Saturday, May 18, 2013

Walk 325 -- Southport to Crosby

Ages:  Colin was 71 years and 10 days.  Rosemary was 68 years and 152 days.
Weather:  Grey and dull with a cold breeze.  Drizzle for several hours in the middle.
Location:  Southport to Crosby.
Distance:  16 miles.
Total distance:  3348 miles.
Terrain:  Mostly dunes, some grassy and some soft sand.  Nice woods.  A little road-walking on diversion.  Mostly flat, a little undulating in the dunes.
Tide:  Out, coming in.  Then going out later.
Rivers: No.401, River Alt.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  ‘Freshfield Hotel’ in Formby where Colin drank Peerless ‘Oatmeal Stout’, Timothy Taylor ‘Golden Best’ and Leeds ‘Yorkshire Gold’.  I drank Aspall’s Suffolk Cider.  (We did this the next day when the weather was much improved!)
‘English Heritage’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  No.70 where the footbridge over the River Alt was being ‘reconstructed’, so a long stretch of the footpath was closed.  This cost us one and a half miles in distance, more than half an hour in time, and the diversion was mainly on busy roads.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan near Southport.  This morning we drove to Crosby where we were able to park for free overlooking the beach where the ‘Iron Men’ are staring out to sea!  We walked inland to the nearest station where we caught a train to Birkdale.  From that station we walked down to the beach where we had finished the last Walk.
At the end we came to the car at the beach car park in Crosby.  We had our tea and biscuits, then drove back to our caravan.
The next day the weather was much improved.  In the morning we wandered around in Formby Woods looking in vain for red squirrels.  The following day we towed our caravan home to Malvern.

About Southport, before we leave it.  Lord Street, the main thoroughfare in the town, is a pleasant wide boulevard.  We came across a plaque put up by the local Civic Society, which told us: 
‘The exiled Prince Louis Napoleon lived in Southport in 1838 and admired the long straight wide tree-lined Lord Street.  Later he remembered Lord Street’s elegance when he returned to France as Emperor, and he transformed Paris with it’s now famous boulevards.” 
He became Napoleon III, of course, and after a long and complicated political history he was exiled to Britain again, a sick and broken man, where he died in 1873.  I have a particular interest in his family because the only school I attended as a child, from the ages of five to seventeen, was Farnborough Hill in Hampshire, previously the home of his widow, the Empress Eugénie.  Next door she built St Michael’s Abbey as a mausoleum for her husband and their son who was killed in the Zulu Wars in South Africa.  She is also buried there in the crypt.  I used to worship there as a child, and loved to listen to the chanting of the monks.
Back to today’s Walk.  It was cold!  Cold!  Cold!  Isn’t it supposed to be Spring? 
Opposite the car park was a roundabout on which there was a sculpture of a horse pulling a shrimping cart.  This reflects the past history of the area.  The practice died out years ago, but there is talk of restoring an old cart which is housed in a redundant museum, attaching a horse and going shrimping in the traditional way “for fun”!
From the car park we followed a path between the dunes and the marsh.  The rare natterjack toad occurs on these marshes, there were notices about them here and there.  Colin found some tadpoles in a rutted pool, and we wondered if they were destined to grow into these scarce and beautiful amphibians.
We have only seen them once in the wild, on the west coast of Ireland.  All we saw here were snails.
We walked across a boardwalk to a further out path where we sat on a log to eat slices of quiche.  We put on our overtrousers because it started to drizzle, then we carried on.  We met a couple with an Alsatian which had a plastic bucket firmly clasped between its teeth — they called him their “bucket-loving dog”.  Colin stopped for a chat about the canine, and after we left them we met no one else until we got to Ainsdale.
The going got a bit squidgy at times, but it wasn’t too bad.  We couldn’t get back across the swamp to the original path which was nearer the shore, but our path improved so we stopped trying.  We crossed a rivulet on a plank bridge, and after that the path got easier.  We could see a round building from a long way off, and made towards that.  Out to sea we could just make out a structure that looked like an oil-drilling platform — in the Irish Sea? 
Ahead we began to see people on the beach, and horses, despite the wind and the rain — and the cold.  We reached Ainsdale at last, and came up the road past a large building with blacked-out windows.
We wondered if it was an ex-hotel — it looked a bit spooky.  We used the temporary toilets, the old ones were being modernised.  At least they were open!  We passed Pontin’s Holiday Camp — it looked very busy in there.  But it was miserable outside.  We came to another roundabout where there was a sculpture, this time of an aeroplane with propellers.
From there we followed a tarmacked cycleway — at least that was our intention until Colin discovered an adjacent path amongst the trees.  We didn’t think it was an official footpath, but when we came to a particularly muddy stretch there were boardwalks for us to tread on.  This path was lovely while it wound through the woods, but it came out into dunes where we were surprised to find three narcissus in flower.  After that it was very up and down with soft sand which was really too much for our ancient legs.  So we gave it up and returned to the cycleway which was lined with bluebells.
Just before we got to the railway, we crossed a busy road and entered Formby Woods.  (We were a mere half-mile from our caravan site at this point.)  These woods are famous for their red squirrels which have managed to hang on here — but we didn’t see any this miserable day.  (Nor the next day when it was much warmer and brighter, and we ‘lost’ ourselves amongst the trees sitting quietly in the hopes they would come out.  They didn’t.)  We sat on a bank under pine trees to eat our sarnies.  The drizzle didn’t reach us there, but the midges did!
We didn’t tarry.  We carried on through the wood — it would have been a lovely walk if the weather hadn’t been so foul.  We tried to follow the yellow arrows all the way because we wanted to walk the official way-marked coast path.  We reached the trail leading out towards the shore, and turned off correctly.  It was nice when we were walking under the trees, but the yellow arrows led us out on to the dunes.
There, without the shelter of the woods, the drizzle became more intense.  The path was very up and down, the sand was too soft to walk in and the wind was cold!
We came to the beach and there was a group of young people, in all that awful weather, having some kind of a party.  They had lit a fire, and there were numerous beer cans strewn about.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if drugs weren’t in use because they looked at us as if we had dropped from another planet.  We were obviously not at all welcome.  All in all, we were really glad to get back amongst the trees.
But…..we couldn’t see any more yellow arrows.  We looked at the OS map, and realised we were the wrong side of a caravan park which we could see beyond the brambles.  We got out a compass, and saw that we were walking north when we should have been walking south.  There was no two ways about it — we were lost!  So we retraced our steps (hate doing that) back to the ‘party’ on the beach — their fire was almost out and the youngsters were standing about miserably in small groups.  So we ignored them, and turned off into the woods a different way.  And there we found the yellow arrows again, we happened upon them by chance.
We came to a picnic area where there was a carving of a bird on a dead tree stump.  We stopped to eat our apples, and to take a silly photo of us pointing in different directions.  We continued, and eventually emerged on to the road to a National Trust car park (where it cost a £5 flat fee to park your car).  We went out into the open looking for the continuation of the path to the south, it was wet and cold out there.  We had difficulty finding the way on, it was different to the OS map, or perhaps we were just too cold to read it properly.  But we found the path in the end — there was a notice about a permit which we ignored.
