Wednesday 27 June 2018

When I was between about 10 and 15 my family had a seasonal tent at a campsite near the old Lifeboat Station. The site was in the dunes just behind the Formby navigation post. My uncle Eddie and his family of 4 boys (Teddie, Billy, Bob & Ken) also had a tent there. Either my dad or Uncle Eddie had contact with someone with a lorry ( a coal lorry by all accounts) and around Easter everything got taken out to Formby. Our own tent was a square ex-US army tent with roll-up sides for when it was hot (as it always seemed to be in my memory). My uncle's tent was a long white ridge tent. Both had floorboards built in scetions, presumably my uncle Eddie made them as he was a joiner. Our tent had a bed-settee for my parents and camp beds for me and brother Sid and sister Sheila.
Having set things up we went out most weekends and of course for long spells in the school holidays. Neither family had a car so it was a matter of getting a bus to Bootle railway station, then the coast train to Formby station and then a mile hike down the road to the camp site. My mum would have a couple of shopping bags (I don't think ruck-sacks had reached Liverpool) with food and that was about it. My dad often worked Saturday morning so followed on after work.
I'm not really sure what I and my siblings and cousins did all day. I guess we just wandered the hills, went for a swim in the Irish sea, and returned back to the tent when it was feeding time. I don't think the fact that we could come to some harm crossed anyone's mind. And we had no protection from the sun so we burned each year, shed a layer of skin, then the new skin had a fair amount of melanin to afford protection for the rest of the year. Next year the cycle was repeated.
The camp site was run by people living in the old Lifeboat Station,  I seem to remember a Mr Norris. It  also had a simple shop to serve the camp site. I would guess there were no more than 20 tents there. Cooking was done with Primus stoves which needed meths to get them going and paraffin to run on. Lighting was the same Primus stove, but with a very fragile mantle fitted. The Lifeboat Station sold the paraffin. There was a toilet block in a nearby wood which comprised basic wooden cubicles with old oil drums part filled with a chemical that smelled a bit like creosote. No showers of course, but a water supply.

The old campsite has long since disappeared, as has the Lifeboat Station. Time and the shifting dunes have eradicated all trace of the campsite and have now obliterated most of the road that once led there. All that is left of the Lifeboat station are a few sandstone footings. But the Formby Point navigation marker is still there.

Today's campsite, the Formby Point Caravan Park, is a very different entity, with a nicely fitted modern shower and toilet block. Tents are not allowed. It is situated much further inland on the edge of the pine woods. It is primarily for 'statics' but also has a space for visiting touring vans. And it is the FPCP that I visited for 4 days with my smart little Eriba Puck caravan.

The following is a brief log.

Fri 22nd June
Left home at 8:30 for the M5/M6/M58 drive north, a bit slow but no significant hold-ups - almost 3 hrs. At the site  I set up on a hardstanding in a mainly empty tourer area. But being Friday vans kept arriving and it was full by the evening. Sadly I have a noisy neighbour and he's with a set of friends in a second van so they chat incessantly and it gets louder as they consume more beer. Anyway, after lunch I decided to do a local bike ride up the coast but got carried away and ended up in Southport.

Lots of holidaymakers. Even encountered an Elvis impersonator performing to all who passed by at an outdoor eatery. A very jolly seaside town.

Took an inland route back so had a really good round trip. Feel I've done that bit now. Then a walk down to the dunes and on to the sea. The dunes here really are wonderful.  I don't know of anywhere that comes close.

Had bean wraps from the home freezer for an evening meal although I'd overlooked the fact that they need a microwave to heat them - and there isn't one. Had the idea of cooking them over the toaster between two metal plates. A bit slow and tedious but it eventually worked. Then out for a walk across the dunes later on to catch the sunset, which was exceptional. But then they always  are here - or do I just remember the good ones?

Sat 23rd Jun
Up early and decided to decamp. Neighbours too noisy for my liking. They actually woke me at 12am with music & what sounded like a gas burner firing away. A fan heater perhaps. They weren't actually that loud but had a van with a canvas roof section - as do I. So essentially no sound insulation whatsoever. So at 8am I migrated to a grassed area overlooking the hard-standing caravan area. Worth the trouble, much better views and a slightly better phone signal too. No neighbours to speak of. And my own water and electricity just behind the van. Excellent - feels much better.

Left at 10am for a bike trip into Liverpool along what I know know is the Transpennine Pathway - and I thought it just went to Widnes. Encountered two touring cyclists who told me they were heading for the east coast! Puts my little trip into perspective. I shall look into this pathway. Although it got a bit sticky around Aintree, easy to get lost, and scenic it is not. Then it improves and becomes a great tarmac track along sandstone cuttings down the old steam railway route - I can still smell those trains.

