I park up at a nondescript junction of two lanes just north-east of Glasson, then ride my bike the six miles down country lanes to Newton Arlosh. When the walk is around a peninsular like this, the bike ride from end to start is mercifully short! I lock my bike up to a park bench outside the tiny church of St John the Evangelist, and set off north-eastwards.
The lanes are straight and quite dull. The weather is cold and quite dull. The only things which remotely grab my attention are silvery drainage channels, red willow branches, and a farmer feeding his cows in a waterlogged field, but I’m happy enough. It’s nice to be out on the beat again.
I come to the first crossing of the old Solway Junction Railway line which was built to carry ironstone across the Solway Firth from mines in Cumberland to ironworks in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. I’m going to cross this line three times today, the third time being the most interesting. At this first crossing it’s decidedly uninteresting, the only remains being a couple of brick walls. There’s not even any trace of the old line.
Entering the hamlet of Angerton, a pleasant duck pond reflects the trees and winter sun. Past the pond I turn left, heading north towards Anthorn.
Angerton may be a small hamlet, but it hosts the Kirkbride Bowling and Tennis Club, which has its own stadium. Bowls is clearly a mass spectator sport around here, and I heard the Kirkbride Killers senior bowls team have a fearsome reputation.
I soon reach the rickety narrow road bridge over the River Wampole. A sign indicates a maximum weight-bearing capacity of 10 tons, but I wouldn’t fancy driving a truck over it. Actually due to my Christmas eating it’s questionable whether I’ll make it over there on foot….
Vegetable roadkill signals the presence of fans of American heavy alternative rock around these parts…
A left turn takes me westwards, following the lane which skirts around the edge of the coast, and to my second crossing of the Solway Junction Railway. The only evidence of it this time is an old stone wall, and the gates of the Whitrigg Station building, which was demolished and is now the site of a private house. Again, no sign of the path of the line save for a line of trees, the rest having been appropriated by farmer’s fields and private gardens.
A mile further down the lane, I arrive at the village of Anthorn. Anthorn was just a cluster of small cottages and farms for centuries until 1918, when the Royal Naval Air Service built Solway House Airfield here. That was abandoned between the wars, but in 1942 the air force handed it over to the navy, who built many of the new houses in 1952. There are still occasional old buildings dotted about the village though.
After the airfield closed in 1958, a large radio transmitting station was built, which now provides radio services for the UK’s submarine fleet, the National Time Signal, and LORAN marine navigation signals. The masts of this station not only dominate Anthorn, but can be seen for dozens of miles around. The submarine communications antenna consists of 12 outer towers supporting a massive “umbrella” of wires emanating from the top of a 750-foot central mast.
As an electronics engineer I find this stuff fascinating, but I get it, it’s really not… at least not to 95% of the population anyway! Despite this, I’ll continue, so feel free to skip this next paragraph.
The central tower and the 12 outer towers are actually only a support for an ‘umbrella’ of wires, that form six huge diamond shapes parallel to the ground – a trideco umbrella antenna. The six diamonds are fed by wires from the transmitter, and it is these six wires that transmit the very low frequency (19.6kHz) signal – the towers and diamonds don’t transmit anything. The frequency is set so low to enable it to pass through several metres of seawater to reach the submarines without them surfacing.
The diamonds make up the top plate of a giant capacitor which ‘sucks’ current from the six feed wires into the umbrella, thereby causing the current in the feed wires to be much greater than it would otherwise be, and increasing the strength of the signal transmitted. The bottom plate of the capacitor is made from equivalent wires buried just underground. Cool!
There are some other “T-antennas” strung between the support masts to transmit the National Time Signal as well. The cone-shaped things in the picture below are insulators, like the ones found on electricity pylons.
I take dozens of photos of the different antennas, feed stations, counter-weights and guy rope mountings as the road circles around the site, then remember getting stopped by the MoD Police in Barrow after taking pictures of the submarine factory there. I suddenly realise this is a NATO site and I probably look quite dodgy. Not wishing to waste half an hour chatting to grumpy men in uniforms and having to show my photo collection again, I get back on with the walk.
This side of Anthorn, the road skirts the estuary of the River Wampool, and it feels a lot more coastal than the country lanes I’ve followed so far. The sun is low in the south and reflects off the water and wet mud.
I come to a public footpath sign pointing across the river. No, it hasn’t been swung around by kids, it is actually an official footpath, marked on the OS map. It would have saved me a 5-mile detour, but I’d have had to wade through salt marsh, mud and a river to achieve it. On balance, I reckon I’m happy with the detour.
Coming out of Anthorn, someone has set up a small shop in their garage selling free-range eggs. There’s also a table full of general junk, and an honesty box. I’m tempted by the eggs, but have no means to carry them. I could eat them fresh of course, but I’d have to be a lot hungrier than I am now before I start scoffing raw eggs. I’m even less tempted by the coffee mugs and 1980s Haynes car manuals on the table. Time to move on.
A little way out of Anthorn I come across three brick and concrete structures called “firing butts” that were built in WW2 for aircraft to test their guns. The plane was parked up in front and fired into banks of sand at the back of the building. Each one has a traffic cone on top… probably not part of the original design.
A couple of miles later I come across a lonely bench facing out across the Solway and decide it’s time for lunch. I sit down and the rain promptly arrives. Lovely. My trusty umbrella is the first thing out of my rucksack, and I then spend a quarter-hour tucked under its cramped cover, munching. Twice, a car pulls up into the clearing, presumably to enjoy the views across the water, but they soon realise that the drizzle restricts their view to a tramp slumped on a bench under a yellow umbrella.
A sign tells me I’m now entering RSPB Campfield Marsh, but even the birds have got sick of the rain and none are in sight. However, the rain then stops as quickly as it started – presumably it only came to make my withered sandwich even more miserable – and I then get a good view of the town of Annan on the other side of the Solway. It’s a 30-mile walk to get there, but I have plans for that.
Rounding a corner I come across the biggest bird-bath I’ve ever seen, tucked away in the gorse bushes by the side of the road. It’s more a human-bath, but it’s only 4°C today and I don’t think the locals would appreciate me partaking, so I give it a miss. And anyway, the gorse puts me off.
The road goes up a sharp incline, and for the third time today I’m crossing the Solway Junction Railway. This time it’s a bit more exciting though. This point is where the Solway Viaduct started.
The viaduct took trains across the Solway to Scotland. The iron structure had 193 spans each 30 feet across, and was wide enough for a double track, although only a single track was ever laid. It was opened in 1869 for freight traffic, and the next year opened for passenger trains too. However, only a few years later, Spanish iron ore became cheaper for Scottish importers than that coming up the railway line from Cumbria.
Then in 1874 cracks started to appear in the ironwork, and in the cold winter of 1881 ice flows came down the river, some up to six feet thick, hitting the cast iron pillars at 10 miles per hour. The shocks could be felt by anyone standing on the bridge, and several pillars were swept away. The previous year had seen the Tay Bridge disaster and the railway inspectorate were in no mood to be imprudent. In almost every year of its existence, the railway lost money, and so in 1921 the last train ran over the viaduct, and in 1933 arrangements were made to demolish it. The 5000 tons of iron were reclaimed, some of which was fatefully sold to Japan to build up their armaments for their war in China. I wonder how that turned out?
It seems the viaduct was most successful as a means for Scottish drinkers to visit pubs in England on a Sunday, when Scottish pubs weren’t allowed to open.
Anyway, being similar enough to a pier, I feel the need to go to the end of it. After brushing through the bushes I discover a much-trod path through the gorse.
My eye is distracted by vibrant patches of orange on the trunk of a gorse bush. This is the delightfully named Yellow Brain jelly fungus, a parasite and a frilly sign of a witch’s curse – apparently. Its alternative common names of yellow tremble and witches’ butter don’t help endear me to it either, although golden jelly fungus sounds nicer.
The path opens out onto the side of the embankment, where huge stones mesh tightly together.
At the end of the embankment, just a single row of cast iron pillars remains to remind us what this substantial structure would have been. Looking across the water, the remains of the north embankment can be seen stretching out towards me.
Parked near the end of the embankment is a device sat upon a large scattering of seashells. I’m guessing it’s some sort of shaker table for sorting the size of the shells, but I’ve no idea why you’d want to. Fertilizer perhaps?
Here you can see how the viaduct looked back then, and compare it to now…
I shortly reach the pretty village of Bowness-on-Solway, and the infamous “Rome Signpost”. The reason for it is that Bowness (or Maia as the Romans called it) was the start point of Hadrian’s Wall. From Ravenglass up to here was a series of “milefortlets“, which is why it’s on the signpost too I guess. The 1150 miles to Rome is actually as the crow flies, which not many Romans did back then. I expect those that flew Pegasus Airlines from Bowness International Airport to Rome would have had a very uncomfortable and cold flight. Still, better than Ryanair.
A painted pebble in a garden near the village primary school makes me smile…
I see a tea-room – I would love a cup of tea and a cake – but unfortunately it’s closed until 14th January. Don’t you hate it when your hopes are raised only to be dashed again!
The village church of St Michael’s in Bowness was built from stone stolen from Hadrian’s wall in the 12th century. Later, in 1626, its two bells were stolen by Scottish border raiders, but were accidently dropped in the Solway on the way back. In retaliation, the villagers of Bowness raided Dornock and Middlebie in Scotland and stole their bells, which are still in St Michael’s church today. Traditionally, a new vicar of Annan petitions the vicar of Bowness for the return of the bells, and the vicar of Bowness tells him where to stick his petition. Most politely I expect.
Just the other side of Bowness I get the chance to walk a few hundred yards along the beach. It is probably one of the worst beaches I’ve walked on, pebbles and rubble, and a drain outflow for decoration. Further out on the mud away from the grim beach, two curlews are taking an afternoon stroll.
The road eastwards out of Bowness is hardly any higher than the water level, and flooding is common. By pure luck it’s not long after low tide, as otherwise I could have been wading!
The road soon reaches Port Carlisle. This village was originally called Fisher’s Cross, but when the Carlisle Canal was built it was renamed. It was a major port for Carlisle, handling both freight and passengers, but when the much bigger Silloth docks was built it lost its trade and closed. The remains of the canal and the substantial docks can still be seen.
A path leads through trees squeezed between the Solway and the old canal, which is a pleasant change from lane-walking, and a lot easier on my feet. There is very little left of the canal now, just waterlogged patches and pools amongst the trees.
The path eventually rejoins the road, and a mile or so later, quite tired after my first walk in a few months, I reach my car.
This walk was completed on 9th January 2022, and was about 15½ miles long. Here’s my annotated map:
And here’s a real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around.
Read some other coastal walkers’ write-ups for this section, just click on their icon…