The early train north again; I arrived back in Arnside mid-morning. Alighting from the train a man greeted me, “Morning, lad”.
For the walk along the coast to Barrow in Furness I have decided to base myself for a week at the Youth Hostel in Arnside and each day take the train which runs round the coast, walking from one station to the next. The Youth Hostel is beautifully situated above the bay and is like a country house hotel with dormitories. Returning each evening I was assured of a warm welcome and a sense of cosy familiarity. I was to spend a week walking due west, not making any progress northward at all!
The viaduct at Arnside has no pedestrian walkway necessitating a seven hour slog in baking heat inland and round to Grange over Sands. The walk took me around the flat sandy estuary up to the foothills of the Lake District, like walking up to the ramparts of an enormous castle and then turning and walking away again. I noticed a number of warning signs along the lines of “If the quick sand does not get you the tide will”.
Another day I walked back from Cark & Cartmell station to Grange over Sands. An overcast day spent following the contours of lonely marshes with the whole of Morecambe Bay spread out before me in varying shades of gunmetal grey. On the way I walked the length of Humphrey Hill, a long finger of high ground stretching out towards the bay, and sat at the far end at the top of the last slope with a magnificent view out over all my previous walks since Heysham, like being on the bridge of an ocean-going liner.
On the long trek down from Ulverston to Barrow in Furness the sands of Morecambe Bay were broken up for the first time by stretches of shingle and a line of low cliffs which rippled along behind the beach. Apparently this was the hottest July day for 160 years; it certainly felt like it. At Rampside I walked out along a causeway to Roa Island and sat at the furthest point watching the little ferry from Piel Island sloshing its way over to the jetty in front of me. I got into conversation with two men who had cycled out from Barrow. They told me that in the late 19th century when the Barrow steelworks was the largest in the world, and when the town was nicknamed the “English Chicago”, the iron ore had been brought in by ship and unloaded where we were sitting now and that in those days a railway had run down the causeway to take the ore all the way to the foundary in Barrow. As boys, they said, they could remember the thrill of seeing clouds of sparks erupting on the slag heaps, and both recalled the closing of the Barrow ironworks in 1963. One of the men looked out at the offshore wind farm and told me this is the biggest concentration of wind turbines in the world.
Walking back down the causeway I met another man who asked where I was going. He nodded approvingly, saying “You only live once, lad”. We talked for a while and he said that it was nice to see a southerner up here. I promised I would go home and tell everyone how beautiful the coast is here.
It gets dark appreciably later here than down south. On fine evenings from the terrace of the Youth Hostel I watched spectacular sunsets of blue and gold reflected in the waters of the bay at Arnside.
On Friday there were many new arrivals at the Youth Hostel; walkers, cyclists, runners, everyone studying maps, checking equipment, plotting routes, settling in and unpacking. A flurry of activity, a jumble of backpacks. I took the train back to Barrow and crossed the bridge to Walney island, a long thin strip of land running parallel to Barrow and the mainland. In the early morning Barrow was looking strangely Italianate, bathed in a gentle light of pellucid blue, soft clouds reflected in the waters fronting the docks, as if madeover by Canaletto. I spent a hot sunny day walking from one end of Walney to the other. Whereas previous walks seem to have revolved around the silhouette bulk of Heysham power station, now I appear to be rotating around the ruins of Piel Castle out in mid-channel on Piel Island.
One of the highlights of this trip has been the Youth Hostel itself. So many nice people, staff and clients, so many interesting conversations and pleasant encounters: opinions expressed, experiences shared.
Having a day in hand I set off on what was to have been the first day of the “next” walk, from Barrow up the east side of the Duddon Estuary, to Kirkby in Furness. The weather was unpromising and soon settled into a steady unremitting drizzle. Both the path and the map grew increasingly vague and indistinct and I had to rely on directions from dog walkers which seldom amounted to more than “follow the beach”. One man recommended that I follow his footprints and those of his dog across a long, wide section of beach which I did for several miles and which brought me eventually to Askam in Furness. I did not see a single person on the street at Askam and continued in the rain to Kirkby. Slowed by the weather and the slippery ground I had to run the last mile and a half to catch the once in two hours train back to Arnside; I raced onto the platform with three minutes to spare and found the train was running twenty six minutes late!
I took the early southbound train on my last morning. Home for lunch! What a thought. Such a speedy transition from one world to another.
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2015.