Playgrounds of the north, and a county town with a busy past
The northern end of Lancashire’s coast, looking out across Morecambe Bay, still has much of the wild beauty of nearby Lakeland, while to the south a line of bustling popular resorts begins at Morecambe. An earlier and different type of prosperity is recalled by the elegant Georgian houses lining the narrow streets of the older parts of Lancaster, built when the town was one of the busiest ports in the whole of Britain.
The village of Silverdale, once on the River Kent, was left high and dry in the 1920s when the river changed its course to reach the sea further westwards. The deep-water channel of the Kent is now 4 miles away, and it is hard to imagine that steamers once called at Silverdale with holidaymakers cruising from Morecambe.
The winding lanes round Silverdale give occasional glimpses of the sea, and the village is an excellent centre for walking. Paths lead through Eaves Wood, owned by the National Trust, and around Park Point and White Creek to Arnside.
The Victorian novelist Mrs Gaskell lived in Silverdale at the house called Lindeth Tower and Charlotte Bronte, as a young girl, stayed with friends in the village.
JENNY BROWN’S POINT
A track from Silverdale leads down to the edge of the foreshore at Jenny Brown’s Point, named after an old lady who lived on the shore in the 18th century. This was once a centre for copper smelting, but the only remains of the industry to be seen today is an old stone chimney stack.
The springy, close-textured grass is much in demand for garden lawns and bowling greens. There were plans during the last century to enclose large areas of the salt-marsh between Park Point, near Arnside, and Bolton-le-Sands to reclaim the land, in the manner of the polders which the Dutch have reclaimed from the Zuider Zee. A length of the old wall out on the mud-flats is the only remaining evidence of the £84,000 spent before the scheme was abandoned.
The bird reserve at nearby Leighton Moss is a northern outpost for bitterns and bearded reedlings, which breed mainly in East Anglia.
The town was once a busy industrial town with a steelworks which processed the
Cumbrian iron ore. This closed in 1931, but Carnforth remained important as a railway junction; the Furness Railway line diverges at Carnforth from the main London to Glasgow railway line to run along the Cumbrian coast to Carlisle, giving fine views of the coast and Morecambe Bay.
At Steamtown, signposted from the town centre, steam-engines are housed in Carnforth’s old steam-engine shed. They are on view daily, and are used for regular mainline excursions.
This residential village overlooks the southern end of salt-marshes which attract wading birds and waterfowl on their early autumn migrations to the Continent. Behind the houses, on the inland side of Bolton-le-Sands, runs the Lancaster Canal, which originally connected Lancaster with Kendal on the edge of the Lake District.
This residential suburb 4 miles north of Lancaster lies at the start of an ancient low-tide route across the open sands of Morecambe Bay to Kents Bank, near Grange-over-Sands. At one time the route ran all the way to Bardsea, near Ulverston. When it is safe, there are organised walks along the 11 mile route to Kents Bank, under the control of an experienced guide – an essential precaution in an area where the incoming tide can advance with terrifying speed and little warning. The walk should not be attempted without a guide. For bookings contact Mr C. Robinson, Guides Farm, Cart Lane, Grange-over-Sands.
A 4 mile long promenade along the edge of Morecambe Bay is Morecambe’s priceless asset as a holiday resort. The curving promenade gives a panoramic view across the width of the bay, from Piel Island to the heart of the Lakeland hills. Marine Road is lined with a cheerful bustle of hotels, guest houses, shops and seaside amusements.
Morecambe developed in Victorian times from three small fishing villages, as a resort for holidaymakers from the northern mill towns. Fishing boats still bob in the bay, providing a colourful spectacle as well as supplying whitebait, codling and shrimps, the local delicacy.
The Leisure Park has an outdoor heated swimming pool, paddling pools and sunbathing terraces. The Superdome is a venue for indoor sports during the day and a variety of entertainments in the evening. Near by, on the old Stone Jetty, is Marine-land, where trained dolphins perform daily in summer. There is an International Folk Lore Fiesta in August.
