I’ve been thinking a lot about my adventure round the coast of Britain, and how I’m going to do it, in particular when I get to Scotland. Scotland, especially the north, is difficult for coastal walkers. There’s the accommodation for a start – hotels are few and far between in some areas, and get booked up a long time in advance, and can be expensive. Then there’s the public transport, which is virtually non-existent in many areas. Thecn more subtle factors – loneliness, the remoteness. After my marriage breaking down, and then being single through the Coronavirus lockdown, I don’t think I’m ready to be so far from people for so long in such difficult circumstances.
So I’ve decided (almost) that when I get to the Scottish border I’ll miss it out for the time being, and skip on to Berwick-on-Tweed in the north east of England. The second phase of the adventure will then be around England and the Welsh coast, and then when I reach England again near Chester, only then will I do Scotland as a third phase. After Scotland I can finish the adventure off with the fourth phase, the small distance from Chester to Liverpool where I started in January 2020. That’s the idea anyway! That’ll be a few years time, and I’ll be a more experienced coastal walker, and might even have some useful stuff like a camper-van and an electric bike to negotiate Scotland with.
This weekend I was thinking of doing another two walks, and so booked a room in a pub for Saturday night in Broughton-in-Furness. I wasn’t altogether enthusiastic about it, after the last time I did two walks in two days, especially as the distances were almost identical to last time – 15 miles and 12 miles. As luck would have it, I realised I’d booked the accommodation for the wrong week, so I had to cancel.
So this weekend was just the one section, although at 15 miles it was at the upper end of my abilities, and reading David Cotton’s blog a lot of this section is across shingle and boulders which is always really hard going.
I park up next to Bootle station and catch the train to Millom. Bootle is a request stop so you’ve got to stick your thumb out like a hitchhiker. I’ve always wanted to do that to a train, so there’s another one off my bucket list. Yeah, it’s not a very exciting bucket list. Bootle station is quite nice though…
Bootle station may seem a very quiet place, but on 22nd March 1945, towards the end of the Second World War, it was the scene of a huge explosion. A freight train heading south was carrying depth charges, on the way to Liverpool, when the crew spotted that one of the wagons was on fire. They stopped the train and Herbert Stubbs, the fireman, managed to uncouple the burning wagon. The driver, Harold Goodall was going back in an attempt to extinguish the fire when the load of 52 depth charges went up in a massive explosion, killing Harold, and leaving a crater 100ft long and 50ft deep. Due to the heroic actions of the two men, most of the depth charges were moved far enough away to prevent them exploding also. The crater was filled and the track repaired in only three days. Unfortunately, there’s no memorial here to Harold and the event.
The train arrives, I flag it down with a little inner surge of excitement, and it takes me to Millom. From Millom station I walk down Lancashire Road to the coast, and pick up where I left off last time. The route starts with a narrow path along a bank, with Black Combe and its sister hills to my right.
A butterfly settles on the golden ragwort ahead of me, and spreads its wings to greet me…
Millom was constructed as a new town beginning in 1866. Built around ironworks, the town grew to a size of over 10,000 people by the 1960s, but has struggled since the works were closed in 1968. The aftermath of the ironworks can be seen in the slag heaps that still cover large swathes of the coastal land, interspersed with the estuary tidepools.
Fired out rocks are spread all around as if a volcano had erupted here.
I come across a guy with a pair of binoculars looking over the slag heaps and the streams that run around them, and ask him what he’s looking for. He tells me that kingfishers come here every summer, but seem to disappear later in the year. He’s seen a few around here over the years, but none turn up while I talk to him. I’ve never seen a kingfisher.
The path leads down to the estuary, where a collection of boats lie seemingly unloved on the tidal grasses.
Meanwhile an egret stalks the meandering shallows, keen eyes on any sign of movement.
I pass what looks like a hotel, with a large lawned garden littered with old pieces of marine equipment. I’ve little idea what they are. The second one looks like a naff robot from a 1970’s sci-fi film.
Across the estuary, the hills of the Furness peninsula peer down upon the trails of my previous walks.
A bench looking out over the estuary provides a convenient spot to take a break. I take the opportunity to scoff far too much of the food I’m carrying today. I don’t know why I brought so much stuff. There’s pork pies and sausage rolls, Pepperamis, and any number of cereal bars. I think I got a bit carried away. I take a selfie to make sure I’ve not got too fat from the mega scoff I’ve just finished…. OK I think.
Near the tip of this small peninsula, at Crab Marsh, I come across the remains of a wharf, presumably used to transport iron from the smelting works that used to occupy this site and nearby.
The wharf was quite a substantial structure in its day, as this historic photograph shows, but it’s fallen into almost complete dereliction now.
