Dickensian Day - A festive favourite in Formby

Organisers are hoping the weather doesn't put paid to their great expectations for this year's Dickensian Day in Formby, as Paul Mackenzie reports<br/>Photography by John Cocks

Hot chestnuts, street entertainers, gifts, games and fun – it’s what Christmas was all about. And in Formby the spirit of Christmas past is alive and well with plenty of festive family fun on offer. The highlight of the countdown to Christmas is the annual Dickensian Day but this year’s event was threatened by the shadow of Scrooge.

Financial cuts had looked like they might cause the day to be abandoned but, like in all good Christmas stories, there was a happy ending.

Maria Bennett is one of the committee who have been planning the day since January and she said: ‘It costs �7,000 to stage the day each year and it’s getting harder and harder to raise the money because it’s now more difficult than ever to get funding.’

Since it was launched 15 year ago, the Dickensian Day has netted charities about �160,000 and this year’s festivities will go ahead on Saturday December 3, with stalls, entertainment, performances and attractions. But there is a question mark over its future.

‘If we have another wet day, like last year, we’ll have to consider our options for the years to come,’ Maria said. ‘The previous year the weather was fine and we had about 4,000 people and many of them were out all day. But last year there was about half that number and lots of people only came down for half an hour or so.

‘We really are so dependent on the weather but until we know what it does on the day this year, we’re reserving a decision on whether we hold the Dickensian Day at the same time of year in future or do something different.’

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One option the committee will consider when they re-group after this year’s event is to hold a food, drink and music festival in the town.

Maria, whose grandchildren will be two of Santa’s elves at the Dickensian Day, added: ‘I think it’s so important to keep the community spirit alive. I know people have busy lives but once that sort of spirit is lost it is very hard to ever get it back. That’s why events like the Dickensian Day are so important.’

Whenever you visit Formby you’ll find a range of small independent shops and larger chain stores, and a healthy collection of cafes, bars and restaurants, most of them along Chapel Lane.

Formby is among the most desirable addresses in the county and is home to a who’s who of football stars – if you were to kick a ball in the air around here there’s every chance it would come down in a premiership player’s garden. But whatever club the player represents, the reds have most fans in this area.

Formby is one of the last remaining strongholds of red squirrels who live in the pine woods between the town and the sea.

Their bigger, stronger grey cousins – who were introduced to the wild in the 19th century – have proved more successful at foraging and fending off disease. They have out-muscled the reds in all but a few small parts of the country and one of them is here.

The reds are also at greater risk from squirrel pox which reduced their numbers in the pine woods to around 30 just a couple of years ago but they have rallied and are now thought to number about 150.

Although the woods are one of Formby’s most famous landmarks, they were planted just 100 years ago to protect the town’s asparagus crops from the harsh west winds which whip across the beach and the dunes. As recently as 1930 there were more than 200 acres of fields growing asparagus,. Today there are just 10 acres devoted to growing the precious spears.

The weather claims about four metres of dunes each year, although severe storms can wreak much greater havoc – 15 metres were lost during one violent storm in 1990.

This shrinking strip of golden sand is one of only a few sites in England where the endangered natterjack toad breeds. Visitors there on spring evenings can hear the distinctive sound of the males bellowing in the dunes to attract a mate.

Also on the sand are the petrified 5,000 year-old footprints of elk, andelk hunters remains of the UK’s first lifeboat station, which was builtin 1776.

Where it is: Formby nestles in a beautiful area of coastline and is an ideal commuter town to Liverpool, within reasonable distance of Manchester and Preston.

Where to park: There are car parks at the squirrel reserve – free to National Trust members – and on-street parking is available around the town.

What to do: Head to Formby on December 3 to enjoy all the fun of the festive fair at the Dickensian Day. On other days, there’s plenty of shops and cafes to explore and no visit is complete until you’ve seen a squirrel and walked on the beach.

The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Lancashire Life 

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