Modern Heysham is centred on the freight harbour from which ferries also carry cars and day trippers to the Isle of Man. The huge square block of Heysham’s nuclear power station can be seen from as far away as Barrow, on the opposite side of Morecambe Bay.
Old Heysham, to the north, is a village of twisting narrow streets dating back to the 7th century. On the cliff above the village is the ruined chapel of St Patrick, only 28 ft long by 9 ft across, the sole surviving example of a Saxon single-cell chapel in England, having no partitions or porches. A few yards away are several ancient graves cut into the rock, shaped for the head and body with a socket to hold a wooden cross. When these graves were made, perhaps 1,200 years ago, they would have been covered by stone slabs..
The Lancaster Canal meets the sea at Glasson’s docks, whose cheerful bustle makes a happy contrast with the commercial decay of many other harbours on this coast. The harbour was built in 1783, and its docks were among the earliest in England to have lock-gates which could keep the water level constant as the tide outside rose and fell.
The original West Indies trade through Lancaster died early in the last century. Glasson is now an important boating centre, while its nearness to the M6 has revived the coastal trade, and small trading vessels are now using the dock again.
St Peter’s Church, set among the trees on the headland overlooking the bay, has a Saxon west doorway and west window, and an early Norman chancel arch with mouldings representing ropes – perhaps because St Peter was a fisherman. The bellcote was added in the 17th century and the north aisle as late as 1864. Inside the church is a ridged or ‘hog back’ stone carved with a figure of a bear biting into each end, and Viking figures along the sides.
This tiny hamlet stands on the western side of the River Lune, where the river broadens into Morecambe Bay. The only road into Sunderland is flooded at high tide, when the houses can be reached only by following a footpath which skirts the high-water mark. Yet 200 years ago this was the site of a commercial harbour, the base for ships sailing to and from the West Indies.
In the middle of the 18th century, Lancaster was a busy port, trading with the West Indies and shipping more cargoes than any port in the country except London, Bristol and Liverpool. But its history goes back much further: the Romans built a fort on the hill overlooking a bend in the River Lune, and the Norman military engineers followed their example centuries later, when they founded a castle of their own, which still stands. The view from its tallest tower embraces a huge sweep of the coast and, on a clear day, extends as far as the mountains of the Isle of Man.
The castle has been a courthouse and prison for centuries. It contains Hadrian’s Tower and the Witches’ Tower where prisoners languished while awaiting trial and execution; they included the ten Lancashire witches convicted and hanged in 1612. On show are grim relics such as the clamp and iron used to fasten a criminal’s arm while the initial ‘M’ (for ‘malefactor’) was burned into his hand; this was last used as recently as 1811.
The Georgian Old Town Hail houses the Lancaster City Museum and the museum of the King’s Own Royal (Lancaster) Regiment, and the Judges’ Lodgings on Castle Hill contain a Museum of Childhood which gives a fascinating glimpse of what it was like to grow up in old Lancashire. In the Market Square, Charles II was proclaimed king in 1651. A period cottage, 15 Castle Hill, gives a glimpse of the lifestyle of a modest household of the early 19th century.
St George’s Quay is the centre of the old river port. Its tall, gabled, 18th-century warehouses have doors at top-floor level allowing goods to be raised and lowered with block-and-tackle. Near by is the Old
Custom House, but although small craft are still able to moor there, the old port died because of the silting up of the navigable channel. Later trade was carried by the Lancaster Canal, which ran northwards to Kendal on the edge of the Lake District, and southwards to a new outlet nearer the sea at Glasson.
In Williamson Park, on the eastern side of the town, is the high-domed Ashton Memorial, built in 1909 by Lord Ashton in memory of his wife.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Borwick Hail, Borwick, 3 miles NE of Carnforth. Elizabethan house. Afternoons in August.
Leighton Hall, 3 miles N of Carnforth. Mid-18th century, with neo-Gothic facade of 1800, woodland walk, collection of birds of prey. Most afternoons in summer.