“Oh you should go to Formby beach, it’s lovely…” says me. Who’s never been.
Have you ever recommended somewhere you’ve never actually visited?
It’s not something I make a habit of doing, but having heard from a few people that the beach at Formby’s Lifeboat Road in Merseyside is a bit of a beaut, I’ve often found myself telling others to go there when discussing days out from Manchester (where I live).
So at the back end of July, when a thing called summer was threatening to happen, I decided it was high time I took my own advice and headed to Formby beach for a lazy Sunday in the sun.
Think of beaches within reasonable distance of Manchester and… well, you don’t really think of any. Try a little harder and the likes of Blackpool and Southport come to mind – both just an hour away. So very close. So very tacky.
But Formby is just an hour away too, and an entirely different prospect altogether.
Its main attraction is that there’s no ‘attractions’ there at all. None of the man-made variety anyway. No bright lights or seaside souvenir shops. Just pure, natural, unspoilt beauty.
When I pulled up after a mere 50 minutes in the car I was surprised to find that a solitary ice cream van in the car park, a wooden boardwalk through the sand dunes and a lifeguard’s hut on the beach itself is as built up as it gets down at Lifeboat Road beach.
In fact, the most ‘built up’ aspect is surely the sand dunes themselves. Huge undulating basins of fine yellow sand dotted with tufts of coarse green grass.
For me it’s these sand dunes that are the main appeal of Formby beach.
Not only do they provide great dune racing opportunities (yes, even for a 30 year old!), but from the top they also offer impressive views across Formby beach and out to sea.
And at the bottom of the biggest dunes there’s complete shelter from the wind (it can get quite blustery at Formby) along with plenty of private, secluded spots that you can enjoy all to yourself.
Perfect then, for enjoying a peaceful picnic or, as I am wont to do outside when the sun is shining, having a kip.
Naturally, I enjoyed both, and lying there on the sand under a blazing blue sky and gazing out to sea, I found it hard to believe I was in the UK, nevermind so close to the industrial behemoths of Liverpool and Manchester. It helps that it was such a gorgeous day, of course.
Emerging from the sand dunes the beach stretches on for miles ahead.
It’s the kind of wild looking beach where the tide really goes out, leaving behind a huge expanse of sand decorated with rippled patterns, shimmering pools of water and whatever debris the sea decides to drop off on its retreat – like crabs, jellyfish (so watch your step) and drift wood.
Horse riders, dog walkers, bird watchers, frisbee throwing families – all sorts were down on the beach making the most of the wide open space at low tide and enjoying the fine weather. And yet due to its size, the beach never felt busy.
Things do get a little more crowded at the north end of the beach where there’s a National Trust nature reserve. Although we didn’t park here, many visitors do so that they can begin their day with a stroll through the lovely pine forest here, before hitting the trails that wind you through the sand dunes and down onto the beach.
Packed with tall, 100 year-old-plus pine trees the forest is home to endangered red squirrels and natterjack toads, making it popular with nature lovers too.
But in fact, the Lifeboat Road beach is for lovers of many things. The outdoors, walking, jogging, sandcastle building, wildlife watching, beachcombing, picnicking, kite flying, erm… sleeping.
And now, I’m pleased to say that the next time I recommend Formby’s Lifeboat Road beach to someone, I can tell them with complete confidence that they will love it too.
Because finally, I’ve actually been there.