I’d been putting this walk off for quite a while, because it involved a cycle ride from Ulverston to the start in Cark, 12 miles, and I don’t like cycling very much. I don’t like cycling at all actually. Sections around headlands (like Grange to Cark last time) are OK because the cycle ride from end to start is short, but around estuaries the cycle ride is at least as long as the walk. After procrastinating for nigh on three weeks, I decided to take the train.
The trains are almost empty due to the continued presence of the unwelcome guest in our midst, and face-masks are now compulsory. I’ve already had the virus, so I face no threat from anyone else on the train, or pose a threat to anyone else either, so I really couldn’t see any issue in using the train.
The train from Ulverston to Cark passes over the viaduct across the River Leven. The water looks quite shallow, and it occurs to me that perhaps I could have waded across like I did the River Kent. That would have saved most of this whole section – 12 miles. Oh well, too late now.
It’s a short walk from Cark station to the start point of the walk. Cark is a nice village, and my start point is outside a pretty row of cottages.
The first half of this walk is northwards towards the first bridge over the River Leven, then a central section heading west over the river, then the rest heading south down to Ulverston. If I could ford the river it would be a three mile walk across the estuary. Apparently you can hire a guide to show you across, but I only found that out after reading Ruth’s blog when I’d already finished!
The way north closest to the coast follows the B5278, but it is quite busy and has no pavement for over four miles, so I don’t fancy that from a safety aspect. Instead, the Cumbria Coastal Way follows a route up and down a mountain slightly to the east of the road. I wouldn’t have fancied that much either if I knew how much climbing is involved, but I was blissfully ignorant at the time I made the decision. So I take a right turn off the B5278 up a very steep lane.
Pretty foxgloves, heavily bestowed with droplets from the morning’s showers lull me into a daydream…
A cow softly moos at me from her field, a perfect field with a perfect tree and a perfect farmhouse to complete the entrancing picture…
Pastures, dry stone walls, and picturesque trees distract me from the climb and mesmerise me further…
The lane continues upwards, and the path passes through a gate into open countryside, and continues to climb. The pretty blooms of Red Campion line my path.
I turn a slight corner and my daydream is strengthened still further by the sight of the aftermath of an all-nighter sheep party…
These guys and gals have really been celebrating in style. A couple have managed to stand up, but mostly they’re sleeping it off. Must’ve been a hell of a party. There’s gonna be some very sore heads around here for a few hours yet… I wish I’d been invited.
The path turns off to the left and continues climbing along a track through some woods. A vibrant quilt of green softens the sharp contours of the dry stone wall…
…and occasional patches of honeysuckle brandish their enticing blossom, but will remain scentless for a few hours yet until the evening draws out their heady perfume.
The path reaches a gate, beyond which the open moor stretches out steeply before me. To my left, far below, lies the tranquil estuary of the River Leven, bisected by the railway viaduct. Only now do I stir fully out of my daydream and realise that my legs are aching quite a lot. A quick look at the app on my phone tells me I’ve climbed almost 600 feet already. That’s great, but there’s quite a bit more climbing to go. I think about wading across the river, which now seems infinitely preferable to climbing a few hundred more feet. Oh well, way too late now.
The path goes ever on upward, and I mutter and moan a little. Some nearby sheep overhear me and tell me I’m a right wuss for moaning about walking uphill. Yeah OK guys, but your hungover mates down the hill would be moaning pretty loudly too if they had to climb up this steep hill this morning, and although I’m not as sore-headed as them, I did have a few last night myself…
I reach what I think is the top of the hill, and take a look around. The estuary to the west, mountains of the central lake district to the north, mocking sheep to the east. I stop whingeing for a few minutes and absorb the view. I guess it was worth the climb after all.
Dry stone walls are lined with foxgloves, swaying gently in the lightest of breezes. I stop to listen…. nothing. Dead silence. This is quite a magical place.