Sand dunes appear towards the end of Hodbarrow Mains, and the estuary gives way to sea and a proper beach.
Using the full zoom of my camera, I see Askam-in-Furness a couple of miles across the water, and the smoking tower of the Furness Brick & Tile Company. It’s been a month since I was over there. A month to travel a couple of miles… if only I was a crow!
The beach is deserted….
It’s too far from any car parks for dog walkers or beach lovers, and mine are the first footprints in the virgin sand. Or so I thought…
The remains of the Hodbarrow Old Lighthouse sit atop a hill on my right. There’s a newer lighthouse a little further on.
Patches of seaweed form a colourful mosaic carpet on the beach, looking like an autumn forest floor.
I hear a droning buzz from above, and look up to see a glider being tugged into the air over the estuary, shortly to be released to soar the thermals on this still, sun-soaked day.
The beach ends and I arrive at the rocky outcrop of Hodbarrow Point. The sand gives way to rocks and pools which I carefully clamber over to reach a small sandy beach and the start of the Millom Outer Barrier.
The outer barrier was constructed in 1890 and was the third attempt to protect the land being mined for iron ore from the sea, after the first wooden wall failed, and the second concrete wall subsided and was breached. It now forms a walkway with a nature reserve in the artificial lake created by it, which I now walk along.
Halfway down the outer barrier is the new Hodbarrow Lighthouse, built in 1905. This was used up until 1949. It was restored in 2003 with the help of the local primary school.
Children’s paintings opposite the lighthouse brighten up the concrete wall…
The peaks of Black Combe and its sisters loom over the artificial lake and the breached second sea wall.
The outer barrier ends at the small village of Haverigg, where brightly coloured houses cluster around the small river, oddly named “Haverigg Pool”. “Pools” round here can be the sea or can be rivers, but seemingly never pools!
There’s an ice cream hut just before the village, so I take the opportunity to fill up on calories and fat in preparation for the shingle beach ahead. I tell myself I’ll need the nutrients, but really I just fancy an ice cream.
It turns out not to be that nice anyway.
Walking through the village I find a plaque indicating the location of “Concrete Square”, a radical housing project built in 1873. Houses were built out of concrete for the workers instead of more traditional wooden structures that frequently burned down. However, the materials used in construction caused all sorts of problems, and they were eventually demolished in 1973. I wonder how many “radical housing projects” ever turn out to be successful. Architects are frequently blessed with radical ideas, but how many of them would choose to live in the buildings they design… very few I imagine.
At the far end of the village, about 50 yards after the start of it, a path leads down to the beach. The sand is slightly damp and hard, the easiest of all surfaces to walk on.
There are various patches of shingle and boulder fields, mostly at the top of the beach, but the tide is out so it’s no problem, and I can walk on sand nearly all the time. I come across a strange group of little fish, lying on the sand. I can’t imagine how they got there, they’re a long way from the sea. Perhaps they were in a pool which dried up, but it really doesn’t look like a pool would have formed here.
Perched on top of a shingle bank is a pile of driftwood, just waiting to be set on fire. I have a bit of history when it comes to lighting fires, although mostly before my sixth birthday (a story I won’t go into the detail of now, but suffice to say it involved a pile of burning paper on a policeman’s doorstep, in collaboration with his daughter). It’s something I’ve almost grown out of these days, but that pile would look great with flames…
A guy on a quad bike comes up behind me on the path. He’s got two kids with him on the bike and some equipment, and it looks like he’s collecting shellfish of some type from further up the beach.
The beach is sandy down by the sea, but up here there are grassy areas, mixed with pools of water, and banks of shingle. Since the guy on the quad bike left, there is no-one in sight in any direction.
I can just make out the buildings of Barrow-in-Furness across the water, and with my camera on full zoom (x 180) I can see the huge BAE factory…
The path I’m following leads onto a bank of shingle, so I move down the beach onto the sand to make walking easier. Looking across the sea the mountains of the Isle Of Man are now clearly visible.
Closer than the Isle Of Man, Duddon Sands Wind Farm out to sea is generating clean energy. I heard the other day that the UK went a whole month without burning any coal. That’s good news, although I guess it’s an easier achievement in summer. There were also several periods when more than half of the electric energy requirement was generated by renewables. With Windscale power station shortly in my sights these are good things to happen. I made my opinions about nuclear power clear on my blog when I passed Heysham nuclear power station, but of course Windscale has an altogether dodgier history!
On my right, Black Combe is a constant companion. I will have almost walked around it by the time I get to Ravenglass, all except its northern reaches anyway.
Nearer to me, at the top of the beach, a cliff is starting to rise, at this point gently and covered in grass.
A group of horses is coming down the beach towards me. This seems to be a popular spot for horse riding. These are cart horses (I think) which seems a weird choice of riding horse to me. I don’t know much about horses.
There are a lot more people on the beach now I’ve reached Silecroft. Generally, people don’t seem to venture far along beaches from the car parks. Nor did I before I started this walk. Now I’m discovering the lonely and deserted stretches between the towns and villages. Some are lonely because they’re miles from anywhere, some are lonely because they’re not very nice places! The beach along here so far has been really nice.
The sandy beach stretches on for miles and miles. The cliff at the top of the beach has got quite a bit higher now, and frequent landslides have exposed the red mud beneath the grass. The fence at the top of the cliff is frequently hanging half way down the cliff, as the top has eroded.
These red cliffs all have names on the OS map… Cotely Bank, Walkhole Bank, Townend Bank, Gutterby Bank. I’ve arrived at what is called Gutterby Spa on the map, and the majority of the beach is now covered in boulders, and there is little sand left.
It’s the worst spa I’ve ever visited, that’s for sure. I’m forced to find an easier path at the top of the beach, where the collapsing cliffs have at least covered some of the boulders with a smooth layer of mud that is easier to walk on.
At the top of the cliff, a cow looks down on me with interest, perhaps wondering why someone is stupid enough to walk along a boulder-strewn beach, risking twisted ankles or worse. She’s got a good point, I’m wondering the same.
I check my map and it shows there’s a path along the top of the cliff. That would be a lot easier than walking over these boulders, but I can’t see any easy (or even moderately difficult) way to get up there. The cliff at the top is vertical, or even has overhangs in many places. Up there somewhere is a place marked on the map as “Bog Hole”, so I’m in two minds whether I really want to be up there anyway.
This really is the toughest terrain to walk over. If the stones were smaller, like shingle, then it’s OK to walk on, albeit very tiring as the shingle moves underfoot. If the stones were bigger you could hop from stone to stone. But the stones roll underneath your feet here, constantly twisting your ankles, and are too close together to pick a path between them. I’m starting to get depressed. I can’t go on much further on this, and I can’t climb the cliff. I guess I could always walk into the sea, but that doesn’t seem to offer a satisfactory solution either!
A patch of colour up ahead distracts me from my moaning for a bit – part of an old brick wall, rounded by the erosion of the waves and pebbles. It looks quite nice, almost a piece of art…
Finally the boulders start to thin out a bit, and sandy patches appear again. Sea snails cling in large colonies to the remaining larger boulders.
Even better, the cliff is getting lower and lower, until finally it reaches beach level, and a gate allows me to get off it.
I pass through the gate and walk along a farm track at the edge of a field. The hill above me is glowing purple with heather, looking spectacular in the evening sunshine.
However, the track quickly comes out onto a bank of shingle at the top of the beach, almost as hard to walk on as the boulder field.
Luckily it doesn’t last for long, before I reach a nice wooden footbridge crossing the River Annas.
This leads into a field and a grassy track sandwiched between the river and a marsh.
The way gets narrower and narrower, until I’m pinched between the river and a steep hill.
I’m sure other coastal walkers have mentioned this, but I can’t remember what they said, and I’ve got no signal on my phone to look it up! I’m sure it’ll be fine…
I come to a dead end. The water beside me is about 2 foot deep, the ground under me is unstable, and there’s a gorse bush blocking the way. I could conceivably step around the gorse bush, but there’s nothing to hold on to, except the gorse, and I don’t fancy that. I reckon there’s a 75% chance of me ending up in the water if I try to continue.
Now I’ve had a few dunkings on this adventure so far, sometimes in far worse fluids than a crystal clear river, but today I just don’t fancy another, so I retreat, and shin up the steep bank where it’s clear of gorse. At the top is a gate into a field, and finally I’m back on the footpath.
Out to sea three separate suns reflect off the water, where gaps in the clouds allow.
Inland, someone doesn’t seem too pleased that I’ve intruded into her home.
In the evening light, the Isle Of Man looks even better, framed by the dying embers of sunlight
Looking far off into the distance to the north west, I can just make out the coast of Galloway in Scotland. This is the first time I’ve seen Scotland on this adventure! Seeing it reminds me that I’ll soon be switching over to the Northumbrian coast, and that settles me somewhat. I’m looking forward to that, and I’m pleased I’ve made the decision to skip Scotland for the near future.
The footpath takes me through a farm called Selker, and I then have to follow the farm lane inland for about a mile to get back to Bootle station. So here is where the coastal part of today’s walk ends, and will continue next time. As I trudge up the hill towards my car, the dying sun illuminates one of the mountains of the central lake district, a beacon for me to follow on my next section, and it leaves me in a serene and contemplative mood.
This walk was completed on 29th August 2020, and is about 15.1 miles long. Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, in which you can pan and zoom around…: