We’ve all got that go-to, local pace that helps to recharge our batteries when needed.
Formby Beach and Pine Woods, is definitely our first choice. The combination of sheltered woodland walking, fresh sea air, calf burning sand dunes and childhood memories give this location a really unique sense of place in comparison to any of the other local offerings near by.
Despite coming here for as long as I can remember, it’s so easy to make each visit slightly different by taking a different path through the dunes and woodland trails.
It’s also an ideal place for a family day out as well as a great jogging location for a change of scenery.
If you’re local to the Merseyside area then this place is certainly no secret. If you’re not from the area, then it’s definitely worth a visit.
Five stars from us as ever after today’s mini adventure.
Check out the Formby Walks on the National Trust website for more information.
Why is it that you just seem to connect with certain places more than others?
Quite often for me, there will be moments within a hike that stand out. These connections just seem to happen and they can’t be forced or pre-empted.
What do I mean when I talk about ‘connections’ in this context?
It’s that moment when you’re stopped in your tracks by a view or an inexplicable feeling about a place.
When these ‘connections’ happen, a piece of that place stays with you long after you’ve been and gone. Whether it be a snapshot of a stunning view or positive thoughts and feelings that find a home in your mind.
Sometimes these connections can happen when you pass through somewhere and thoughts of “we need to go there!” can raise up. This definitely happened recently as we were driving home from South Wales, taking in the scenery at the border of Shropshire all around us.
From memory there are a few places we’ve visited that have had this effect. One in particular that stands out to me was when we visited Bakewell last August.
Distance wise, this was an absolute monster of a walk for my wife and I with our 2 and 5 year old boys with us!
I can’t recall the exact route but I remember we passed through a well manicured golf course, forest trails, villages, up and down hills and even caught a glimpse of Chatsworth House.
The ‘connection’ moment on this walk came when one of the forest trails cleared and opened up to a vast expanse of green hills as far as the eye could see. (Pictured below)
Again, it’s difficult to pin point why this part of the walk has stuck with me.
Preceding it, we did have a bit of a ‘moment’ as to whether or not we were on the right path, coupled with a bit of time pressure to get back to the car*.
A few minutes prior to the landscape opening up before us, we had worked out our bearings and with it came a sense of relief. This coupled with the beauty of the view and being able to properly appreciate it no doubt had a compounding effect.
Whatever it was, nearly a year has passed and I still hold this walk and moment in high regard. Sadly none of us can comment on the quality of an authentic Bakewell tart as all of the shops had closed by the time we’d finished! This miscalculation on our part gives us the perfect reason to return.
• The car park had a cut off point after a certain time and was well and truly locked up thereafter!
Following on from the tip from the well spoken holiday maker the day before at Cilgerran, we decided to take an impromptu trip to Mwnt beach as we were only a few miles away at the time.
The short drive to be beach included the now all too familiar narrow, single track roads with sporadic passing places. I especially remember narrowly squeezing past a big white VW van with breath held and wing mirrors tucked in! This tricky maneuver was all done in the incredibly polite fashion that seems to be the case for most drivers round here, something we’re not used to it!
Arriving at the car park, the scenery was instantly stunning all around. From the surrounding hills through to the deep cliff edge drop in to the bay and out to the sea. Said cliff edge drops that did indeed turn out not to be the stairway down to the bay like I first thought. Being stubborn, I had to check for myself of course, slowly walking towards it, peering over the edge and getting my daily dose of vertigo for the day.
The stone stairway down to the beach was like something out of Enid Blyton book, winding down to a real hidden gem of a bay.
The beach was perfect, it even had its own labelled jellyfish in the sand (sign posters for Cilgerran Castle take note!). Instantly noticeable were the extraordinary eroded cliff edge rocks that flanked either side of the bay. I quickly gave up trying to figure out how the flowing, waving, horizontal lines were created in the rock face and just admired the view.
A personal highlight for me was the purchase of a cheap tennis racquet set. Drawing our court lines out in the sand, my five year old lad and I played out our own Wimbledon final, low on quality but still high on epic tantrums!
This was definitely one of the best, kid friendly beaches we’ve ever been too. Just the right size to keep an eye on them, yet big enough for them to go off and explore. We were too late for the dolphins but we saw them on a postcard at the beach café so that still kind of counts in our book.
This one definitely started off a bit hit and miss. I don’t think either of us were feeling too up for it due to a late night and early start thanks to the kids.
It didn’t help that the ground was a bit tricky underfoot, with a lot of loose stone covering the track alongside the river Teifi. This quickly resulted in our stubborn two year old lad falling over twice in about five minutes cutting his knee!
As seems to be common in the area where we’re staying, the path didn’t seem too well used and due to the time of year, it was heavily flanked either side and over head by a variety plant life. All seemingly at the perfect height for a five year old to brush past nettles and for a two year old on shoulders to hit their head on low hanging branches and leaves!
The walk continued on in this fashion for what felt like a very long time. We encountered some further tricky places to pass over where the path had eroded away in to the river, leaving a drop down the side of the bank to our left. It goes without saying that we struggled to admire the beauty of the surroundings with the kids in tow but fleeting glimpses and moments were appreciated as we took our time marching on.
As the path started to widen out and become firmer, we started to notice some of the recurring features of our surroundings. Most prominent among them included the unnaturally precise geometric shapes formed by slate hill sides to our right, visible through irregular clearings. The ancient looking, almost stone like tree roots on the path that intertwined and formed challenging ridges on the ground to overcome with each step.
