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Sefton Coast, Sunday February 23rd, Leader Frances Taylor

Reporter: Christine Fildes

Nine of us and Dolly met Francis in Crosby, near the Liverpool Coastguard Station, This station once helped to monitor shipping movements and marine safety throughout the Irish Sea - one of the busiest shipping areas in Europe. (Its closure last year caused great concern, the Holyhead Coastguard Station being reprieved).

From the car park was the incredible view of Antony Gormley's famous installation 'Another Place', - One hundred life-size naked cast iron figures (APPARENTLY OF HIMSELF)**!!** In the distance another new feature, tall wind turbines, harnessing the 'fresh breezes' of Liverpool Bay, and to the left, the dock skyline of Bootle and Seaforth. This shipping lane to and from Liverpool's docks was continuously busy with tankers, freighters and ferries.

The weather was mild for February but overcast, the sun eventually appeared as we set off along the road beyond the car park into the Hightown Dunes and Meadows. (These dunes are apparently protected by infill-tipping to prevent erosion). Dolly did a spot of exploring for a short while but eventually returned! ..... then we continued along the Sefton Coastal Footpath passing through dunes, held together by sea buckthorn, creeping willow and tough grasses, eventually reaching Blundellsands Sailing Club. After following a path to the beach we reached a pre-historic submerged forest - where shrunken trunks and stumps of between 4,500–6,000 years old woodland are exposed low tide. Marker boards described the pre-historic creatures which once existed there, such as an ancient breed of cattle, red deer, roe deer, wolves and wild boar.

We then rejoined the Coastal Footpath through the dunes, eventually reaching the River Alt, which incidentally has the largest pumping station in Europe and prevents flooding of the Alt catchment area.

The dunes and sandbanks / salt marshes are rich in birdlife here and just past the breakwater where the River Alt reaches the sea, is an excellent place to watch for wading birds such as redshank, sandpipers, dunlin and knot; shellduck and wild geese also thrive there.

We detoured inland for a while to avoid the Altcar Training Camp & Rifle Range which was in action (firing and war games etc)!... we then rejoined the coastal path, passing Ravenmeols Sandhills Nature Reserve. This complex of sand-dunes, meadows and woodland is amongst the largest in England, now mostly protected as both a Local and a National Nature Reserve. We then walked along the sand to Formby Point. The strand line (high-tide mark) was strewn with: mussel and razor shells, starfish, mermaid's purses (dogfish and skate egg-cases) and whelk shells of various sizes. The smashed remains of countless other shells coloured the sand all shades. Salt and water-whitened driftwood added further interest, as did the deposits of coal!

Here apparently, on clear, sunny days the mountains of North Wales, far across Liverpool Bay, seem close enough to touch! The sand hills at Formby Point are impressive. Formby was the site of the first Lifeboat Station in Britain, built in 1776 and rebuilt in 1809 over the original site, the ruins can still be seen today. We climbed back inland over the sand hills passing the National Trust Nature Reserve at Freshfields. This is one of the best places in Great Britain to see, feed and photograph red squirrels. The Pine trees here were planted late 19th century to stabilise the dunes, also provide the red squirrels with ideal shelter. Furrowed grassland where asparagus was once grown can be seen in the Freshfield reserve, and it is still grown locally. We passed Cabin Hill National Nature Meadows, which is rich in wild flowers from early spring to mid-summer. In spring Natterjack Toads are frequently seen crossing the path when moving between ponds in the dunes.

We continued on through Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve which was created in 1965 to protect the habitat of the Red Squirrel, Natterjack Toad also the Sand Lizard. Dave and Vanessa left us at this point to catch an earlier train. We then took a detour through the pine woods, returning to the main path not far from RAF Woodvale. This airfield is used for pleasure & charter flights also flying lessons, and occasionally for police patrol car training exercises !!. The path was close to the railway line at this point, so we waved to Dave and Vanessa as their train sped by, but on reaching Ainsdale Station found they were still waiting on the platform...... We stopped for well earned 'tea & muffins' in Ainsdale Village, then said our goodbyes to Francis after thanking her for organising this interesting walk, then caught the train back to Crosby.

This is an ideal linear walk, never far from Mersey Rail connections, and the trains run frequently! For those who enjoy cycling The Trans Pennine Trail is in close proximity too.

I might even take my bike next time!

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