Long sands that sweep outwards from the Duddon’s broad estuary
Cumbria’s southernmost coastline is usually by-passed by holidaymakers bound for the Lake District. However, this wild and unspoiled region of long sandy beaches, spattered with outcrops of rocks and split by river estuaries which run far inland towards the lakes and fells, has its own particular charm. Not always easy to reach by road, the shoreline retains a natural grandeur interrupted only by the shipyards of Barrow-in-Furness.
Because it is some 2 miles from the nearest main road, the long stretch of rock-strewn sand centred on Annaside does not attract the crowds, making the effort of reaching it well worth while on a good sunny day.
To reach the shore, leave the main coast road and go through Bootle village. Turn left down a lane which leaves the road after about half a mile and follow it under the railway. The lane winds for just over a mile to a small private bridge over the River Annas, from where footpaths lead to the shore – a 4 mile strip of land sandwiched between the Lakeland hills and the sea, where hundreds of shallow rock pools form at low tide. A walk northwards along the shore leads to the tiny Selker Bay, where the Annas flows to the sea.
The difficulty involved in reaching this stretch of wild, open beach often leaves it deserted even on the hottest summer day. The approach track, narrow and badly surfaced, turns off the Whitehaven to Broughton in Furness coast road and winds for more than a mile down to the beach. The journey is amply rewarded by the emptiness of the beach and the splendour of the view, with the mountains inland dominated by the 1,970 ft Black Combe.
The beach of sand and shingle is backed by high cliffs-but nowhere is there any sign of the mineral spring which it was once hoped would turn Gutterby into a spa resort.
Easier to reach than most neighbouring beaches, Silecroft’s sand-and-shingle beach is a busy spot in the summer, and it is overlooked by a caravan and camping site. The beach is reached by a turning off the main coast road to Millom, which crosses the railway line and passes through the village of Silecroft, then runs down almost to the water’s edge.
The 12 mile long sweep of beach which stretches from the estuary of the River Esk at Ravenglass to the estuary of the River Dud-don ends at Haverigg in a long expanse of low-tide sand, backed by broad sand-dunes. On one side of the little village is a modern open prison, on the other the remains of old ironstone mines and quarries, some of which have been flooded to create the Hod-barrow Hollow lake.
The beach is ideal for picnics and sunbathing, and swimming is safe enough close to the shore when the tide is rising. Further out in the estuary, strong currents have scoured deep channels, making conditions treacherous. Footpaths along the edge of the dunes give views across the estuary to Barrow and the coast of the Isle of Walney.
From Broughton in Furness the River Dud-don widens out into a broad estuary extending southwards to the sea. At low tide the vast expanse of water dries out to a stretch of sand 2 miles across at its widest point. In the upper reaches of the estuary footpaths link villages on opposite banks, at low tide, but visitors should not use them without local advice as the sands are treacherous and the rising tide rapidly floods the area. The mudflats are the home of huge numbers of wading birds.
An unassuming little town on the western side of the Duddon estuary, Millom grew up around its 14th-century castle and the adjacent 12th-century church of the Holy Trinity, which is notable for its fine windows. Both the castle and church are situated near a bend in the road leading to Duddon Bridge, a mile or so north of the present town centre. In later years, the local mining industry made Millom prosperous. During the late 19th century, when most of Millom was built, its iron mines had 11 working shafts, making them the largest and busiest in Britain. The last of the workings closed only in 1968. Among the exhibits at Millom’s folk museum are a reconstruction of a miner’s cottage and a replica of one of the working levels of the old Hodbarrow Iron Mine, at nearby Haverigg.
Two roads down the Furness peninsula -one from Duddon Bridge and the other from Ulverston – meet at Dalton-in-Furness. The whole area is honeycombed with old iron-ore quarries and mine workings. The splendour of St Mary’s Church, with its large nave and imposing west tower, bears witness to the past prosperity of the village. This was the birthplace in 1734 of the portrait painter George Romney, who died in 1802 and was buried in the churchyard.
Nearby Dalton Castle is owned by the National Trust, and there is a small museum on the site. On the edge of the Duddon estuary, 3 miles west of Dalton, are the sand-dunes of Sandscale Haws, where miles of open sands are exposed at low tide. Bathing is safe only at high water, when the incoming sea holds back the dangerously fast river currents.
The town of Barrow originally grew up around Furness Abbey, established by the Cistercians in 1127. The ruins which stand on the north side of the town still give a vivid impression of an abbey which was second only to Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire in its wealth and importance. The monks smelted iron on the nearby Isle of Walney and had their own fleet of trading ships.
By the time the monastery fell into ruin, the town of Barrow had grown up to the south of the abbey, and the iron ore which the monks had used became the fuel for a new prosperity. The first local furnaces were built during the 18th century, and by the end of the century high-grade local ore was being shipped out from the harbour to feed steelworks all over England. By 1870, Barrow’s own steelworks were the biggest in the world.
The town which grew up around the steelworks and shipyards was carefully planned, with wide, tree-lined streets and blocks of flats for the workers. Later, at the beginning of the present century, a planned suburb called Vickerstown was built on the Isle of Walney in the ‘garden city’ style. There is a good view of the docks from the road which leads to Walney.
ISLE OF WALNEY
This 12 mile long strip of land, curved at either end, provides the shelter from the open sea which makes Barrow such a splendid natural harbour. On its inland side is a wide expanse of water, dotted with rocks and islands, and moorings for yachts and other pleasure craft. Beyond are visible the dockside cranes and fitting-out sheds of the Barrow shipyards.
On the seaward side of Walney is a straight beach more than 10 miles long, dotted with ‘scars’, or clumps of rock among the sand. The island is only a quarter of a mile across in places and, apart from the built-up area opposite Barrow, consists mainly of dune and grassland. During particularly violent storms in the past years, mountainous seas have washed right across the island. At the southern end is a large nature reserve with herring gulls and black-backed gulls.
Standing in the gap between the mainland and the southern end of the Isle of Walney, Piel Island was ideally placed for the defence of Barrow Harbour. A castle was first built there in the 12th century, but 100 years later the monks of Furness Abbey set up a fortress and a warehouse for the goods traded from the abbey, such as food, wine and wool. The ruins of the warehouse can still be seen. In 1486 Lambert Simnel, impersonating the imprisoned Earl of Warwick, landed at Piel Island in an attempt to seize the crown from the new king, Henry VII. He was later defeated and captured at Stoke, and was given a job as a servant in the royal household.
The island can be reached at weekends by boat from Roa Island, or at very low tides by walking across the sands from the Isle of Walney.
INVASION CASTLE The last foreign invasion of England be$a)I at Piel in I486, by Irish and Flemish supporters of Lambert Simnel.