The happy boat rower’s idling by along the river below us outnumbering the distinct lack of other walkers on this route (making the water look like the easy option from where we were standing).
The place had an almost tropical feel to it at times, with the amount of greenery all around us, the fern plants and the fact that we were in a deep gorge with banks of trees either side of us towering over the river below.
After more branch dodging and careful manoeuvring to get our team over gaps in the path akin to a Crystal Maze challenge, we came to a break on the route punctuated by road bridge and the village of Llechryd.
The gradual feeling that we were not heading in the right direction for Cilgerran Castle reluctantly came to a head at this otherwise scenic location. After discussing potential routes back to the Castle that didn’t involve turning back on ourselves, we reluctantly admitted what felt like a defeat and decided to face the river walk again! Our other options included a one and a half mile uphill walk on a well used B road with no pavements, or joining a public footpath that we were told by a local passer-by that would take us to Cardigan and not Cilgerran directly (despite my wife being sure it would!)
Heading back the way we came, felt like a bit of a defeat but we carried on and made the decision to break off the route about three quarters of the way back to take a path that lead to the village. Thinking that we would not have to walk the entire path back lifted our spirits slightly and our pace was definitely faster (this may have been partly fuelled by frustration though!)
For some reason, the difficult parts of the path seemed easier to traverse on the way back and the feeling between us all definitely seemed to be more relaxed.
I started to appreciate the surroundings more and admire the sights and sounds around us. This was helped by the imagination of our five year old lad who mentioned that “it looks like Jurassic Park here!” Aided by the heat and sunlight shining through the leaves above, it certainly felt as though we were “somewhere else” at times. This illusion was brought to an abrupt end by two overweight, shirtless, middle aged paddle boarders ‘gliding’ across the river below us in the opposite direction!
After a brief chat with a local dog walker, we found out that this route isn’t one that is well traversed, even at popular times of year like this. We also found out that this route is even more difficult in the winter when it becomes really slippy underfoot, the river rises and the pathway has a habit of falling away in places too. Knowing this gave us a small sense of achievement and I think and we started to feel as though we’d ‘done well’ given the army of mini dependants that we had in tow.
Whether it was down to being on a mini high with our newly smug selves, or we were just not on the ball today, we missed the turn off for the village. Despite the error in judgement, the car park that we started at came in to sight quicker than expected and it felt like the hard work was over.
Determined to actually see the castle we set out to over two hours ago, we studied the map at the car park (properly this time) and saw that it was actually along the same path we started on, but in the opposite direction!
After a brief stop, we headed towards our original destination along a path that was much easier to walk on. Despite the more family friendly trail, the straight tree lined walk seemed to take an age, before we eventually reached what looked like the end as the path dropped down to towards a pebble laden clearing on to the river.
To our left was a gruelling looking stairway and to the right of that, an equally looking gruelling uphill walk. Frustration attempted to creep back in, as it started to feel like that whoever made this path didn’t actually want people to find the castle!
Enter the friendly, well spoken, holiday maker to put an end to any further confusion. The good news was the castle was in sight, the not so good news was that it involved an intense quad workout up a never ending stairway! The small talk we made with said fellow walker may lead to our next adventure as he sold us on the idea of heading to a beach at a place called Mwnt to see dolphins in the bay during the early hours of the morning.
The massively long route we took to the castle made it all the more worth it when we got there. It also gave us a chance to have a brief rest of sorts, if you count laying on the grass being jumped on by a five year old and two year old as rest. Feeling recharged, we headed on a thankfully short walk back to the village to reward ourselves with some well earned food and drink!
We thought our luck was out when we saw the outside bench and table being folded away outside of ‘Adele’s’ café which was teasingly only a few yards in front of us. Our luck had turned, when the owner was more than happy to take our order and for us to sit outside despite closing in the next fifteen minutes. They could have served us anything and it would have tasted great after the physical and mental workout we’d just had. In truth through, the ‘Sticky Orange’ cake, half a cider and coffee did actually taste amazing! The Manchester born owner also made us laugh and helped us end the day on a high note as he told us his story of how he came to own the coffee shop, with a few funny anecdotes thrown in too.
Distance wise, we’ve covered many more miles on other walks in the past, but this one had all the hallmarks of what makes a great walk. By no means the most scenic, the surroundings were unique in comparison to many places we’ve been to before and they definitely had their own appeal. It was physically and mentally demanding (accompanied by the endless questions of a five year old, it always is), there was a bit of frustration in there, some problem solving, determination, positivity and chance meetings. These kind of walks are never ‘all good’ from start to finish, but that’s what makes them great.
Turning what felt like setbacks in to positives and being able to laugh at them along the way are just a few things that we learn to do on such walks. We also learn to appreciate the small talk made with people on the way, these interactions add depth and character to the whole experience. If things had gone perfectly to plan, then we would have missed out on so many little events and chance meetings.
Other, equally interesting chapters could have well taken their place in our little story, but here’s a snapshot of a few things we can look back on in a fond light;
– Appreciating the beauty of the castle that little bit more due to the effort it took to eventually get there! – Seeing our five year old boy gain more confidence with each step as he tackled the difficult parts of the route gradually without any help. – Missing the turn off for the village as planned on the way back, turned out to be a positive as it meant we stumbled across the brilliant little café at the end of our adventure. – The chance passing and small talk with the fellow holiday maker and with it our tip for our next adventure.
Ultimately, such walks leave you feeling good, with a sense of achievement and well being that not many other family days out can really match. Time to fully recharge now, before we’re on to the next one!