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.
Map of the area.
|Walney Lighthouse. Photo by Chris Upson, via Wikimedia Commons|