19. Ulverston to Barrow-in-Furness

By the time I finished the last walk, I still felt quite strong, like I could have gone on a bit more. That walk was about 12 miles, so for this walk I ambitiously planned 16 miles. That’s a couple of miles further than I’ve walked so far on this adventure, but I was confident enough… you’re all waiting for the disaster at the end of this post now, aren’t you!

The logistics for this one were quite involved, but all worked out easy enough with my fold-up bike… drive to Barrow, cycle ½ a mile to the station, train to Ulverston, cycle 2 miles downhill to Ulverston Canal Foot. None of the cycle rides were at all taxing which helped my mood. I still hate cycling.

Ulverston Canal Foot is, unsurprisingly, at the foot of the canal which runs from Ulverston town centre to the sea, where a lock was built to control water levels and access to the River Leven. It’s only about a mile and a quarter in length with no other locks and is dead straight. It was opened in 1796 which then made Ulverston a sea port (although it had previously declared itself as a sea port in 1774 as a tax dodge!). The last boat to sail the canal did so in 1949, and the sea end is now concreted up, the previous sea lock now derelict.

The Ulverston Canal meets the sea
The old, now derelict, sea lock gates

There is a path along the coast heading south, but it doesn’t lead too far, and I need to follow the lanes inland a little first. The lane passes the huge Glaxo-Smith-Kline factory, which makes penicillin and other antibiotics, and has been here since 1948.

GSK factory

The lane heads south-west past a farm, and then a gate gives access to a footpath across a field.

Across the field I meet this fine fellow, who is standing dead still staring at nothing…

Bored horse

Horses must have incredibly low boredom thresholds. He allows me to pet his snout, and gives me a quick sniff before losing interest entirely. The path continues past a chimney at the site of an old brick factory then continues south down Brick Kiln Road until it swings round to arrive at the coast.

Old brick kiln chimney
Conishead Bank

Although there is a path further inland, I choose to walk along the beach to conform to my rule #2 of sticking as close to the sea as possible. Across the estuary is my old friend Heysham NPS, and I realise this is the last walk that I will ever see that again.

Heysham Nuclear Power Station

The beach is quite hard work to walk along, the pebbles shift under my feet, each step takes more energy, and my head is down picking the easiest route. I look ahead for a moment, and see a shrouded figure walking along the beach ahead of me…. a Buddhist monk. You don’t see one of those every day! Well, I suppose if you’re another Buddhist monk you see loads of them, but not so many in central Manchester.

Well you don’t see one of them every day, unless you’re one of them

Amongst the trees to my right is Conishead Priory. A priory has existed here since the twelfth century, but since 1976 it has been a Buddhist monastery. Normally they allow public access to their land and the various paths through the woods, but in the current pandemic the permissive paths are closed.

Closed path to Conishead Priory

The pebbly beach is quite tough to traverse, but a path at the top of the beach is a little easier to walk along, as the pebbles are more firmly embedded in the soil.

However, the path soon becomes lost in a boulder field, where the land is collapsing onto the beach. I have to step from boulder to boulder. Some of the smaller ones rock precariously and the thought of broken ankles briefly flits across my mind, but the larger boulders are stable enough not to shift under my feet.

Beyond the boulders at Wadhead Scar, near the village of Bardsea, a carved stone sits atop the remains of an old shipping jetty.

Up to the early 19th century, ships trading between Ulverston and Fleetwood called here to unload coal and take on iron ore and corn. Red Lane, the old route to the jetty, was so called because it was stained by the iron ore being transported from the nearby mines at Dalton. This stone is at the end of Cooper Lane though, so I don’t know what it’s doing here.

Many of the promontaries along this coast have the word “scar” in their names – Wadhead Scar, Church Scar, Elbow Scar, Leonard Scar, Point of Comfort Scar. A “scar” is a steep high cliff or rocky outcrop.

The ground underfoot changes from pebbles and shingle to undulating muddy sand, dotted with islands of greenery. It’s physically a lot easier to walk across, but requires some concentration to avoid stepping in the deeper puddles.

