Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Monks from nearby Cartmel Priory used to store grain at the location now occupied by Grange-over-Sands, which is where the resort got its name - from 'graunge', a French word meaning granary.  Once a quiet fishing village, the arrival of the railway brought with it an influx of wealthy folk from Yorkshire and Lancashire who turned the village into a smart Edwardian resort, building elegant hotels and houses.  In 1932 a classic Art Deco style lido opened in the town.  Sadly, the lido closed in 1993 and has since become derelict, but there are moves afoot to restore it.  The lido is one of the last remaining Art Deco lidos in the north of England.  Today the resort still retains attractions such as a traffic-free promenade, gardens and golf courses.  There are also some good vantage points for watching the Morecambe Bay bird life, in particular Humphrey Head, a couple of miles south of the town, run by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. 

Map of the area.

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The Grand Hotel, Grange-Over-Sands. Photo by Mike and Kirsty Grundy, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 28 October 2013


Ulverston has a long history stretching back to the Romans, but its name dates from the days when the Norsemen were in the area.  The 'Ulver' part of the name is from the Norse family name Ulfarr, or 'wolf warrior', and the 'ton' part is from 'tun' or 'homestead'.  It became a market town in the 13th century when it was granted a market charter by King Edward I, giving it the right to hold weekly markets and annual fairs.  The town's importance as a trading centre was enhanced when it took over from Dalton as the capital of the Furness area, and the arrival of the railway and the building of a canal to the coast provided a further boost. The canal was built by John Rennie to connect the town to the Irish Sea, but it fell into decline with the arrival of the railway. 

Ulverston markets itself as a 'festival town', with music, fashion, beer and walking among its myriad festival themes.  The Charter Festival in September is a reminder of the town's market charter days.  In addition to the festivals, there are regular charity walks across the sands separating Ulverston from the Cartmel peninsula, a potentially dangerous tidal crossing in Morecambe Bay which provides a unique challenge for the participants.  In fact the sands are off-limits to anyone without a qualified guide.  Morecambe Bay's notoriety as a risky area to cross on foot was highlighted in the news some years ago with the tragic death of a group of Chinese cockle-pickers who were drowned by the incoming tide. 

Just outside the town is Hoad Hill with a monument overlooking the town known as the Hoad Monument, or the Sir John Barrow Monument.  The monument was erected in memory of the explorer Sir John Barrow, who was born in Dragley Beck in the parish of Ulverston, and who as well as participating in worldwide explorations was one of the founders of the Royal Geographic Society in 1830.  There is also a school in the town named after him.  Another famous local son was Stan Laurel, who was born in Ulverston in 1890; there is a Laurel and Hardy Museum full of memorabilia relating to the comic duo.

For a list of events in Ulverston see here.

Map of the area. 

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Town Square at Ulverston. Photo by Ian Petticrew, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 24 October 2013


Aldingham, which occupies a site inhabited since Saxon times, has been gradually lost to the sea over the centuries, and practically the only remaining traces of the original village are Aldingham Hall and the 12th century Church of St Cuthbert, which is protected from the sea by a wall and which is well worth a visit for its many interesting features.  The name of the church derives from the probability that the monks of Lindisfarne brought the saint's relics here, possibly with a view to taking them across to Ireland to escape the invading Danes.  As a further reminder of that time, the north side of the church is believed to harbour Viking burials.  The church was founded in the Norman period, and some of the arches and other Norman features remain, while in the Eastern Wall of the chancel there is a hole which is believed to have been put there for the benefit of the local lepers, who could view the church service without entering the building.  Further bits were added on, including the tower, which was built around 1350 and a 15th century window on the west side of the church.  During the area's smuggling days, the crypt of the church was allegedly used to hide the smugglers' ill-gotten gains, including brandy from France and tobacco from America.  The village used to have a motte and bailey castle, which was erected by the prominent local Fleming family, and the motte part of it can still be seen from the shore.  

Map of the area. 

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St. Cuthberts Church, Aldingham. Photo by John Clive Nicholson, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


This may be hard to believe, but the diminutive Piel Island, which covers just 50 acres and lies 1 Kilometer off the tip of the Furness Peninsula, has a king.  The king's day job is landlord of the island's pub, the Ship Inn, and the royal role is passed from one landlord to the next in a ceremony which involves the new king being drenched in beer while sitting on an ancient "throne" wearing a helmet and holding a sword.  The origins of this tradition are uncertain, but it may have been started as a way of making fun of an actual event in history in 1487, when Piel Island was used as the launchpad for an invasion by one Lambert Simnel, posing as Edward VI in an attempt to seize the throne.  Simnel suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the army of Henry VII.