I continue walking, absorbing the atmosphere, until the magic is abruptly shattered by a seriously pissed-off looking cow. A big cow. A big cow with big mates. Cows don’t worry me too much, which is probably a serious under-estimation by me of the potential danger they represent. Mostly they run away from me, but I can see this one is daring me to try it on.
I’d consider it, being a bit stupid like that, if it wasn’t for her mates who all seem happy to hold her jacket and step in afterwards in the unlikely event that I win the first round.
OK, I admit defeat, and pass them by, making sure not to make much eye contact which can wind them up. The same tactic that works in Manchester City Centre at 3am with similar groups of animals looking for trouble.
This place must see some fearsome weather, to which the trees can surely testify.
The path starts to drop now, which cheers me up a bit, even though it’s started to drizzle. I decide now is the perfect time for a selfie, so with my camera perched on a gatepost, and my brolly to keep me dry, I take my first attempt.
A perfectly placed raindrop makes the picture look like something off Google streetview. Oh well. The path drops down until I reach a small stream with a little footbridge.
Passing over the bridge, the path enters a shady wood, and instantly rises steeply up another slope. This annoys me. I’m meant to be walking along the coast. I’m on the Cumbria Coastal Way, so why is it taking me over the top of a mountain? Could it not have skirted the summit a bit? I mean, it’s not the Cumbria Mountain Way…. By the time I’ve finished moaning to myself, I’ve left the wood, and the path has levelled out. Around a corner is a huge pond full of water lilies, Bigland Tarn.
The path leads downhill and into a wood, getting gradually steeper. Realising I’ve lost quite a bit of time going slowly uphill, I decide to make some time up and lengthen my stride, even breaking into a jog at times. However, the path gets ever steeper and I realise I’m at risk of slipping over and tumbling down the hill, so pull back. I just turned 54 a couple of weeks ago, and my body doesn’t bounce as well as it did when I was young!
The path is closely lined with bracken, still holding on tightly to the day’s raindrops until I pass, when it relieves itself of the burden onto my jeans. Yes, I’m still wearing jeans despite the weather. I know, I know, but I don’t care.
The path is frequently blocked by fallen trees, through which I duck and dive.
It levels out and merges into a little stream, but luckily a series of boardwalks save my feet from a dunking.
Shortly afterwards, the path emerges back out onto the B5278, opposite a tall stand of bamboo. There’s still no pavement, but just round the corner I reach the bridge over the Leven, and take a left turn just prior to it, down a quiet private lane.
The lane is flanked by wild flowers, several of which I don’t recognise, but most of which the PlantSnap app on my phone does…
…and a hollow oak tree which PlantSnap didn’t recognise, but I did.
The lane is occasionally accompanied by the River Leven, which gradually transitions from a narrow furious torrent to a wide calm flow.
The route leads into a wood, where freshly logged pine gives off a wonderful aroma that smells like Christmas.
The path leaves the wood behind, opening into a meadow of long grass, where the loud twitter of birds amongst the grass surrounds me, but I can’t see any. What I think are swifts are flying about at high speed around me, or perhaps they’re swallows, I don’t know. Neither swifts nor swallows nest in tall grass anyway, so perhaps they’re something else. The path through the meadow ends at a footbridge that crosses over the River Leven, now really wide at this point. The swifts or swallows or whatever are swooping low over the water, fast and agile, chirping loudly all the while. [After more reading I think they’re probably sand martins].
The route turns south, and I follow a path squeezed between the river and the main A590 dual carriageway. The path isn’t marked on the OS map, but I’m pretty sure from aerial photos that it’ll take me to a picnic site a mile or so down the river.
Across the other side of the river, an egret stakes out its prey amongst the swirling muddy waters.