Through the trees, the Holy Trinity Church in Bardsea occupies a commanding location overlooking Morecambe Bay.

Holy Trinity Church, Bardsea

The path leads behind a swathe of tall grasses which have grown over the beach, and I reach a large car park full of visitors. It’s not the nicest of beaches to visit, but it’s clearly very popular. Several people pass me with ice creams in their hands, and I decide that would be nice, but when I reach the ice cream van I find a long queue of people, and so I don’t bother. When I’m walking I lose patience far too easily, I just don’t want to stop. I rarely even stop for a meal, I always want to walk just that little bit further on.

You’d have to desperately want an ice-cream…

There are several groups of people enjoying the beach and the weather. A long zoom shot makes it look like Heysham NPS is close by, but it is now just a small dot many miles away across Morecambe Bay.

The path ducks behind the tall grasses, and within a few hundred yards all the crowds have gone. These fields of grasses are quite common along this stretch of coast, I’ve encountered them frequently since Grange-Over-Sands.

I round a small headland and encounter a guy working on his wooden house. I’m not sure if this is his main house or a holiday home, or just a huge shed. A little wooden hut hosts a curved bench looking out to sea. Several fun sculptures are dotted around the beach. The whole scene reminds me a bit of Robinson Crusoe!

The sound of the shingle under my feet takes on a crispier note, and I look down to see the beach is covered in shells. I’m collecting nice shells at the moment, but unfortunately all these are simple bleached cockle shells, and mostly broken at that. I wonder what causes them all to collect together like this… a cockle rave terminated by some disaster perhaps?

The fine muddy sand is interrupted here by small mesas of mud and grass, that cause pools to form around them. It’s a strange landscape.

To make walking easier, I move down onto the sand. This is a much easier surface to walk on, but requires a bit of concentration, spotting where to put my feet to prevent getting wet. It sounds strange, but after an hour of walking over this surface, the concentration becomes a bit tiring, and I move back up onto the shingle for a mental break.

Most of my blog posts (and those of some other coastal walkers too) feature a lot of red tractors, and to ensure no disappointment for the red tractor fans, this one does also. It looks very similar to the one I spotted driving out into the estuary at the end of my last walk to Ulverston, but the colours are slightly different. They’re used by fishermen, who previously used horses and carts, to set nets at low tide, to catch shrimps.

Smiling tractor

Remains of old groynes dot the beach every few hundred metres. They start to annoy me a bit because the posts form pools of water around them and force me to divert my path.

I realise I’m starting to get a bit ratty again! The sun is shining brightly, which I like, but wasn’t expecting as the forecast said it was going to be cloudy until the evening, and I’m getting quite hot. I brought my dodgy looking sun hat again today, but the wind is just strong enough to continually blow it about and require me to hold on to the string to keep it on. That annoys me too. On top of the concentration required not to get my feet wet, it’s lots of little things like this that gang up on me and get on my nerves when I’m walking… real first world problems these!

This beach goes on for miles and miles and miles. I’m thinking I’d like a bit of a change, but to be honest this is pretty easy walking, and a change of any kind probably wouldn’t be an improvement. It’s 5pm now and the sun is starting to descend in the sky, lengthening the shadows and extending the areas of shimmering light on the sand ahead of me. It’s nice, but I’m nowhere near even halfway yet. I still feel quite strong though, despite the miles walking on the energy-sapping shingle.

The beach alternates between areas of clear, saturated rippled sand like that in the picture above, and patches of marsh, pools, rocks, and boulders which force me to pick a winding route through the various obstacles.

The main A5087 coast road has been a constant companion down this stretch of beach, out of sight but not earshot to my right. Mostly it doesn’t have a pavement, but for a short stretch here it does, and I climb up onto it for a change of scenery. There are several cars parked up ahead, and a group of guys milling around. As I get nearer I see they are all Asian men, and have home made kites with the longest reels of string I’ve ever seen. Looking up I see a tiny dot, a kite, which must be several hundred metres above me. It’s dancing in the sky too quickly and too far away to photograph. Some of the guys have winches with electric drills fitted – this is a serious hobby clearly! I really like the kites. Many of the cars are taxis and have registration badges from as far away as Dundee and Scunthorpe, so this must be quite a serious meet-up. I wonder if this is a cultural tradition, or maybe a family gathering. Shame no women are joining in – or perhaps they have better things to do!

