chimes go left. Again, stick to the main path, which eventually returns you to the main drive. The toilets are to the left and the car park down to the right.
Well-worn paths through woods and sand dunes, plus long stretch of beach
Pine forest, sand dunes and a vast sweep of beach
On lead in nature reserve, but can run free on beach
OS Explorer 285 Southport & Chorley
National Trust pay parking
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
A metropolitan county on the River Mersey, with Liverpool as its administrative centre, Merseyside incorporates the towns of Bootle, Birkenhead, St Helena, Wallasey, and Southport. In the 19th century, Liverpool was England’s second greatest port, and the area has been affected by urban deprivation and unemployment.
When the port of Chester silted up in medieval times, Liverpool took up the slack. The first dock was built in 1715 and the port came to prominence with the slave trade. Following abolition, the port grew to a seven-mile stretch of docks, busy with cargoes of cotton, tobacco and sugar and the huge wave of emigration from Europe to the New World in the 19th and 20th centuries. In its turn, immigration brought an influx of people to Merseyside to join its expanding population, including many from Ireland fleeing the potato famines. In the second half of the 20th century, accessible air travel brought an end to the era of the ocean-going liners. Meanwhile, trade with Europe was picked up by the southeastern ports. Merseyside’s population dwindled, but it remains one of Britain’s most vibrant and interesting areas.