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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Walk 198 Southport to Formby (Lancs)

Walk 198 Southport to Formby (Lancs)

(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)

Map: L/R 108
Distance: 13 miles or 20km approx
Difficulty: Easy, flat although if the tide is in and you have to walk along the dunes it could be more challenging
Terrain: coastal path, sand and pavement.
Access: Parking in both places
Public transport: Trains run between Southport and Formby

Most of the coast is inaccessible between Freckleton, Preston and beyond so I started the walk at Southport. It is worthwhile having a look around Southport before venturing on to the coastal walk.

Southport was founded in 1792. When an innkeeper built a bathing house here in the 19th century it became popular with tourists due to its easy access from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. In 1886 the worst lifeboat disaster in history occurred near the town when 28 lifeboat crew were drowned attempting to help a cargo ship.

The elegant, tree lined Lord Street in Southport, with its landmark war memorial and shops, is of particular interest. Napoleon 3rd lived here before returning to France to become emperor in 1851. It is thought that the boulevards, covered walkways and shopping arcades in Paris were inspired by Lord Street.

Walk out of the town towards the Marine Lake going past the Queen Victoria Statue and on to the Marine Lake Promenade. A stroll northwards up this road past the casino is the old Southport Promenade Hospital, a grade 2 listed building of 1852. It is now luxury apartments but was an important military convalescent hospital during the world wars, then a specialist unit for spinal and orthopaedic injuries. It closed in 1990. On a lighter note, The Lakeside Inn, which was closed when I was there in 2013, claims to be the smallest pub in Britain with a bar of just 22 feet by 16 feet – I am not sure whether it still holds the record.

Cross the impressive Marine Lake Bridge and down the road to the pier. The lake opened in 1887 and is one of the largest man made leisure lakes in England.

A stroll just north of the pier gives a good view over the sands back to the River Ribble and Lytham. The pier, built in 1860, is a listed structure and starts a fair bit inland. It is the second longest pier in the UK after Southend and one of the first to be constructed using iron. Like most piers, it suffered a fire which caused it to be shortened. It was restored in the early 2000s after there were plans to demolish it. A tram runs from Southport Promenade to the end. This was originally installed to transport luggage from steam ships which stopped at the end of the pier.

The walk follows the road southwards and, providing the tide is out, there are 7 miles of golden sands to enjoy. The beach is popular with horse racing stables who use it for training; the three time Grand National Winner, Red Rum was often to be seen here. The sands have also been used for attempts at the land speed record.

Further down the promenade, look out for the structure which marks the end of the Trans Pennine Walking and Cycling Trail. It goes across the country finishing at Hornsea on the East Yorkshire coast. According to the information board much of it is surprisingly flat.

Continue the walk to Ainsdale on the Pennine Trail which runs parallel to the road. (It may be possible to walk along the dunes instead). On the roundabout at Ainsdale-on-Sea (Shore Road) there is a sculpture of an aircraft which commemorates ‘The Coronation Flight’ of May 1937. This was an important 24 hour transatlantic flight to New York by a twin engine monoplane which took off from the nearby sands. It became known as the Coronation Flight as the pilot was commissioned to transport newsreel coverage of the coronation of George V1. The nearby lake, which is part of the Sands Lake Nature Trail, is a good place to stop for a rest.

Near to the Velvet Trail (a circular walk) is access to the beach. I walked along the beach from here to Formby Point. Unusually, there are finger posts in the sand indicating paths inland. At Formby Point there is one marked into the town. Red squirrels live in the dunes. Christmas trees are donated to the National Trust and planted in the dunes to help prevent erosion of the sand dunes. The beach here is the location of the first lifeboat station in 1776. The last launch took place in 1916.

Further along the beach MOD notices warn of the dangerous rifle ranges. The noise of rifle fire gives fair warning!

Formby is a well off area with many Everton and Liverpool footballers choosing to live here. The ukulele player and comedian George Formby adopted the name of the town while waiting for a train.

Photos show: a view along Southport Pier with tram tracks; the marker at Southport Beach for the end of the Trans Pennine Walking and Cycling Trail; aircraft sculpture at Ainsdale; path signpost on the beach walk to Formby Point.

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