Super-high kite flying

The pavement soon ends and I’m forced down onto the beach again. This is particularly difficult terrain to walk across…

However, it doesn’t last long, and soon there’s a sea wall with a concrete path, which makes walking much easier.

Newbiggin sea wall

It’s a good place to find shells littered all over – they must have been swept up here in the last storm, and there are some quite nice ones. Unfortunately it’s also littered with dog poo, despite regular signs warning of fines. This seriously pisses me off. Where I live in Ancoats in central Manchester, the populace is predominantly young professional, and their latest fashion is for the smallest possible dogs. Loads of people carry them round, or drag them round on expensive leads, their tiny legs a whirr of movement, but the fashion doesn’t go so far as to clean up after them. And despite the tiny size of the dogs, their poo seems to be standard dog size (I can’t imagine the pain they must go through getting it out).

Eventually I reach a nice marble memorial bench and decide to sit down for a break. I’ve done just over 8 miles, and so I’m over half way. I’m feeling mostly OK and I’m not too worried about walking the same distance again, but hopefully the terrain will be a bit easier.

I finish off a terribly unhealthy meal of several different snack bars, and finish my orange squash that I always bring, and realise that I really should improve the nutritional quality of the food I bring along with me. I fancy a sausage roll now. Or a Pepperami. Something savoury anyway. I was hoping I’d pass a small shop along the way and could get a sandwich or something, but these villages along the coast are all far too small for that. There’s not even a petrol station. Oh well.

The sea wall soon ends and I drop down onto the beach again, which is now getting quite overgrown with grasses and other plants. I encounter a peculiar tower sticking out of the beach, square, very narrow, and quite tall. It’s a strange sight, there on its own.

Rampside lighthouse

I didn’t realise at the time, but it turns out this is a lighthouse. I’m collecting lighthouses on this walk, and this is now my fourth (I think), but the least lighthouse-looking of the lot. Ulverston is overlooked by a monument that looks exactly like a lighthouse, but isn’t. And now this which doesn’t look like a lighthouse, but is. It’s strange round here. This is Rampside Lighthouse, also known as The Needle. It’s a navigation beacon and although it doesn’t look that old, it was built way back in 1875, and is the only surviving example of 13 such beacons built around Barrow during the late 19th century to aid the passage of ships into the town’s port. It’s 66 ft tall and constructed from red and yellow bricks. In 1991 it was designated a Grade II listed building.

The path beyond The Needle gets gradually more and more overgrown, until I’m wading through waist high grasses. It doesn’t last long as the path then climbs up onto the pavement, and onto Roa Island Road.

The concrete sea wall is covered in pretty little white flowers, and alpine looking plants. It looks almost like a planted rockery. Very nice.

A natural alpine rockery

The road swings round to the south, past the Concle Inn, currently closed even though there are signs saying it’s finally opening after the lockdown, and then heads out towards Roa Island on a dead-straight causeway.

The road to Roa

Although it’s 6th July, in the fierce wind blowing from the west I get quite cold, and have to put a coat on. My sun hat is completely useless in the wind and so I get rid of that.

A rusty old wreck sits on the mud and grass. It’s been a long time since this boat floated I think. It’s odd to see it sat here – surely it would be worth a bit in scrap?

Strictly speaking, I don’t need to visit Roa Island according to my rules, since there’s a single road in and out (a promontary), and it doesn’t look too appealing, but what the hell, let’s see what’s down there.

I had low expectations of Roa Island before I got to the end of the road, but I still manage to be disappointed.

Is this the shittiest island in Britain?

At the end of the road, a wooden jetty stretches out high over the pebbly beach and into the water towards Piel island – a true island – a few hundred metres further on.

Barrow lifeboat station (left), and Piel island (centre)

I feel I should walk to the end – after all, this is a bit like a pier, and my informal rule for piers is that I have to walk to the end of them, if I’m allowed. The huge structure to the left is Barrow Lifeboat Station.

Barrow lifeboat station

Piel Island‘s known history dates from the time of King Stephen who, in 1127, gave the island to the Savignac monks as part of a land grant for an abbey. The monks fortified the island in 1327 with a motte and bailey fortified warehouse to repel pirates and raiders. It also kept the customs men at bay, as smuggling was widespread at the time and the abbey was known to have been involved. In 1920, Piel island and castle was gifted to the people of Barrow by the Duke of Buccleigh as a war memorial to those who gave their lives in the Great War. Today there is a ferry that takes people over to the island on summer weekends.

The landlord of the pub on the island – the Ship Inn – is known as ‘The King of Piel’. A tradition known as the ‘Knighthood of Piel’ involves a large oak chair, and anyone who sits in it is made a ‘Knight of Piel’. The ceremonial knighting is carried out by the King of Piel or a fellow knight. The present-day cost of becoming a knight is to buy a round of drinks for all those present. The privilege afforded to knights is that they may demand food and lodging off the innkeeper should they be shipwrecked on Piel.

Piel island

On the walk back I see the ferry parked up, and feel glad that I didn’t get the opportunity to risk my life. I suppose I might have got a free pie and a pint off the King of Piel though after the almost inevitable shipwrecking….

The Piel ferry

On the walk back to the mainland, I can see the beautiful buildings of Barrow on the horizon, peering over the romantic golden expanse of Roosecote Sands…


…if you squint a bit and use your imagination.

Before arriving back at the mainland proper, a path leads westwards along the foreshore, although I can see a dog walker (in the picture above) cutting straight across from Roa Island towards Barrow. Strewn at various points on the beach are very old iron pipes, I have no idea where they came from or what they were for.

A vivid green plant in the sand attracts my attention. Is this samphire? It looks like it. I like samphire, but I don’t sample this – I tried something that looked like samphire on my previous walk and it was horrible, leaving a terrible taste in my mouth for hours afterwards!

Nasty plant pretending to be samphire

The impressive structure of Spirit Energy’s South Morecambe Terminal peers out over the bay, its complex network of pipes and platforms like an untidy nest of a monstrous stork. I have to say I like it though!

Spirit Energy South Morecambe Terminal

After a couple of miles, the beach becomes more and more overgrown, and I’m struggling to make headway amongst the thick plants and water filled potholes. To my right is a sea wall made from huge boulders dumped randomly in a pile, and I wonder if there might be an easier path on top of that. I climb up, and sure enough there’s a paved pathway.

After a mile or so the path arrives at a crossroads guarded by an old second world war bunker. I wonder how many of these there are still dotted around the coastline, and whether they are protected at all. They are a huge part of our history, and now that the number of people who can remember that war is dwindling it becomes ever more important to retain the memories of when we came closest to being defeated by the most evil enemy we have ever faced.

I’m reminded of a programme I listened to on the radio the other night about the rise of extremists on the internet. I worry that the memories of fascism and our nation’s fight against it is being lost. The rise of the political far right in Britain and across the world today shows the rising acceptance and cleansing of that most evil philosophy. Our grandfathers and grandmothers who fought so valiantly against that ideology are now lauded by the shallow ignorant racists who illegitimately claim the title of “patriots” and fly our flag as a provocation. How our grandparents must be turning in their graves. It is important that we ordinary people stand up against it, do something about it. As Edmund Burke once said… The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

The path reaches an impressive gate to Cavendish Dock, once the largest of Barrow’s four docks, but now just a reservoir.

Cavendish dock

The path has frequent metal “umbrellas” which in the current fearsome wind and drizzle that is starting to fall give me some small shelter. One has graffiti reading “Free Tommy Robinson“, confirming my thoughts about the need to combat modern day fascism even more. Towns like Barrow, with their poverty and lost industry are especially vulnerable.

