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A magical holiday in Formby and Merseyside’s answer to Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest

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Inside Merseyside’s answer to Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest: Discovering the natural delights of Formby, with spooky trees, red squirrels and a path that results in a wide ranging beach

  • Formby beach forest, planted by the Formby family in 1784, lies on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain 
  • After a ‘cinematic’ walk within the woods, Angela Epstein admires the five hundred acres of sand dunes at Formby beach 
  • She recommends heading further south to see the Antony Gormley art installation on Crosby beach 

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To achieve one in all Britain’s largest nature reserves you’ve got to trudge through densely packed woodland redolent of the Forbidden Forest within the Harry Potter movies.

But as we press on through a cross-stitch of conifers to achieve Formby beach on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain, a more vintage piece of cinema involves mind: those spooky apple trees on the approach to Oz, which grumble with spite when Dorothy tries to pluck the overhanging fruit.

Either way, it’s well worth the cinematic journey. For after we emerge from the dark, cool forest, the view — and the gusty breeze — is sort of breathtaking: 500 sprawling acres of sand dunes and a sweeping coastline.

Angela Epstein goes on a ‘cinematic journey’ through the forest at Formby, pictured, a pinewood on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain, and finds that it reminds her of the Forbidden Forest within the Harry Potter movies

Above Draco Malfoy (left, Tom Felton) and Harry Potter (right, Daniel Radcliffe) enter the Forbidden Forest in 2001's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Above Draco Malfoy (left, Tom Felton) and Harry Potter (right, Daniel Radcliffe) enter the Forbidden Forest in 2001’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Woodland charm: Protected red squirrels may be spotted within the pinewoods at Formby

Yet despite its raw beauty, it’s only a brief drive from Liverpool. Little wonder the upmarket suburbs hemming the reserve — a combination of new-build mansions and Georgian piles — have change into a magnet for superstar footballers who play for north-west Premier League clubs. The confected opulence of those areas is in stark contrast to the natural beauty that has drawn us here.

The pinewoods are a part of the attraction, since they’re home to red squirrels — almost extinct outside Scotland. Unlike the grey-furred dustbin-botherers, the reds are a protected species.

Legend has it they arrived in 1940, after a resident was asked to take care of a Scandinavian breed for a friend. But at some point the squirrels escaped, taking over squatters’ rights within the woodland.

The woods themselves — first planted by the Formby family in 1784 — even have something of an apocryphal history: during World War II, German bombers mistook the woodland at night for darkened Liverpool and dropped bombs, causing extensive fires.

The dunes, too, are home to an enormous number of species. Not least the rare natterjack toad, whose signature chorus has earned it the local name of Birkdale Nightingale, and the rare northern dune tiger beetle, which is simply present in Merseyside and Cumbria.

Angela finds that the view of Formby beach, pictured, is 'quite breathtaking: 500 sprawling acres of sand dunes and a sweeping coastline'

Angela finds that the view of Formby beach, pictured, is ‘quite breathtaking: 500 sprawling acres of sand dunes and a sweeping coastline’

The rare natterjack toad, whose signature chorus has earned it the local name of Birkdale Nightingale, is native to Formby's sand dunes (stock photo)

The rare natterjack toad, whose signature chorus has earned it the local name of Birkdale Nightingale, is native to Formby’s sand dunes (stock photo)

It is a place where vegetation sprouts wildly. Asparagus has been grown in Formby’s sand dunes by farmers for the reason that 1800s, with around 200 acres levelled by hand to create the fields. Ten acres of the positioning are still in use today.

We head off on the walking trail, following a path of around a mile and a half that’s suitable for all abilities. You possibly can even stop for a picnic by huge picket asparagus spears and sculptures of those that farmed in generations passed by.

The nothingness of Formby beach, in addition to its microclimate, is a component of its charm. Though if you must see more, enterprise south along the coast to Crosby beach where you’ll find One other Place, an Antony Gormley art installation comprising 100 cast-iron figures modelled on his own 6 ft 2 in body.

'Despite its raw beauty, it’s only a short drive from Liverpool (above),' Angela says of Formby

‘Despite its raw beauty, it’s only a brief drive from Liverpool (above),’ Angela says of Formby 

Venture south along the coast to Crosby beach and you’ll find Another Place, an Antony Gormley art installation (pictured) comprising 100 cast-iron figures modelled on his own body

Enterprise south along the coast to Crosby beach and also you’ll find One other Place, an Antony Gormley art installation (pictured) comprising 100 cast-iron figures modelled on his own body

They’re strangely disturbing, staring impassively out to sea. The tide rushes in they usually are slowly submerged, only to reappear because the water falls away.

It’s hard to beat the magic of Formby. Standing on the dunes overlooking the Irish Sea, there’s a gauzy outline of the Cumbrian mountains — and even the silhouette of Blackpool Tower.

But when you must visit, go this summer. Not least because that is one in all the fastest eroding coastlines within the UK. What nature gives, it clearly desires to take back.

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