Ski Club of Manchester Winter Walk, Sunday 11th February 2018

Leader: Frances Taylor

Reporter: Helen Richardson

Forecast for snow and ice across northwest England, coinciding with Frances’ scheduled Slaidburn walk, led to a change of walk location. This was to avoid access difficulties on Slaidburn’s steep and narrow roads, and, particularly, the potential for being unable to drive back after the walk! Instead, we met at Frances’ house near Formby, where we could walk ‘from the door’. Ten of us set off in cold, blustery conditions, accompanied by Chris Fildes’ dog, Fozzie (though not Freddy, who was recovering from surgery). It was good to see three ‘new’ (to ski club walks) faces among us. Within a few minutes, we reached Ainsdale Sands, where we walked southwards along the beach. To our left, were dunes as far as the eye could see, - in some places topped with recycled Christmas trees, ‘dug-in’ to help stabilise the dunes. To our right, the tide was well on its way out, but line upon line of white-topped rollers far down the windswept beach told their own tale of strong on-shore westerly winds. As we walked, we enjoyed watching several seemingly intrepid kitesurfers, visible as tiny figures below their colourful ‘kites’ high in the air, scudding back and forth between the crests of steep-sided waves pounding the beach.

We continued along the shore, chatting and enjoying the bracing fresh air. Along the way, we looked out for traces of prehistoric footprints. These human and animals’ (some extinct) footprints surface or become hidden from time to time, as sand either covers, or is stripped from, the ancient mud where they walked about 4000 years ago. At Formby Hills, we took a path away from the beach to a National Trust Car park, where Notice Boards warned of the toxicity to dogs of (congealed) palm oil, which looks like harmless bluish amorphous stones washed up on the beach. Nearby picnic tables gave an opportunity for an early lunch, sheltered from the wind. There, we were lucky enough to spot red squirrels, - possibly brought in from the breeding programme in Warrington. These red squirrels were a beautiful deep russet-red, darker than any I remember seeing in the past. Frances explained that the area is free from the threat of grey squirrels, as they cannot cross the open ‘Lancashire Moss’ – due to insufficient tree coverage for a squirrel route. Long may this last!!

After lunch, we headed east and north through the woodland, enjoying the soft tread of pine needles on the paths beneath our boots. A discrepancy between paths on the map and on the ground, - some apparently obliterated by sand inundation, others by tree felling, led to some head scratching as to our precise location at a couple of points – not helped by none of us having functional gps coupled with digital maps of the area on our phones! Happily, we were soon back on route heading towards the ‘Fisherman’s Path’. We followed the ‘Trans Pennine Trail’ alongside the railway, past Woodvale Airfield, and thence through Ainsdale Dunes as we headed north towards Frances’ house once more. Apart from a couple of brief hail showers on our approximately ten mile walk, we had been lucky with the weather, which was much drier than forecast. We were pleased to warm up in Frances’ comfortable lounge, with a welcome cuppa, biscuits and cake, before heading home. Encountering thick flakes of swirling snow on the way home made me very relieved that we were driving back across a flat landscape instead of through the hilly Forest of Bowland!

Many thanks to Frances for leading this very enjoyable winter walk.