Piel Island's most impressive sight is its ruined castle, on a site originally occupied by a motte and bailey fort built by the monks of Furness Abbey, probably in order to defend an existing warehouse from the unwanted attentions of pirates and raiders.  There is a school of thought that the fort also served to keep the customs men at bay, since smuggling was rife at the time, with the abbey playing a part.  Later in the island's history, in the 18th century, customs men were permanently stationed on the island, which by then was an important trading post.  The Piel Castle which we see today was built by the monks in the 16th century, and parts of its massive keep and walls still survive, and can be visited courtesy of English Heritage.    

Piel Island can be reached on foot at low tide, or by ferry from Roa Island, which sticks out from the mainland.  It is home to many species of sea bird, and nesting birds are found on the beach.  There is a marsh pond in the centre of the island which attracts further bird species.  From Roa Island, a shingle causeway which again can only be used at low tide leads to Foulney Island Nature Reserve.  The reserve attracts birds such as dunlin, eider ducks and terns.  Seal watching trips and fishing trips can be organised through the Ship Inn. 

Map of the island.

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Piel Island and Castle, Barrow-in-Furness. Photo by Simon Ledingham, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Eleven miles long and just under one mile wide, Walney Island is the eighth biggest island off the coast of England.  Lying just off Barrow-in-Furness on the Furness Peninsula and reached by the Jubilee Bridge which spans the Walney Channel, the island provides natural shelter for the port of Barrow.  The landward side of the island enjoys similar conditions, making it a haven for the pleasure craft using the moorings provided there, while on the seaward side there is the attraction of 10 miles of sandy beach where kitesurfing and windsurfing are popular activities.  Both ends of the island have been designated as nature reserves.  At the northern end of the island is the North Walney National Nature Reserve, an area of dunes and grassland which provides a habitat for birds such as stonechats and redshanks, as well as the natterjack toad and many rare plants.  The South Walney Reserve at the southern end is characterised by ponds formed by gravel workings and by a sand and shingle bank, and is occupied by a major colony of lesser black-backed and herring gulls. The southern end is also the location of Walney Lighthouse, built in 1804 to replace an earlier structure which was destroyed by fire. 

As for the human population, it is believed that the island has been inhabited since neolithic times.  The Norsemen arrived in the 9th century, coming from Ireland and the Isle Of Man.  The island's population was decimated by the plague in the 1600s, but in the 19th century it received a boost when Vickerstown was built to provide housing for workers from Barrow Docks, which were owned by the Vickers company, hence the name.  The town's development was further helped by the building of the Jubilee Bridge, which was completed in 1908 and which replaced the ferry service that had hitherto acted as the link with the mainland.  Although separated from it by the Walney Channel, Vickerstown is considered to be a suburb of Barrow-in-Furness.  During the First World War airships were built on the island, using a huge shed large enough to accommodate two airships side by side.  Thomas The Tank Engine fans may be interested to know that Walney Island is the inspiration for the island of Sodor, which is the setting for The Railway Series books by Wilbert Awdry on which the TV series was based.

Live streaming webcam of the seals at South Walney Nature Reserve.

Map of the area. 

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Walney Lighthouse. Photo by Chris Upson, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Like other towns and villages in the area, Barrow-in-Furness grew prosperous thanks to the local iron ore deposits.  What started out as a rural village was transformed into a thriving industrial and shipbuilding centre.  The ore was sent to steelworks all over the country, and in the late 19th century Barrow's own steelworks was the biggest in the world.  Reminders of this prosperous Victorian era abound in the town, most notably in the form of the red sandstone town hall and the wide, tree-lined streets.  The layout of the town can be attributed to James Ramsden, the first Mayor of Barrow and superintendent of the railway, who was responsible for making Barrow into a "planned town", and who also set  the shipbuilding industry in motion.  Barrow has a history of submarine building, including such models as the "P" class HMS Poseidon and Trident nuclear submarines.  There is footage on the British Pathe website of the launch in 1929 of HMS Poseidon from "Vickers - Armstrong's famous yard".  The Dock Museum tells the story of Barrow's industrial past.  

Barrow's public park, which was designed by the landscape artist Thomas Mawson, has been restored to the original plans, and in 2007 received the Landscape Heritage and Conservation award.  On the north-east edge of the town is Furness Abbey, which held sway over many of the communities in the area in its heyday, in fact the monks' influence even extended to the Isle of Man.  The abbey was founded in 1123 by Stephen Count of Boulogne, and was second only to Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire for its wealth and power as a Cistercian monastery.  However, the abbey fell foul of Henry VIII during the English Reformation and was destroyed in 1537.  Among the notable figures buried at the abbey is one of the kings of Mann and the Isles and some of the Bishops of Sodor and Man.  Recently, a hoard of medieval treasure was unearthed at the abbey during the excavation of the grave of a wealthy medieval abbot.  The remains of the abbey are open to the public and are run by English Heritage.

Map of the area. 

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Buccleuch Dock - Sunrise. Photo by Rosalind Mitchell, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 14 October 2013


The neighbouring villages of Askam and Ireleth cover a small area but are rich in local history.  Ireleth has Viking origins, specifically the Manx Vikings, its name deriving from the Viking for "hill-slope of the Irish".  In medieval times Ireleth was a farming village clinging onto a hillside overlooking the Duddon Estuary, one of many such villages which came under the control of Furness Abbey.  Later on, in the 19th century, Ireleth and Askam succeeded in creating a parish of their own, and thus the parish church of St Peter's was born.  Askam's origins are much more recent, stemming from the discovery of iron ore deposits, which turned out to be the second largest in the country.  It was the proceeds of the deposits which funded the building of St Peter's, which came to be known as the 'Iron Church'.  The size of the mines was such that there was not enough local labour to work them, and immigrants came from all over, from as far afield as Cornwall and Ireland.  The proximity of the Duddon Estuary makes the area a magnet for wildlife enthusiasts.  The most notable creature to inhabit the area is the Natterjack toad, which accounts for 20% of the national population.  The feathered population includes an internationally important breeding population of Sandwich terns.  The presence of all this wildlife means that the beach has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Map of the area. 

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Mudflats near Askam in Furness. Photo by Chris Upson, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Haverigg and Millom both come under the civil parish of Millom and both lie on the estuary of the River Duddon.  Haverigg is a small seaside village where cereal crops were evidently grown in Norse times judging from the meaning of the name, which derives from the Norse for 'the hill where oats are grown'.  Nowadays it is known for its safe Blue Flag beaches and its lighthouse.  The lighthouse, which is white with a red base,  is unusual in that it has been restored by a local school whose pupils have been made honorary lighthouse keepers, and the school has an image of the lighthouse as its logo.  Built in 1905 for a sea wall which was put up after the local Hodbarrow mine expanded its extraction into the Irish Sea, it became derelict in the late 1940s when the mine ceased operations, but reopened 99 years later in 2004, complete with a new dome and lantern with a solar-powered light.  Now the lighthouse stands as the last reminder of the area's mining era.  Haverigg has its own Inshore Rescue Station, and nearby is a sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos called 'Escape to Light' which is dedicated to all the British Inshore Rescue teams.  Near Haverigg is the Hodbarrow RSPB Nature Reserve on Hodbarrow Lagoon, which at this time of year hosts migrant thrushes, waders and wildfowl which can be observed from a hide.  A walk along the seawall may be rewarded with sightings of seals.

The Victorian town of Millom grew prosperous on the back of the discovery of the iron ore at Hodbarrow.  The industry is commemorated by a statue of a miner, 'The Scutcher', in the town centre which was made from local iron ore dust and resin.  The town's Holy Trinity Church dates from the late Norman age and was built from red  sandstone.  The church windows include one by William Wailes known as the 'fish window' due to its resemblance to a fish bladder, although its actual name is 'The Annunciation'.  This, and a number of other interesting features, make the church well worth a visit.  Next to the church is the ruined Millom Castle with a 4-storey pele tower.  The castle was attacked during the Civil War, and was badly damaged by a cannon in 1648.  The town has a folk museum called the Millom Discovery Centre which includes a reconstruction of a miner's cottage kitchen and a replica of part of the Hodbarrow mine.  There is a website about the town with some interesting old photographs, as well as new ones.

Map of the area.

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Lighthouse at edge of Hodbarrow lagoon. Photo by Simon Pudsey, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


At Ravenglass, which lies at the point on the Cumbrian coast where the rivers Esk, Mite and Irt come together at the Irish Sea, it's all about the Romans and the railway.  The Roman naval base of Glannaventa may have marked the southernmost point of the "Western Sea Defences" with its series of forts and watch-towers.  The meaning of the Roman name suggests the possible existence of a trading port at this location, and earlier this year it was reported that an archaeological exploration of the site was to take place aimed at proving the existence of such a settlement.  However, a number of items associated with the military unit stationed here have already been discovered, the most important of which was dug up not by an archaeologist, but by a dog!  The item in question was a bronze demob certificate pertaining to one of the soldiers.  Meanwhile, a short distance away from the village lie the remains of a bathhouse used by the soldiers at the fort.  The bathhouse, which is run by English Heritage, includes some of the walls with their doorways and windows, and a niche for a bust.

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is a narrow-gauge railway with steam trains which take visitors along a beautiful stretch of line which wends its way through the valley for seven miles, offering wonderful views of the mountains of the Lake District.  The line was built in 1875 to transport iron ore to the coast, and it was affectionately known as "La'al Ratty" in old Cumbrian dialect, meaning "little railway".  As well as railway buffs, birdwatchers enjoy the 40-minute journey, which passes through a natural habitat frequented by Greylag Geese, Curlew, Shelduck and Buzzards.  If you're very lucky you may spot a Red Squirrel.  Back at the station there is a museum which tells the history of the line.

Map of the area.

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Boats by the River Mite, Ravenglass. Photo by Nigel Chadwick, via Wikimedia Commons