Came off at West Derby to explore old haunts - amazing how many road names I recognise - although I can't remember why. I suspect they were where various grammer school friends lived. The Institute clientel was very West Derby. Tracked down the address of a couple from my 20's but unfortunately they were out. A neighbour confirmed they were both well and still living there - after over 50 years! Explored Croxteth Hall Park which was a delight. I never visited when I lived there, I suspect it was private grounds then. And there is a family connection with Croxteth Hall, my grandma (Amy Meadows) was a cook there.

Had lunch at the old stables café - which passed the test of offering me a constant view of my expensive electric bike. Liverpools' reputation has rubbed off on me.

Then biked up to Alder Hey Hospital, which is mostly demolished and being rebuilt with support from Ronald McDonald according to the display boards - is that really the burger man? I was taken into that hospital when only a few days old - Pyloric stenosis. A blockage that at that time was quite dangerous.  Alder Hey was very nearly as far as I got in life.

And as it happens I'm not the only old Institute pupil exploring his roots this week - there was a report in today's Guardian of Paul McCartney turning up for an impromptu gig at the Philharmonic  pub, just down the road from the Institute.

It's very striking going back after 50 years, how much changes. Areas that had factories are now all retail parks, which is where most jobs will be now I suppose. And so much traffic, mostly trying to get into and out of the retail parks.

I got to Old Swan but by then I'd had enough and decided to head back. In my youth I'd think nothing of a ride to Formby, and now look at me, even with an electric bike I'm tired out.  To return I picked up the Trans-pennine Way at Springfield park - which I remember walking through with mum & presumably Sheila on our way to Auntie Mabel's - a good 2 mile walk.

And Autie Mabel's youngest was Ken - who is coming here tomorrow! Rather than cope with the messy bit of the route around Aintree I decided to make a coastal detour on the way back and went through Thornton and Little Crosby and Hightown then back into Formby. Total distance was 45 miles and as it's pretty flat around here I still had 60% battery left. Feel I've done Liverpool for this trip so a bit stuck as to where to cycle next. Only option is eastwards, will conjure something up.

Arrived back to find that there was no electricity supply. The caravan overload trip had gone, as had the outlet box trip. Moved to a working outlet box then that went too. Tracked it down to a faulty USB adaptor. But we had to get the site electrician out to reset the supply at the main distribution board. Has to be something wrong when a tiddley USB adaptor can trip three levels of the supply system. Had a fry-up, cooked and eaten outside in the sun using my small gas stove. Really nice! I'll sleep well tonight.

Sunday 24th June
Out for a conertina play session on a bench in memory of someone or other out in the dunes. Then went to the entrance to meet Ken at mid-day. I must admit I wouldn't have recognised him. 

Coffee, chat, lunch of sardines on toast then out for a walk south through the dunes and down to the sea then back north up the beach and inland again.

With over 50 years to catch up on there was a lot to talk about. We eventually arrived back, a bit hot & sweaty, for a cool drink and more chat. I discovered he is a fellow Guradianista so we are coming from the same place. We covered 50 years of family plus various reflections on politics & life generally. Don't think we missed much!

Sitting on all that's left of the Lifeboat station where we bought our bottles of pop over 60 years ago.

I made an evening meal for us by adding kidney beans to a pre-prepared Quorn mince sauce, with spaghetti. And chopped fruit in orange juice for desert. A very fine meal! So a very successful day, only marred by Ken driving off with the key to the toilets - tomorrow I'll have to pay for the 'lost' one then rent another.

Monday 25th June
Having replaced the key I can now visit the toilet! My fallback in the night would have been the pine woods. Thankfully not needed.

After breakfast I visited my bench seat in the dunes for another hour's concertina playing than set out on the bike for a loop encompassing Ormskirk. All very flat and agriculural. Pleasant enough. Just 26 miles but given the heat today I think that's enough.

Back for a nap indoors away from the fierce sun. And another potter through the dunes. What I notice is how little insect life there is now. One particular memory is of ragwort just teeming with black and yellow caterpillars (of the cinnebar moth) . I looked for them over the 4 days and only found one very small cluster.

And the once abundant natterjack toads have now vanished from Formby, the many large ponds I used to collect 'taddies' in are all gone, not really sure why. These wonderful toads are now restricted to a fenced off area near Freshfield and protected by a group of environmentalists.

So I've cycled north, south, and east and had a good walk in the dunes to the west. I feel I've done it now and thinking of the many things I could be doing back home. So I won't prolong my stay. But I'll be back before long, perhaps in the autumn when it's cooler. And I can pick some of those very special Formby blackberries - that aren't actually black at all, they are blue.

22-26th June 2018