Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here. We have been limited in how, when and where we can hike lately. We are currently in a Tier 3 Covid zone and this is dictating where we can travel to. My human has a knee injury that limits the distance that we can walk, and he can’t do hills, either up or down. So, we have been walking from home and using local parks for our exercise. My tail was sore for a few days but after the vet stuck a needle in it, it has healed quite nicely. So, refusing to be held back, we decided to head to a local coastal area, staying within our Covid tier.
It is a short drive to Ainsdale on the Sefton coast, just north of Liverpool. My human rarely takes me to the coast, possibly because of the time when I tried to drink the entire Irish Sea and it made my bottom very ill! This trip was to be a combination of woodland, dunes and beach so, it would be quite varied for me. My kind of hike!
We parked in the Ainsdale-on-sea beach car park, that is nowadays in a sadly neglected and run-down area. What looks like an old hotel is boarded up and deserted along with an empty club house by the carpark. The Pontins holiday camp is also closed, albeit temporarily, I assume. It’s a sad reflection of our once thriving traditional seaside holiday areas.
We had a rough idea of where we would be walking but, as we were preparing to hike, my human saw a signpost for Ainsdale and Birkdale Sandhills Dune Trail, so we had a walk around there first. The waymarked walk of one and a quarter miles, took us up and down grassy dunes, which gave me the urge me to sprint around the sand. Unfortunately, it is an on-lead area due to the rare wildlife so, I had to stay close to the big feller. The reserve is the natural habitat of natterjack toads, sand lizards and great crested newts but, sadly they were all hiding from us on our visit. Hopalong was complaining that his knee was giving him some jip when we were clambering up the sandy slopes and he was relieved when we had completed the circuit of the Dune Trail.
He decided to return to the car to pick up his and my waterproof coats as the rain was starting to drench us. He should have put them in his daysack earlier but, he said that he had forgotten. Fortunately, it wasn’t taking us out of our way. We walked around the perimeter of the holiday camp to join the Coastal Road. We were going to follow the slack path across the dunes but, my human was struggling with his knee. Sadly, the road doesn’t live up to it’s name as we were at least half a mile from the coast and walking alongside a busy main road. A cycle path runs along one side of the road which we strode along for roughly one mile. The rain was driving into our faces in the headwind as we trudged onwards.
After this disappointing start to our journey, we left the noise of the Liverpool Road to cross into Ainsdale Sand Dunes national nature reserve. It was as if we had entered another world. It was quiet, except for the singing of the thrushes in the pine forest. The sun broke through the dark clouds as the rain ceased. I was allowed to run off-lead. The world seemed a better place within the blink of an eye.
The nature reserve comprises of an inland Corsican Pine plantation forest that leads to the expansive dune and slack area on the coast. A network of paths and waymarked trails weave through the trees. It is a popular area with cyclists, walkers and wildlife lovers. The area is home to Red Squirrels of which my dad spotted 2 of on our walk. I didn’t see any but, I definitely caught the scent of a few. It drove me crazy trying to find them, without success. So, I had to be satisfied with picking up ridiculously large sticks and having a munch on them.
As we walked along the Woodland Path, we were never far from the Northern Rail Line with its local train service racing past us. Beyond the railway line was the vast open expanse of RAF Woodvale Airfield with its long empty runways. But the best area for me was on our right. Huge, well established trees filled the air with the smell pine as the wind blew through the plantation. Puddles provided me with entertainment as I sprinted through them and into the forest. This was my kind of hike with plenty of stuff to sniff. I love stuff!
We followed the Woodland Path for a while, as it wound deeper into the darkness of the trees, leaving the railway behind. This footpath met up with the Old Fisherman’s Path and later with the Fisherman’s Path as we moved closer to the sand dunes. I could smell the ozone in the air as we neared the Irish Sea. With Formby Golf Club on our left appearing between the trees, the path became increasingly sandy as we neared the coastline. Directly in front of us the large grass-topped sand dunes appeared with human footprints and doggy pawprints leading off in all directions. As we climbed the one directly ahead of us, I got an attack of the zoomies. It was great fun sprinting up and down the sandy hills. The sand was dry and deep so, I had a mad ten minutes ploughing through the powdery dunes. Oh, I loved it there. I rolled in it, ran and twisted around in it, nose-dived into it and ate a little bit of it. I think that eating it was a bad call though!
As we stood on the crest of the highest dune in the Marram Grass, my human stopped to watch the waves rolling in, along the vast beach in front of us. The Irish Sea was a wild and windy place on that day. After a few minutes we set off to walk along the Dune Path North but, the big feller was struggling a bit with his ever annoying knee injury. I would have loved to have walked the next few miles over the dunes and investigated the slacks or small freshwater pools. Unfortunately, he needed to walk on a flatter surface so, the next best route was the beach.
We dropped down from the dunes and realised that we could walk all the way back to the car along the beach. The firm sand provided a good surface for my dad and a fantastic playground for me. There was an abundance of driftwood for me to pick up and to carry until, of course, I found a better one. The beach was littered with Razor shells, Cockle shells and the odd Whelk shell. I had a good sniff of the shells but, I wasn’t that impressed with them. What did impress me was the waves that kept lapping at my feet. That was another excuse for the zoomies. I didn’t run into the bigger waves, as they were breaking on the shore but, I did have a mad run through the shallow ones.
As we walked along the deserted beach, we caught glimpses of Blackpool Tower and The Big One rollercoaster 15 miles across the bay. We could see the Lennox Oil Rig out to sea as the sun dipped in and out of the clouds. Looking south toward Liverpool the sky was menacing and black, while the sky ahead of us was blue and almost cloudless. As the wind was on our backs it looked likely that we would be in for another soaking. The weather was so changeable but, since our earlier drenching it had been kind to us. We were lucky, as it turned out because the rain avoided us.
We continued on our walk as we watched in awe as a Kite Surfer was being lifted twenty feet into the air above the crashing waves. It was mesmerising to watch him spinning and splashing into the sea and then rising from the water as the air caught the kite. I love playing in the water but, that looked a bit extreme for me. I will stick to zoomies in the shallows.
Ainsdale-on-sea soon came into view, above the dunes and we left the beach through a wide gap, that led us back to the carpark. After a good shake, I jumped onto the rear seat of the car. I curled up into my bed and instantly fell asleep. It was down to my chauffeur to drive me home while I slept in the warmth and comfort of my bed. That was a fun walk. Till next time!