I have been to this part of the North West before, because I have a vague childhood memory of my father taking me on a pleasure flight from Southport beach sometime in the 1960’s. It was probably my first experience of flying.
Nevertheless the intervening years have erased all other impressions, so my expectations of Formby were influenced more by the singer and ukulele player of that name than any genuine memory of the place. Incidentally George Formby inherited the name from his father, a music hall entertainer who it is claimed saw the name on a railway sign.
Regardless of the truth of that story a synaptic link existed that in my mind equated Formby to a seaside entertainment town like Blackpool, and in this respect the story of Eric Morecambe’s stage name probably played a part too.
Whatever the background to my mental picture however, it was completely wrong.
Needing to do some writing for work I decided that with the sun shining I should find a pleasant seaside spot rather than the darkness of my hotel room so I headed out from Bootle early one morning in search of the National Trust managed nature reserve on the Formby coast. My route took me through the town, which is clearly one of the wealthier areas of the region. I learnt later that many a footballer has lived here, and passing the high-walled, security-gated properties I could well believe it.
But onto the car park and into an area of Special Scientific Interest. This reserve isn’t just beautiful, it’s also home to some rare flora and fauna.
Firstly out into the pine-woods, and the opportunity for some early morning sunlight piercing the gloom through the trees.
Then the woodland begins to thin and an undulating landscape appears which is home to one of the UK’s rarest amphibians, the Natterjack Toad. Being so rare I didn’t see any, nor even the occasional ponds that the toads make as their home, but then I was in a hurry to find a seat and get to work.
Over the sand dunes now, and onto the shore; a wide open space of sky, sand and Irish Sea (and a fair distribution of wind turbines in the distance). The dunes are at risk of tidal erosion, and so the local residents bring their discarded Christmas Trees each year to create a slightly incongruous defence work.
Sitting with my back to the sea and wind while I worked I was aware of the strange ways that sand combines with the elements to produce works of otherworldly sculpture. Had I had more time at my disposal to wait for the sun to sink lower once more I’m sure there would have been some dramatic shots available, but instead the clouds came and I had to retreat before my work was soaked, though the option of a short cut through the largest patch of nettles I’ve ever encountered wasn’t so attractive.
Not before I spotted the other endangered species in the distance. A bit cuter than a toad don’t you think?
*Turned Out Nice Again is a 1941 film that starred George Formby, as well as a song that he recorded, although the song doesn’t feature in the film. It seemed appropriate as the sun lit up the dunes and produced these wonderful velvet shadows for me.