Last Saturday, with the weather predicted to be fine and sunny, Chickpea and I headed out to the coast to the National Trust reserve at Formby to see the red squirrels. It's one of the few remaining sites in the UK where red squirrels can be found as they've been pushed out everywhere else by their bigger grey cousins. Three years ago, 80% of the population at Formby was decimated by pox but, thankfully, they're now increasing in numbers: we certainly saw plenty that day.
I did take lots of photos but many of them looked like this...
Fast pesky little critters! I do have a few photos to show you, though I can't promise any of them are in focus!
The best place to spot the squirrels is on the Squirrel Walk: a circular path where feeding stations have been carefully positioned up in the trees. You used to be able to feed them by hand but that's been stopped as it's thought it might have contributed to the spread of the pox.
I can't tell you how amazing the smell was as we walked through the pine woods. The people who make pine-scented air fresheners have clearly never been near a real wood! I hate air fresheners by the way - they make me sneeze and wheeze. Strong perfume does that to me too.
Anyway, this isn't a natural wood but was planted about 100 years ago as part of land reclamation and to stabilise the coastline.
It wasn't long before we spotted a squirrel...
And then a real one!
There was quite a colour variation as some were very russety whilst others, like this one, were much darker. They all have the characteristic tufty ears though. Does anyone remember Tufty the Squirrel who was in road safety campaigns back in the '70s? Apparently he's still going strong and has his own web site!
The feeding stations were also very popular with the birds. As soon as the squirrels left, there'd be a rush of feathers as birds swooped in from all around to grab seeds! Here, I've managed to catch a couple of coal tits and a nuthatch.
After wandering through the woods a while, we headed towards the sand dunes which is the other feature Formby is famous for.
There are miles and miles of sandy beach. If you carried on walking in this direction you'd reach the Antony Gormley statues at Crosby and, eventually, Liverpool. (You can see photos from our visit to Crosby a couple of years ago here).
The National Trust site recommends a 'bracing' walk along the beach. It was definitely bracing on our visit and a heck of a lot greyer and chillier than predicted so we only had a brief walk along the sand.
Just long enough to enjoy watching a lady playing with her two dogs. She threw a ball into the surf and the dogs bounded into the water, oblivious to the cold.
Their energy and joy was infectious. This one in particular was very playful and brought his ball to us a few times, particularly when he realised we were happy to throw it for him!
Back on the other side of the dunes and in the shelter of the woods, we followed the Asparagus Trail. I didn't know but there used to be several asparagus fields here as the sandy soil provides perfect growing conditions. The heyday was in the '30s but production started again a few years ago. The Trail takes you around the edge of the fields with information boards about the farmers who used to live there.
The main reason we followed the Trail was to visit the chainsaw sculpture demonstration. Simon Archer is making a life size sculpture of one of the asparagus farmers, Jimmy Lowe, which will be put at the start of the Trail. We've seen a few chainsaw demos at country fairs and find it fascinating that you can achieve such detail with such a large machine. He was a really nice chap too and came over for a chat while he had a brew.
He had some lovely work on display including this carved bench.
Back at the reserve, there was just time for another quick look at the squirrels.
Then the walk back to the station, having a good nosy at the big posh houses along the way: this is millionaires and footballers territory.
We had to change trains in Southport so stopped off for a couple of hours for a snack and quick look around. One of the things we wanted to see was Lilibets of Paris who took part in Britain's Best Bakery earlier this year. It's a tiny shop tucked away down a side street but with the most gorgeous celebration cakes on display in the window. Unfortunately, they had almost completely sold out of cakes to buy!
The only things left were some individual tarte tatins which I did decide to buy as a memento. Can I whisper it though - I prefer my own! I'm sure the rest of their stuff is fine though: there were a few people having afternoon tea and the cakes and patisserie looked delicious.
A lovely day out and the sun did eventually find its way out of the clouds.
Last but not least, I have to share something which was in the garden yesterday.
A hummingbird hawk-moth! I can't tell you what excitement it caused with lots of running around the living room shouting 'where's the camera!' It made 2 appearances - one in the morning and one in the afternoon (when this shot was taken).
Always something new to see and marvel at. x