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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Walk 193 Askam in Furness to Walney Island and Barrow in Furness (Cumbria)

Walk 193 Askam in Furness to Walney Island and Barrow in Furness (Cumbria)

(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)

Map: L/R 96
Distance: 12 miles or 20 km approx
Difficulty: Easy, flat
Terrain: coastal path, small amount of road. Check tides around Askam as I was told that the walk could be difficult across the sands.
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Trains between Barrow and Askam

Rightly or wrongly I took the advice of a local and started this walk at Askam in Furness rather than Kirby in Furness. He said that Kirby southwards could be very marshy and best avoided. (NB Furness is a peninsula but where did the name come from and what is the actual meaning - have not found a source to tell me),

The streets of Askam are typical terraced rows which once housed the workers of the local iron ore works and pits. Many of the workers came here from mining areas in Ireland and Cornwall. Evidence of the industry is still there, including the pier and names such as Steel Street and Sharp Street (a person involved in early iron ore extraction). Askam has its own lifeboat station.

The walk along the Cumbrian Coastal Way is often along the beach – note warnings above about tides. There a few dog walkers to start with, but judging by my experience, you can expect a lonely walk until you reach the outskirts of Barrow. Follow the path around Sandscale Haws then to the (appropriately?) named Lowsy Point. The path eventually moves inland and follows the route of the main road past the Dock Museum and over on to Walney Island.

There is no path around the coast of the island but you can get good views by following the road to the western side. Jubilee Bridge takes you over to the island across Walney Channel – the bridge gets its name from the silver jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. A plaque on the side also notes that it was freed from being a toll bridge in 1935. Just before the bridge are buildings owned by BAE Systems, the largest employer in Barrow.

On the right, as you cross on to the island, is the picturesque Ferry Hotel – the site of the Barrow ferry before the bridge was built. Near here there are thought to be plague victims buried in a mass grave in 1631.

As you move on to the island you enter Vickerstown which was originally planned as a resort. Instead, Vickers, the Barrow shipbuilders, developed a model estate for its workers similar to that built at Port Sunlight on Merseyside.

Follow the road to the western coast and beach. This is a pleasant spot where you can get good views in both directions. It extends for 12 miles. Walk a little further southwards to Biggar Bank with its white, curved pavilion. A plaque nearby dated 1933 states that the Bank and the pavilion were 'declared free for the use of the public for ever'. There are nature reserves on both ends of the island where natterjack toads, nesting gulls and the unique Walney Geranium can be found. An elderly neighbour, sadly no longer with us, told me that a false harbour was built on the island to confuse the Germans during World War 2.

Follow the road back into Barrow. The town was originally settled around Furness Abbey founded in 1172 but now a ruin. It is on the eastern fringe of the town. Victorian Barrow was a planned development that at one time boasted the largest iron and steel works in the world. It also had a thriving ship building industry. If you have time, it is worth popping into the Dock Museum to learn more. From the 1960s Barrow has been the site for the construction of nuclear submarines. Look out for the impressive town hall which reflects the importance of the town (it remains the largest in Cumbria). In the shopping area, a sculpture marks the industrial past of the town. Outside the Cruise Direct/Barrhead Travel offices is a sculpture of Emlyn Hughes. He was born in Barrow, played locally as a youth before becoming captain of England and Liverpool. He died in 2004.

Photos show: the coast south of Akram in Furness; The Ferry Hotel from the bridge to Walney Island; the 12 mile long beach on the west of Walney Island; industry sculpture in Barrow on Furness.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Walk 192 Bootle Station to Millom (Cumbria)

Walk 192 Bootle Station to Millom (Cumbria)

(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)

Map: L/R 96
Distance: 16 miles or 26 km approx
Difficulty: Easy, flat
Terrain: coastal path, small amount of road. Some beach walking which could slow you down
Access: Parking at Millom, not sure about Bootle Station
Public transport: Trains between the two places. Millom has links to Barrow in Furness.

Follow the track from Bootle Station on to the Cumbria Coastal Way. The walk down to Silecroft is pleasant enough especially on a nice sunny day when I went. The coast is a site of special scientific interest for its bird and plant life – especially sedge warblers and orchids. However, don't expect to see much human life! 

After Silecroft, much of the walk is on the beach and care should be taken to stick near the dunes to avoid getting cut off – especially around Haverigg Point. The sandy area is called Haverigg Haws where there are breeding birds in the dunes. Look out for the sculpture on the beach side near Haverigg. It looks like a dragon and is called Escape to Light. It represents man flying from a dragon and giving in to temptations of greed and power and nature flying away from pollution and extermination.

Follow the coastal path that leaves Haverigg and goes round the outer man made barrier originally built in 1900 to protect iron ore mine workings. These subsided leaving large areas of water. The walk goes past the lighthouse, built in 1905, and refurbished in 2003. It now operates on a sensor and comes on as darkness falls – flashing every four seconds. Look out for the old lighthouse as you walk round.

Follow the path into the centre of Millom where a sculpture celebrates the towns heritage founded on the mines and iron works.

