Olympic Torch Route Through Formby
Olympic Flame

Olympic Formby 2012

On a day like today, sometime in the late Neolithic-early Bronze Age, 3500 - 4000 years ago, a young man set out to track his prey a short distance away at Formby Point. There were plenty of tracks to follow, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Wild Boar and commonly Wild Ox or Auroch. Huge beasts up to 6 feet high and 11 feet long.

As he moved, the hunter left his own tracks in the layers of mud lining the gently sloping beach. Coincidently sea levels are the same now as then.

Erosion has revealed these fragile fossil footprints. The hunters varied in age and weight, some tracks suggest deformities, arthritis and long toenails. The distance between footprints suggest moments in the hunt for patience others suggest moments of faster more immediate pursuit of the quarry.

The footprints appear at low tides. They become visible in the original mud as the sea washes away the layers of sand that covered them in the prehistoric period. They only last briefly before new tides wash them away permanently.

VillageViewFormby has a long history of human settlement. Nowadays it is a typical coastal dormitory town but its name betrays a Viking past. Originally known as Fornebei, it was the'village belonging to Forni'. It is a popular place, well-off according to some, and in the last 40 - 50 years has undergone much development. Nonetheless Formby residents still talk of the village, 'I'm going to the village', they say, 'I'll meet you in the village'. The village is the heart of the town.

It is an example of what Town Planners call, a 'good third place'. This is where Formby informal public life, so essential to good towns and great cities shows itself. Places threatened throughout the country that Mary Portas argues are 'Social Spaces'not just shopping centres.

Of course the sea, the sand dunes, the pinewoods, the Red Squirrel sanctuary all make Formby a hugely popular place to visit. No Scouser worthy of the name hasn't got out of a train at Freshfield railway station and trekked to the beach at least once. Incidentally, Freshfield so-called, because a Mr Fresh imported Liverpool 'night soil' to enrich the Asparagus growing fields.

So, once again a ritual cavalcade echoing an ancient past, the Olympics, is beating its way to Formby's doorstep. Well almost, it bypasses most of Formby and just briefly dips into the South-west portion of the Town. Pity, the village could have been the ideal heart of the Olympic Flame's visit.

CrossHouseInn1Our modern Olympic Flame torch-bearers are Nick Giles and Mary Hayward, he is 'truly a very likeable youth', 'passionate to help others'. A successful U18's English Hockey player, now in the English U21's squad. She is a registered nurse 'with a passion for the care of the elderly', who won 'Nurse of the year (patients choice section in 2009)'. The first will run towards the imposing Cross House Inn, where many residents will wait. Outside the Inn stands a cross in the middle of a roundabout, originally the village green. Village stocks stood here too, now long gone.

Further along Liverpool Road, our runner's footsteps will take them across the boundary of Formby Parish Council into Little Altcar Parish. Ancient boundary points found in every English Town and Village. At the splendid recently renovated Little Altcar Parish signpost, the runners will hand back the torch. The cavalcade will leave and we'll carry away with us our memories of a special day.

The torch-bearer's footsteps will sound but briefly. An echo of the hunters footprints, that still resonate with us today. The hunter's footprints once revealed, are just as short-lived as the brief moment when the Olympic flame passes through the town. I wonder which event remains in the memory longest.

An edited version of this story is also available on The Guardian Newspapers web site in the Olympic Writers Relay Section.

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