A blowy day on the western shores of Lancashire, with a bruised sky of slate purple and grey over the Irish Sea and the wind driving miniature sandstorms northward up the great 20-mile beach that edges the Sefton Coast.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
I was glad to be walking with the wind and sand at my back, as well as the spatters of rain that chased in from time to time.
Old friends were there to greet me down on Crosby beach – one hundred of them, naked as jaybirds, straight-faced and straight-backed, standing at attention and staring out to sea. Crosby loves its Iron Men – no-one here calls Antony Gormley’s wonderful beach installation by its official name, ‘Another Place’. Rusting and corroding at the whim of salt water and scouring sand, adorned according to locals’ fancy – a painted bikini here, a swimming hat there – each of these identical iron casts of the artist’s body now possesses its own subtly-developing individuality.
The Sefton Coast lies between the estuaries of Mersey and Ribble, a flat shore where the sea can recede a mile or more on a low tide. This enormous beach is separated from the built-up hinterland of footballers’ palaces and golf-course resorts by an unbroken line of sandhills, a fabulous place to walk sandy paths among vividly coloured plants – crinkly yellow evening primrose and yellow-horned poppy, powder-blue sea-holly with prickly leaves, pale blue stars of sea aster, thickets of wild roses and the beautiful pink bonnets of everlasting pea.
It’s a busy seascape off the coast – skeletal sea-marks, whirling wind turbines on Burbo Bank, big container ships and ferries threading Crosby Channel’s sandbanks. Off Formby Point crowds of sanderlings with snowy bellies and long black bills gathered as the sandbanks rose clear of the ebbing sea, and out over the water a swirling cloud of dunlin formed a solid black mass that swerved across the sky.
I threaded the paths of Raven Meols Hills nature reserve, adrift in a green sea of sandhills, and strode north along mile after mile of firm beach sand towards the distant blur of Southport. A last stretch among the brilliant orange berries of sea buckthorn in Ainsdale Dunes, and I made for the train at Ainsdale Station, windblown and tousled, tired and exhilarated by all that space, salt air and solitude.
Start: Waterloo station, Crosby, Lancs, L22 0NA (OS ref. SD 320980)
Finish: Ainsdale station, PR8 3JP
Trains from Liverpool or Southport (www.merseyrail.org)
Road: M6 Jct 26, M58, A565
WALK (14 miles, easy, OS Explorers 285, 275):
From Crosby station, left along South Road. Right beside Marina, through dunes; right (311979) along beach or promenade. In 1¾ miles at coastguard station (299005), ahead along Sefton Coastal Footpath. In 1 mile, at ‘Pebble’ Sculpture (296021) cycle track bends inland, but keep ahead along shore. At Hightown (297039) path veers inland to run beside railway line. In 1 mile path crosses River Alt (294056) and turns left; in 200 m, left at path crossroads (293058, ‘Cabin Hill, Ravenmeols’). At Cabin Hill Nature Reserve sign (287052, yellow arrow) bear right. At path crossing by wind generators, left (284055; white arrow) through dunes to shore; right for 5 miles. At railings with Ainsdale Beach noticeboard, head for yellow marker (‘Dunes Trail’). Follow white-topped posts inland (east) for 500 m; then turn left (north), following posts to Ainsdale Discovery Centre (297126). Ahead along road; right bend; over roundabout (301127); ahead (‘Shore Road’) to station.
NB: Walk can be shortened (Hightown Station 4½ miles, Formby station 8 miles)
Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk.
Ainsdale Discovery Centre: 01704-570173;