On a crisp December morning we returned to one of our favourite places – Formby beach, a 20 minute drive from our house in Liverpool. We walked through the dunes, and the closer we got to the sea the more the wind whipped in, cold and bracing, off the estuary.
Since we were here last, a long and elegant boardwalk has been laid down to protect the dunes from the tread of human feet. Out on the beach, the sand underfoot was blasted flat and firm by the wind-borne sand that scoured the beach in gritty, parallel blizzards.
The tide was out, and offshore the wind whipped the waves into endless regiments of white horses. The Stena Line ferry to Belfast hauled itself out of port, past the wind turbine array and along the estuary towards the sea.
Jean Sprackland, whose book, Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach, was published earlier this year, has written:
It’s hardly the prettiest or the most unspoilt beach: its sands are not the most golden, and there are no rockpools or hidden coves. It’s not dramatic either: no pounding surf or rugged cliffs. Stand here, on a reasonably bright day, and you can see the offshore wind farm in the Mersey estuary. Turn the other way, and there are the familiar Blackpool landmarks: the tower, the rollercoaster. But in really clear weather you can see the southern fells, the Clwydian hills, the pale but unmistakable shape of Snowdon.
Sprackland has been walking this stretch of coast for twenty years. In Strands, she gives us two dozen essays on walking the shoreline, grouped by season. Some are personal and poetic meditations (she is a poet – this is her first non-fiction book), others explore the nature of the beach and its creatures from a more scientific perspective. I enjoyed listening to extracts on Radio 4’s Book of the Week in the summer.
As always we had our dog with us – she loves this place as much as we do – and she bounded around madly, grabbing a stick and running with it between her teeth.
South past Formby Point, in the glare of low winter sun, the towers of Liverpool rose misty on the skyline – waterfront towers that we would pass beneath on our drive home.
Reaching the point, we turned inland and walked trails through the dunes until we reached the car park again. Nearly winter solstice, and light from the low sun lit the dunes with sharp-edged clarity. A rainbow appeared offshore: rain was approaching. A brief shower caught us near the end of our walk. On the way home we stopped at Merseyside’s only Waitrose and bought treats. Then the dog drove us home.