CTC, the Sefton and West Lancs Visit project and The National Trust teamed up to offer residents and visitors the opportunity to hear all about the unique Red Squirrel Reserve at Formby, whilst exploring the area by bike.
This was the first in a series of led rides for 2013 and planning it turned into a bit of a minefield...
The first of the issues to conspire against us was the closure of the coastal road and adjacent cycle path due to flooding. Adverse weather over the previous few months had caused the water table to reach its capacity within the dune complex, and the result was over 40 centimetres of floodwater covering a 150 metre distance.
However, the subsequent closure of the southbound carriageway gave us the potential to ride within the coned-off area to negotiate the flooding without the need to bring out the life jackets. A conversation with our friends in the highways department confirmed that this was ok, so the first hurdle was overcome.
Next on the 'these things are sent to try us' list was the decimation of the NNR route through Ainsdale woods due to much needed forest operations. Again, the exceptionally wet weather in the proceeding months meant that the machinery caused more damage than usual and lengthened the scheduled work period. This resulted in a unridable route through the woods - time for a diversion...
With a detour in place and another issue ticked off, the final hurdle showed its face. Just two days before the ride, the crossing at the railway was closed for maintenance work. Two options were available: divert the route again (although this would add about 2 miles of road riding to the journey); or carry the bikes over the pedestrian footbridge. With 19 riders booked on to the ride, this wasn't ideal. The bridge came out favourite and the risk assessment had a new section.
So, with sleeves rolled up and each hurdle knocked down, the morning of the ride dawned. The previous day's sunny blue skies had been replaced by greyness and a biting breeze; no problem, though - it was dry and we had a day on the bikes ahead of us.
Out of the 19 booked on, 16 keen riders from 6 to 60+ began to arrive at Formby Point and along with Sally, National Trust's resident Squirrel expert and Fran from Sefton Cycle Hire , we had everyone on hand to provide bike set up, squirrel facts and indeed ride information from yours truly.
We set off with everyone in great spirits, at a steady pace to get people warmed up. Once we had tackled the railway footbridge, we could get going properly and we made our way through the quiet residential area of Freshfield towards the cycle path past Woodvale RAF airfield.
We were now approaching our half way point and a planned stop for a well-earned, warming cuppa and biscuit courtesy of Mike Downey from Natural England. Mike not only gave us the very welcomed refreshments, but also provided us with an update on Natural England's local work, including promoting the growing population of Red Squirrels.
Suitably refreshed, we made our way back towards the coastal cycle path for our final stretch to Southport. Everyone was in good spirits and happy to get back on the bikes.
Two of our riders who had travelled over from Altrincham were particularly keen to see our coast, so were looking forward to the final section. Inevitably, the tide was out but the views do still provide great vistas of this stunning coastline. The promenade cycle path provides an excellent route along the front and into the Marine Lake complex, bringing you right into the heart of Southport and Lord Street.
The group now had a choice to make: either head for Southport station and enjoy the train ride home or join their intrepid cycle leader and ride the route in reverse back to Freshfield. Everyone was fully cycled out so opted for the train, but with big smiles and tired legs after an impressive 10 miles.
My back marker, Brian, Sefton's Councils Cycling Development Officer and I grabbed a well-deserved butty, brew and cake before heading back to Freshfield to complete a good day in the saddle.
We are running a whole series of these rides throughout 2013, utilising some of the themed routes here in Sefton. All rides will begin at 10.00am from the National Trust notice boards at Formby Point.
There is a small charge for the rides of £4.00, or £6.00 if you wish to hire a bike. Booking for the rides is required.
Dates and routes for forthcoming rides are:
- Saturday 11 May - Asparagus route
- Friday 14 June - Asparagus route
- Monday 29 July - Anthony Gormley 'Another Place' route
- Friday 30 August - Anthony Gormley 'Another Place' route
- Saturday 12 October - Squirrel route
For more information contact: Ross Adams 
0151 934 4576 / 07825 88 52 43