Back in the dunes, we immediately got lost again!  Dunes can be so confusing because they all look the same and walking is tricky with the soft sand and deeply undulating terrain.  We didn’t know which way to turn, but came across a yellow arrow again where we were least expecting it.  (It seemed to be hidden away as if to trick us.)  We went wrong twice more because of the lack of yellow arrows, but then we happened upon a decent path going southwards so we put on a pace.  It was a pity about the rain and cold.  (Is it really Spring?)
Our OS map said the Coastal Way turns inland before Lifeboat Road, but in reality it didn’t.  There was a huge car park at the end of the road which cost £4.50 to enter in a car, but there was no one collecting money on this wet and cold Saturday afternoon in May.  We walked the length of Lifeboat Road, then turned right along a private road which was a bit potholey.  We followed this past houses and a school, then it turned into a track but was still good walking.  The drizzle actually stopped, but it remained cold and grey.
We reached a military range where we could hear them shooting.  We had to turn almost back on ourselves, north-east, in order to get round it.  We reached the point where the path turned south again only to find that our way was barred by security fencing.  A notice told us that the footbridge over the River Alt was being “reconstructed” and therefore there was “no through route for pedestrians”.  We were that tired and cold by then, we both swore loudly!  We studied the map and worked out that the diversion added one and a half miles to our Walk, and involved walking alongside busy roads.  If we’d been told earlier we could have taken a more diagonal route through Formby village and saved a lot of that extra mileage.
Another notice behind the fence claimed it was MOD land so “Keep Out”, but according to our OS map we were well past the firing range so we didn’t understand why that notice was there.  We were both quite angry that the coastal path was blocked in such a way, it’s no encouragement for people to go out walking.  We could have squeezed through a gap in the fencing, and Colin was all for doing this and going on to see if the bridge was really impossible to cross.  I was against it for two reasons — I didn’t want to have to retrace my steps for the second time today, and even if we did manage to clamber across a broken bridge we might well have to walk a good mile before we reached the security fencing at the other end of the banned path.  If that was really secure and we couldn’t get through it, then our diversion would be an extra three and a half miles!  (I had studied the map carefully, Colin had only given it a cursory glance.)
As usual, Colin took some persuading, and he only calmed down on the discovery of a nest of duck’s eggs in the grass beside the path, which had become a cycleway by now.
We continued in a north-easterly direction, crossing the railway and on into housing estates.  Then we had to walk along a very busy B road that had an extremely narrow pavement which hardly kept us off the road.  At last we reached the main road where we were able to turn south and cross the river on the road bridge.  We were relieved to find there was a pavement behind a grass verge so we were well back from the traffic — just as well because it was fast, noisy and relentless.
We continued for another mile before we could turn off into the village of Hightown.  There we had to don our bright yellow waistcoats because the road into the village, though quieter, had no pavements and no verges even.  There was nowhere to go whenever a vehicle went by.  We crossed the railway on a high bridge.  We did consider using the seats on the station platform to sit down and eat our chocolate, but the station was down there, we were up here, and in the end we couldn’t be bothered.
We came to a roundabout on which there was a War Memorial.  A girl, talking on her mobile, was sitting on the one and only bench we came across.  But she got up and walked away as we approached, so we sat down and ate our chocolate.  All the while — about twenty minutes — the girl was pacing up and down a nearby pavement talking animatedly into her phone which she clutched to her ear.  How did we manage our lives before they had been invented? 
We continued until we reached the seafront.  We turned left — and there were the yellow arrows again!  We hadn’t seen any since the path that was barred to us.  We were the correct side of the River Alt, the correct side of the railway, and out to sea we could just make out a huge windfarm.  The river was beside us because it sticks to the coast for about one and a half miles. 
The path started off well, but before long we entered the dunes.  We hate dunes!  There were lots of ups and downs, soft sand and branching paths.  We followed the yellow arrows more by luck than by judgement.  Then we lost them!  We couldn’t believe that we had missed our way on this Walk again!  We didn’t know where we were, we just followed our noses and hoped they were taking us in the right direction.  It was not easy walking — dunes are not difficult to get lost in.  We considered walking along the beach, so we turned in that direction.  But it proved to be too squidgy and rocky, so we went back into the dunes.
However, by then the top had opened up and there was now a good clear path all the way to Crosby Beach.  We could see Liverpool ahead, and the mountains of Wales a little over to our right.  We watched a container ship go out from Liverpool.  We arrived in the car park at Crosby, where our car was waiting for us.

That ended Walk no.325, we shall pick up Walk no.326 on Crosby Beach.   It was eight o’clock, so the Walk had taken us nine hours.
While we were enjoying our tea and biscuits, we were looking at Anthony Gormley’s interesting sculpture “Another Place”.  It is a hundred life-size copies of his own naked body standing on the beach staring out to sea.  Some of them are high up on the shore, others were already in the water because the tide was coming in.
A large cruise ship came out of Liverpool and sailed away to warmer climes.  It was so close in to shore it didn’t look as if the water was deep enough!  We also got the impression, in our tiredness and relief at completing the Walk, that some of the metal figures were waving to the ship whilst trying to wade out to it shouting, “Wait for me!”
With these flights of fancy in mind — we drove back to our caravan between Southport and Formby.
The next day the weather was much improved.  In the morning we wandered around in Formby Woods looking in vain for red squirrels.  Then we went to the pub.  The following day we towed our caravan home to Malvern.

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