I’m feeling pretty shattered at this point, about 14 miles in. All that shingle and the boulders in the first half of the walk really took it out of me, but there’s only a couple of miles to go now. Two miles… about forty minutes. When I get tired or bored and my guide app tells me how far it is to the next landmark I translate it into minutes…. “Zero point four five miles” it mechanically states, and in my head I multiply by twenty and think “nine minutes“. When I’m walking I manage about 3.3 miles per hour (at least at the start of the walk, I slow down a bit after ten miles). However, all the photographing slows me down, and I normally average around 3 mph, or 20 minutes per mile.

Beyond Cavendish Dock is Ramsden Dock and the main port of Barrow which is still in use, currently occupied by the 4900 tonne Pacific Grebe, a Nuclear Fuel Carrier built in 2010, and her sister ship the Pacific Heron.

The path becomes a minor road to the port, then branches off beside Buccleugh Dock and Devonshire Dock. It’s a quarter past eight, and the sun is starting to set over BAE Systems’ huge hangar, which sits with its doors tightly closed, and within which Britain’s new nuclear submarines are being built.

I start to wonder how much further it is to my endpoint, beside Morrison’s on Hindpool Road when it suddenly appears next to the BAE site, a strange juxtaposition of banal everyday life and the most deadly weapons of our age.

This walk was completed on 6th July 2020, and was about 15.7 miles long. Here’s the map:

Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…:

14 thoughts on “19. Ulverston to Barrow-in-Furness

  1. Good effort that, 16miles on awkward ground.
    That whole area seems to have long forgotten feel to it. I’ve never been to Roa, Piel or Walney Islands. It will be interesting as to how you tackle the latter on your next walk.
    It was a shame that Conishead Priory was closed, an interesting place to look around and a great friendly cafe.

    1. Thanks BC. I’m not going to bother with Walney island. As it’s a true island my rules/guidance don’t require me to walk it, and I’ve got no huge desire to either! Roa isn’t an island despite its name, although strictly speaking I didn’t have to walk that one either! You haven’t missed anything by not going there BC!?

    1. Thanks John
      Yeah, especially as the police are saying the biggest rise in terrorism plots that they have foiled is from far right terrorist groups.

  2. An interesting walk. Surprisingly pleasant for a good stretch. Never been to Barrow – it’s rather isolated. It was a hotspot for the virus. Hpoe you took care

    1. Didn’t know that about the virus in Barrow! Luckily I’ve already had it so I’m immune – no worries!??

  3. Lots of interest – you seem to be making splendid progress in the context of the project. You have seen many things I missed on my similar route – I must stop looking down at my feet. Your Bhuddist monk struck a chord – I met one on16th July 2016 on my South West Coast Path and he was one of yours – from my journal:

    “… at the bottom I met an interesting couple, he in particular a follower of Buddhism and working at their retreat near Ulverston near my home and known to me. I mentioned that I had missed the café and he said, “oh, it’s just up here through this gate” and I followed. That turned out to be a fifteen minute climb equivalent to the descent I had just made, and with interesting conversation all the way I was shattered. In rock-climbing parlance that is referred to as being sandbagged; however I passed on my blog card, and I was taken aback when he presented me with a 1965 Winston Churchill commemorative silver medal.”

  4. A nice write up. I was surprised to at the popularity of these beaches as there are far better around and remember all the shingle walking. I also missed shops because the day turned out to be very sunny (not forecast) and I’d left my sun cream either in the hotel or at home (I forget which). So I was getting sunburnt and trying to walk with an umbrella to keep the sun off. But I still ended up bright red by the end of the day.

    That lighthouse is the weiredest one I’ve ever seen too! I did make it out to ROa Island (as you say. not a lot to see) and wanted to get to Piel Island but the ferry wasn’t running and the phone not answered so I had to give up with that idea. That big rusty boat was there when I walked here too.

    That tractor looks like it’s smiling!

    I didn’t enjoy Barrow much especially the industry, was glad to get past that bit but at least there was a good path on the coast side of it. I think did walk the path around the priory but I don’t think you could see the priory from the path!

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