Photos show: part of the long, and for me, lonely stretch between Bootle Station and Silecroft; the old lighthouse from the outer barrier between Haverigg and Millom; the industrial heritage sculpture in Millom centre. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Walk 191 Sellafield to Bootle Station (Cumbria)

Walk 191 Sellafield to Bootle Station (Cumbria)

(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)

Map: L/R 89 and 96
Distance: 15 miles or 24 km
Difficulty: Easy, mostly flat
Terrain: coastal path, footpaths and roads.
Access: Not sure about parking at Sellafield
Public transport: Trains between the two places – either may be a request stop – can't remember (X on the destination board means you need to speak to the guard to stop the train).

Start the walk at Sellafield and walk south to Seascale alongside the railway line. Seascale was originally a Norse settlement and the name means hut or shelter by the sea. Evidence of an effort during Victorian times to make the town into a seaside resort is evident in some remaining fine Victorian houses. More recently its proximity to nearby Sellafield has sparked fears that childhood cancers are increasing. Research on this appears to be ongoing and seems to be suggest that this is not the case. The taxi driver mentioned in the walk through Whitehaven came from Seascale and killed two residents here when he ran amok. Look out for the Round Tower, this was a pumping tower dating from the days when Seascale had no proper water supply.

Take care if the red flag flying as this means that there is military activity on the shooting range further down the shore. So don't be tempted on to the dunes near Drigg but follow the path as marked on the map inland towards Drigg. Then navigate along minor roads to Saltcoats before crossing the bridge into Ravenglass.

Ravenglass is a pleasant spot and a good place to stop for refreshment. It may well be worth a day visit in itself. The Romans built a fort here and you can visit the remains of a bath house. The settlement is the only coastal village lying within The Lake District National Park. It is uniquely situated on the meeting of three rivers – The Esk, The Mite and The Irt. At the back of the town is The Ravenglass and Eskdale railway (I believe it is known as the Ratty) which was England's first narrow gauge railway. It was opened in 1876 to carry ore from local mines. It was closed in 1912 but was reopened much later as a successful tourist attraction. It goes 7 miles inland with trains pulled by steam and sometimes diesel. A great way to see some of the local scenery.

The walk down from Ravenglass is a bit of a slog mainly along the road. It was noisy with all the military shooting and explosions at Eskmeals. Not a walk I enjoyed and you could well skip it by getting the train from Ravenglass to Bootle.

Photos show: The beach with red flag near Seascale; the front at Ravenglass.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Walk 190 Whitehaven to Sellafield (Cumbria)

Walk 190 Whitehaven to Sellafield (Cumbria)

(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)

Map: L/R 89
Distance: 14 miles or 22km approx
Difficulty: Moderate – Bees Head is hilly, the rest is mainly flat
Terrain: coastal path
Access: Parking in each location
Public transport: Trains between the two places – this train has request stops and I can't remember if Sellafield is one of them

Before leaving Whitehaven you could take a walk to St Nichols Church where this a memorial to the children killed underground when working in the local coal mines. There is also a plaque to 'Farthing Jimmy' the nickname for Sir James Lowther (1673-1755) the richest commoner in England at the time who had a reputation for meanness (hence his nickname).

Walk out of Whitehaven towards the beacon. Down near the harbour is the Candlestick Chimney which ventilated Wellington Pit. Near here was Saltom Pit the first undersea coal mine sunk in 1731. On the hill is Duke Pit fan house a 19th century building which housed a fan for another coal mine. A few hundred yards along the path there is access inland to Haig Collery, a museum telling the story of coal mining in the area.

Follow the path along Bees Head with good views back to Whitehaven and, on a very good day, to the Isle of Man (about 30 miles away). The walk over Bees Head felt uncomfortably close to the edge at times. The cliffs rise to 100 metres and are the highest in north west England. The route got a bit confusing at times as there is quite a bit of quarrying of sandstone with safety fencing in place.

At North Head the lighthouse is a prominent landmark. It is here because of the great danger to ships with wrecks buried in the shingle beneath the head. It was the last lighthouse to use an open coal fire as a light source – it is now fired by an oil generator. I assume that the white tower at the side is a fog horn system. During World War 2 a radar station was based in the buildings next to the lighthouse. North Head marks the most westerly part of the Lake District. The cliff-top walk is the start of the coast to coast walk devised by Alfred Wainwright. (Finishes at Robin Hood Bay in Yorkshire).

Continue round the head and down near to St Bee's Beach, then into St Bees village. Look out for the sculpture of St Bega who lived here in the 7th century when she established a nunnery. The name of St Bees is a corruption of the saint's name; she was said to be an Irish princess who fled across the Irish Sea to avoid an enforced marriage. As you walk through St Bees look out for the Elizabethan School and the Norman Priory.

I could not find the path along the coast so had to walk along the road then farmland before joining the coast path, parallel to the rail line to Nethertown. The walk from here to Sellafield partly follows the coast but goes inland to High Sellafield across farmland. It did not appear to correspond to my map. Part of this walk is across a narrow hanging bridge which blows alarmingly in the wind – although the drop to the river is not that far. Again, the path to Sellafield itself has to be found along roads with the map not a lot of help – maybe later OS versions are clearer.

The nuclear power station here was called Calder Hall when it was opened in 1956. It was the world's first nuclear power station to generate electricity on a commercial scale. It was then called Windscale but after an accident in 1957 it was called Sellafield. When I was there it was undergoing decommissioning and dismantling. Don't wander around as there is strict security.

Photos show: Candlestick Chimney at Whitehaven; quarrying at St Bees Head; St Bees Head and beach; narrow suspension bridge near High Sellafield.