A postcard from Formby Point

Back in August, when we were in the north of England visiting my family, we took a day trip to the Lancashire coast and visited Formby Point National Trust site. It’s a place I’d visited many years ago as a child, but couldn’t remember very much about. It is also home to on of Middle Postcard’s favourite animals – squirrels!!

Formby Point is a really interesting site. It’s right on the coast and includes beautiful dunes and a long stretch of beach but also encompasses a large pine forest which has winding paths through it and plenty of spots for a quiet picnic and adventures for little people. It’s home to a colony of red squirrels and if you are very lucky, you may be able to see one or two bouncing about on the branches overhead.


Our trip began with a rendezvous with my brother and ‘Funcle’ to the Little Postcards. He lives not too far away in Lancashire and was keen to join us on our squirrel hunt. He’s a very keen and talented photographer so relished the opportunity to take some snaps while we were on our walk. We met up with him the carpark just behind the dunes and climbed over them to see the beach.


As we reached the summit, the wind hit us. It was so gusty, you could feel the sand stinging the back of your legs through your trousers!!! We took a quick look along the beach but I was so scared of getting the flying sand into my camera that I just took a couple of quick snaps on my phone before heading to the shelter of the pine forest.

 

There were a few brave souls out on the beach, some even in short sleeves and shorts (we all had our hoods up and were zipped right up as far as it would go to reduce the pain of the stinging sand!!! We hung about long enough to be able to just make out The BIG One and Blackpool Tower in the distance before running for cover.

It’s hard to believe that these photos were taken on the same day – just moments apart. Once under the cover of the trees, the sun broke through the clouds above and we walked along the bouncy pine needle strewn path through gentle dappled shade. It’s such a tranquil place, the only sound being the wind blowing through the branches above and the dulcet sounds of Little Postcards bickering in the background. 😉

Being a National Trust venue, there were plenty of volunteer guides on site to help with any questions and dish out maps of the area. With just one aim in mind for the day (apart from having fun and enjoying a picnic lunch) we set off on our quest to find some red squirrels – it can’t be that hard can it?

Formby isn’t just famous for it’s red furry residents, it is also home to the local delicacy of Formby Asparagus. It can be enjoyed during a very short season from early May until the 21st June – sadly we had missed it. For generations, local farmers levelled the local dunes to create perfect growing conditions for the crop. In it’s heyday more 200 acres were cultivated but these days just 10 acres of Formby Asparagus are grown here. This stunning tree carving was created to celebrate the local speciality.

After much wandering through the beautiful pine forest and green fields, our search for red squirels was proving fruitless. Little Postcards and the grown ups were becoming hungry and a picnic spot needed to be found.

At the entrance to a large grassy area – perfect for a picnic, we found this lovely sculpture carved from a tree trunk.


After the sandwiches had been scoffed and the flask of coffee drunk, the grown ups settled down for a doze in the sunshine while the Little Postcards wandered into the woods close by. It was so nice for them to have a bit of freedom to wander knowing that they couldn’t go far. We could hear them – but couldn’t see them. They enjoyed the independence that gave them and for Littlest, it was a great adventure to climb trees and have a woodland adventure with his big brothers.
While on their adventure, they were constantly on the look out for the squirrels – although the noise they were making as they wandered the meandering woodland paths probably sent the squirrels scarpering! A few very jazzy striped caterpillars were satisfactory discoveries though.


After an hour or so at our lovely picnic spot, we decided to head back to the cars so that we could get back home without hitting the rush hour traffic on the motorways back to Manchester. Our walk back through the pine forest was bound to yield a squirrel sighting wasn’t it?

As we got deeper into the forest, we spied a group of people eagerly pointing up into the tree canopy and craning to see movement with their binoculars. Squirrels were in the area! Well they were until just before we arrived. An elderly couple had been sitting on a bench patiently waiting to see some squirrels for quite some time.

Just as a couple of the illusive residents had put in an appearance, a family with young children had come along at just the right moment to see them too. All this had happened just seconds before we arrived, but sadly by then, Squirrel Nutkin and his mate were nowhere to be seen!

So did we achieve success in our quest to see some of the famous Formby Point red squirrels? We only saw this one…

…..he came home with us.

 

…..Oh and there was this one too on the side of an ice cream van!

Never mind – there’s always next time!

 

For more information about Formby Point, have a look at the National Trust Formby website.

 

A history lesson

  
We have been lucky enough to visit two National Trust properties this week; Quarry Bank Mill and Dunham Massey. They are both in Cheshire and less than an hours’ drive from Manchester. We were blessed with good English summer weather with just a few light showers of rain. 

   
At Quarry Bank Mill, we learned about how cotton production moved from a domestic setting to an industrial one. We also learned the origins of several common English words and phrases; ‘spinster’ – an unmarried woman would spin cotton into thread in order to make a living; ‘spinning a yarn’ – the practice of gossiping while spinning cotton; ‘ heirloom’ – a manual loom for weaving cotton (and the knowledge of how to use it), which would passed down from generation to generation, thereby guaranteeing an income in lean times.

 
The spinning wheel and hand loom would have been a common sight in homes at around the time Gibraltar was ceded to Britain (1713).

   
Quarry Bank Mill was built in 1784 when water power became widely used to run machinery. It uses the water of the River Bollin to run it’s machinery.

    
The machines were so noisy! Not all of them were running – it must have been deafening to work there.

  This giant waterwheel powers the machinery upstairs.

 
Quarry Bank Mill was built by Samuel Greg, a Unitarian, who along with his wife, Hannah, believed in providing a better standard of living for their indentured workers. Conditions at Quarry Bank were tough by today’s standards, although vastly better than in some of Manchester’s inner city mills.

   
A short walk from the mill is the Apprentice House (above). In this three storey building, sixty indentured children would live while working at the mill – yes sixty. They would come to Quarry Bank from workhouses (mainly in Liverpool) at the age of nine and sign up to spend the next nine years of their lives working six days a week in the mill.

 
This picture (above) is of the girls’ dormitory, forty girls would be locked in here at night, two to a bed. The children would rise at 5:30am and have a quick breakfast of porridge before beginning work at 6am. A thirteen hour working day would follow, with a 30 minute break for lunch (porridge again, with added vegetables). A great guide took us around the house, beginning with the school room, where children would learn the basics of reading and writing and on to the treatment room, where a doctor would use leeches and other delightful remedies to keep the workers healthy and productive.

   
The kitchen made use of the nearby allotment garden, where the boys would help grow crops to eat.

   
It was a great day out for the whole family, and helped my boys realise just how lucky they are to be born nowadays.

   
  The River Bollin  
  

Quarry Bank Mill is a beautiful and fascinating place to visit, I would highly recommend it.  
 
As I mentioned before, we also visited Dunham Massey. The property is a finalist in the Museum of the Year 2015 for it’s recreation of a World War One military hospital. The Stamford Military Hospital is re-enacted inside the main house with actors, the property also has beautiful gardens. We, however just took advantage of the beautiful estate parkland to give the children a chance to ‘run wild’ for a bit. In more than thirty years of visiting the park at Dunham, I can never remember being so up close and personal with the resident fallow deer. They are beautiful creatures and seemed incredibly tame this time.

   
 
Another treat for the boys was a great den built with storm fallen branches! You can’t beat a bit of stick collecting and tree climbing to while away an afternoon.

  
For more information on Quarry Bank Mill and Dunham Massey, please click on these links: Quarry Bank MillDunham Massey