The path is frequently rugged and strewn with concrete blocks and other debris, but eventually I reach the picnic site. Here I encounter a problem though. The path doesn’t seem to continue much further, and the only other choice is a walk down the verge next to the dual carriageway, or a path which meanders inland, but which I can’t see anywhere. I don’t fancy the verge, these are often full of hidden potholes amongst the grass, and a stumble in one of those could result in falling into the path of a car hurtling down the road at 90 mph!
I search around, and see a rusty old iron gate the other side of the dual carriageway. It doesn’t look promising, but is in roughly the right place according to my map. I dance between the speeding vehicles, get to the other side and squeeze myself through the iron railings before the next mile-a-minute Juggernaut sends me off to hedgehog-land.
The path twists steeply uphill, and seems to be blocked by thick brambles at every turn I make.
After scrambling up a near-vertical soily slope, I emerge into a field and follow a vague track diagonally upwards across it.
I pass through a couple of gates, and down a Willowherb-lined lane which joins another lane, called Arrad Foot, which leads back down to the A590, and the hamlet of Arrad Foot.
For the next few hundred metres I’m forced to walk along the grass verge, being careful not to fall into the ridges or trip on the debris that frequently lines our main arterial roads.
The traffic continues to hurtle past a few feet to my right, and I’m buffeted left and right by the swirling wake of articulated lorries, until a lane joining from the west grants me an escape route to the relatively quiet sanctuary of Plumpton Farm Lane. I follow the lanes until I meet up with an old dismantled railway line that allows me to head directly southwards to Plumpton Hall.
I catch occasional views across the valley of a lighthouse perched high up on the hill opposite. This is the Hoad Monument. It was built to commemorate Sir John Barrow, who was born in Ulverston and was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society. It isn’t a lighthouse and has never had a functional light, but was designed to look like the Third Eddystone Lighthouse which sits on Plymouth Hoe and which I’m very familiar with from my childhood.
Near the bottom of the old railway track is a pile of old and some relatively new farm machinery, left out in the elements. Strange that it should be just left here… that red and orange thing has a petrol engine on it that looks nearly new. I’d like to have that. I don’t know what I’d do with it, and I don’t have anywhere to put it, and I don’t have any way to carry it, but I’d like to have it. You can’t just chuck it away. Oh well.
The path passes through a gate and along a farm track, then joins a lane which passes over a brook and a railway line, then passes Plumpton Hall. This strange building has the thickest chimneys I’ve ever seen in a house, two round ones and a rectangular one. Apparently these are typical “Westmorland” chimneys. The building dates from the 16th century.
After 1554, Plumpton Hall fell under the ownership of the Sawrey family, the most notable member of the family being John Sawrey, a puritan advocate who bitterly opposed the Quaker, George Fox. He was drowned whilst attempting to cross the Leven sands in 1665. Perhaps it’s a good job I didn’t try wading across the river after all. A local legend tells of a haunted brass lantern, kept at the hall, and endowed with miraculous powers that enables it to find its way home if it is ever removed from Plumpton Hall. Just like a homing pigeon. A homing lantern. Hmmm.
The lane ends at the coast, where the view encompasses the wide open estuary, and the railway viaduct.
A footpath leads southwards through the trees, on the verge of the estuary.
Meadow Cranesbill lines the path in places, smiling prettily in the sunshine…
The path opens up into a pebbly and grassy beach, and in the near distance I can see Ulverston Canal Foot, the end of today’s walk.
Much farther distant, away across the estuary, lies my old friend Heysham Nuclear Power Station. The mirage reflection off the water is its ghostly companion, a distant reminder of walks past, evoking memories of companions of mine even longer past, and now lost. A strange pang of sadness briefly sweeps over me, before passing away. I have a better future to look forward to.
I’ve reached Ulverston Canal Foot, and just as I turn away from the coast to walk to my car, I notice a red tractor – my walk so far today has been a rare red-tractor-less one – which is driving out onto the sands and through the waters, only a foot deep at most. You see, I could have waded across….
This walk was completed on 2nd July 2020, and was about 11.9 miles long. Here’s the map:
Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…: