Last weekend I went to Formby to walk the Formby Asparagus Trail. The trail is about three miles long and information boards tell the story of asparagus cultivation in the area.
The usual starting point is the National trust centre at Victoria Road but as I approached I could see a long queue of vehicles waiting to get to the car park, including three coach parties of schoolchildren. It was going to be chaotic so I parked close to Blundell Avenue and started my walk from there.
Asparagus grown at Formby was a local delicacy but the season was very short lasting just a few weeks from St Georges Day 23rd April to the summer solstice on 21st June. From the mid 19th century farmers levelled the sand dunes to form small fields, known as ‘pieces’ where they grew the asparagus. Fertiliser was needed and this came form ‘night soil’. Thomas Fresh was a public health official trying to improve the hygiene and sanitation in Liverpool. In 1852 he established a manure siding on land leased from the nearby Blundell Estate. Thomas Fresh founded Freshfield and in 1854 the station was named in his honour.
Leaving Blundell Avenue I turned left to cross a field and then walked across open heathland.
I came to the first of the information boards outlining some of the history of the Brooks Family and Larkhill Farm. The field to my left is one of the few remaining sites where asparagus is still grown in the area. John Brooks came to the farm in 1907 with his father.John’s sons continued the tradition until the 1960 when the asparagus beds became exhausted. In 1970 the next generation took over and revived the tradition. In 2010 David Brooks new asparagus beds at Sandfield farm and asparagus is still being produced at Formby.
Crossing a couple of fields I came to this wooden sculpture. Judging by the cans I think he had a hard night. The route was well signposted and after passing a school I entered some woodland
Leaving the woods I crossed some heathland and headed towards the sand dunes to meet up with the Sefton Coastal footpath
Following this path to my right I entered some more woodland. A field to the right was part of Sandfield Farm where asparagus was being grown.
Ron Jennings returned from military service in the late 1940’s and together with his father Jack set about levelling an area of dunes. They used a tipping truck on rails to spread the sand across the field. By the 1960’s no new land was available on the farm so some fields were prepared for a second planting by a process known as delving. It involved digging by hand a trench up to a yard deep. The turf was upturned into the trench and fresh sand spread on the surface. It sounds like backbreaking work.
I continued along the waymarked trail passing grassy areas that were once asparagus fields.
An information board told the story of Jimmy Lowe and Pine Tree farm. The whole family was involved in the harvest. A special knife was used. to cut the asparagus. It was sharpened at the end like a chisel and care was needed to avoid damaging the crop. The asparagus shoots were made into bunches tied with raffia. After washing they were packed into hampers and sent to market.
The noticeboard tells the story of the Aindow Family. Up until the 1990’s the farm used heavy horses rather than tractors. The horses could work in narrower furrows and they did not get stuck.
In 1897 pine trees were planted near Victoria Road to create Jubilee Wood to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Today the woods are home to one of the few remaining colonies of Red Squirrels.
It had been a fascinating walk and I had learned a lot about the local history of the area.