To reach one of Britain’s largest nature reserves, you must pass through densely populated woods reminiscent of the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter films.

But as we continue through a cross stitch of evergreens to reach Formby Beach on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain, a more vintage piece of cinema comes to mind: those creepy apple trees on the way to Oz, who growl in spite when Dorothy tries to pick the overhanging fruit.

Either way, it’s worth the cinematic journey. Because when we emerge from the dark, cool forest, the view – and the gusty breeze – is breathtaking: 500 hectares of sand dunes and an expansive coastline.

Angela Epstein takes a ‘cinematic journey’ through Formby Forest, pictured, a pine forest on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain, and finds it reminds her of the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter films

Above Draco Malfoy (left, Tom Felton) and Harry Potter (right, Daniel Radcliffe) enter the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 2001

Above Draco Malfoy (left, Tom Felton) and Harry Potter (right, Daniel Radcliffe) enter the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001

Charm of the forest: Protected red squirrels can be spotted in Formby Pinewood

Yet despite its raw beauty, it’s only a short drive from Liverpool. It’s no wonder the upscale suburbs that border the reserve – a mix of newly built mansions and Georgian shanties – have become a magnet for superstar footballers who play for Premier League clubs in the north. west. The candied opulence of these areas stands in stark contrast to the natural beauty that drew us here.

The pinewoods are part of the attraction, as they are home to red squirrels – nearly extinct outside of Scotland. Unlike the gray bristle detritus, the red ones are a protected species.

Legend has it they arrived in 1940, after a local was asked to look after a Scandinavian breed for a friend. But one day, the squirrels escaped, taking over the rights of the squatters in the forest.

The woods themselves – first planted by the Formby family in 1784 – also have an apocryphal history: during the Second World War, German bombers took the forest at night for darkened Liverpool and dropped bombs, causing large fires.

The dunes are also home to a wide variety of species. These include the rare natterjack toad, whose characteristic chorus has earned it the local name Birkdale Nightingale, and the rare northern dune beetle, found only in Merseyside and Cumbria.

Angela finds the view of Formby beach, pictured, to be

Angela finds the view of Formby Beach, pictured, to be ‘quite breathtaking: 500 acres of sand dunes and an expansive coastline’

The rare natterjack toad, whose characteristic chorus has earned it the local name Birkdale Nightingale, is native to the Formby sand dunes (stock photo)

The rare natterjack toad, whose characteristic chorus has earned it the local name Birkdale Nightingale, is native to the Formby sand dunes (stock photo)

It is a place where vegetation grows wildly. Asparagus has been grown in the Formby sand dunes by farmers since the 1800s, with around 200 acres being hand leveled to create the fields. Ten acres of the site are still in use today.

We start on the footpath, following a path of about 1.5 km suitable for all levels. You can even stop for a picnic near huge wooden asparagus tips and carvings of those who cultivated in past generations.

The nothingness of Formby beach and its microclimate are part of its charm. But if you want to see more, venture south along the coast to Crosby Beach where you’ll find Another Place, an art installation by Antony Gormley featuring 100 cast-iron figures modeled on his own body. 6 feet 2 inches.

‘Despite its raw beauty, it’s only a short drive from Liverpool (above),’ Angela says of Formby

Venture south along the coast to Crosby Beach and you'll find Another Place, an art installation by Antony Gormley (pictured) featuring 100 cast iron figures modeled on his own body

Venture south along the coast to Crosby Beach and you’ll find Another Place, an art installation by Antony Gormley (pictured) featuring 100 cast iron figures modeled on his own body

They are eerily disturbing, staring impassively out to sea. The tide rushes in and they are slowly submerged, only to reappear when the water falls.

Formby’s magic is hard to beat. Standing on the dunes overlooking the Irish Sea there is a wispy outline of the Cumbrian mountains – and even the silhouette of Blackpool Tower.

But if you want to visit, go this summer. Not least because it is one of the fastest eroding coastlines in the UK. What nature gives, she clearly wants to take back.