The National Trust’s Formby Beach in Merseyside is a perfect family day out, with a long golden beach surrounded by towering sand dunes and thick pinewoods full of red squirrels.
There are endless trails to walk and charge around in the pinewoods on your way to the beach, where you can run up and down the sand dunes. Formby Beach is a wonderful place for families with adventurous and energetic kids. We’ve been coming here for more years than I can remember – usually for a wintery Boxing Day walk – and it’s the kind of place you can come in any season and still have a great time.
There certainly aren’t as many red squirrels at Formby as there used to be. A decade or so ago you could spot them scurrying all around the National Trust car park, but it’s still one of the few places in England you can see these rare animals. We were fortunate enough to spot one climbing a tree directly above the toilet block by the entrance to the reserve when we visited on Boxing Day, so they’re definitely still there! The ‘Formby Red Squirrel Walk‘ is a 2-mile loop that starts and finishes by the information point in the car park, so make sure you check it out.
I’ve always loved walking in pinewoods, on narrow trails that sneak beneath the thick tree canopy with wildlife all around you. Formby Beach is a dream for this, with a labyrinth of trails leading you from the car park down towards the beach. There are loads of paths to choose from and they’re all excellent, so just pick one and go for it, then try to come back a different way later on. You’ll know you’re getting close to the beach when all of the trees start looking windswept.
My lasting memory of Formby Beach will always be the huge sand dunes, which ripple along the coastline above the beach giving you massive panoramic views across the Irish Sea, the surrounding beach and pinewoods, and along huge stretches of the Merseyside coast. You can walk along the tops of them, run up and down them, and even sledge down them. They’re also a wonderful place to tire out dogs and kids – their little legs will be exhausted by the end of the day!
The beauty of beaches is they’re great places to visit at any time of year. In summer Formby Beach is ideal for paddling, swimming and picnics; while in cooler seasons of the year it’s just a great place to walk and enjoy the scenery. It’s flat for the most part too, so if the tide’s out you can play games of football, cricket or volleyball on the sand. If you’re fascinated by the sight of offshore wind turbines (which I have to admit I always have been) there’s a huge one away to your left when you first hit the beach.
Formby Beach isn’t just a good place to walk, it’s also fantastic for off-road trail runs and bike rides. Just be aware that the paths are quite rough and uneven, so be prepared for a bumpy ride. There are some pushchair accessible paths through the pinewoods and along the Asparagus Trail, with good pushchair access to the beach via the boardwalk at Lifeboat Road. Dogs are welcome but need to be kept under close control, particularly on the Red Squirrel Walk, and there are some lovely places to stop for a picnic both in the woods and on the beach.
There are men’s and women’s toilets at Formby Beach, with baby-changing and mobility facilities near the main entrance and car park on Victoria Road. Parking in the National trust car park costs £6.50 a day, but you can also park for free on the roadside if you head a few hundred metres down Larkhill Lane. There’s an information trailer on site that’s usually open from 11am-2pm on weekends and school holidays, and a food cart serving snacks and hot drinks from 9.30am-4.30pm from Wednesdays to Sundays.
What to wear
Some of Formby’s woodland trails get a bit boggy after lots of heavy rain, but it’s nothing to worry about because the trails are generally good. If you’re walking in autumn or winter with young kids, though, you’ll want to make sure they’re well protected. Our two year-old Sonny is a brand ambassador for ISBJÖRN of Sweden, so as always he was very well kitted out on our visit. He was wearing the Frost Jacket, Trapper Pants, Wooly Hoodie and Husky Sweater.
Outdoor Dad verdict – Formby Beach
Beautiful woodlands, rare wildlife, giant sand dunes and a stunning golden beach – all packed into a couple of short miles. One of the best family days out anywhere in Britain.