When you think of Cumbria, you may well conjure up charming images of the Lake District, sheep grazing on the fells, mighty mountains and quaint villages within this beautiful Lake District World Heritage Site. You may not think of Barrow-in-Furness, an industrial power house with a huge shipyard producing nuclear submarines, naval vessals, ocean liners and oil tankers. Yet the largest town on Morecambe Bay, originally in Lancashire and now part of modern-day Cumbria, has plenty to see, including a collection of small islands plus one of the world’s largest off-shore wind farms twirling away in the Irish Sea.
I recently explored Barrow-in-Furness and nearby islands on one of my Morecambe Bay Days Out, sponsored by Pye Motors. I was using Seldom Seen Map #1 The Islands of Barrow, part of a series of very quirky maps, highlighting the history, wildlife, history and culture of this fascinating part of North West England.
Roa Island, Piel Island and Foulney Island
I’d started the day with a boat trip over to Piel Island, an intriguing scrap of land with more history than you’d expect. It’s home to an ancient castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was once held and has a pub run by the King of Piel Island. To get there, you drive along the Furness coast, across a casueway to Roa Island, which has a few houses, a yacht club, a cafe and the RNLI lifeboat station From spring to early autumn, there’s a little ferry which takes you across to Piel Island. Watch this short video of my visit – it’s delightful.
Nearby is a tiny spit of land called Foulney Island, accessible via a shingle and rock causeway, built in Victorian times as a tidal protection measure. The maximum elevation on the island is no more than 10 feet (3 metres) above high tide level. It’s a bird sanctuary, home to a vast colony of seabirds including oyster catchers, terns, plovers, grebes, redshank, curlews and godwits and is managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust.
After my jaunt over to Piel Island I drove back across the causeway to Rampside. According to Wikipedia, there is evidence that the village was inhabited as early as 1292, though Viking and Roman artefacts have been found in the village’s church. As well as agriculture, the village acted as a small port, with shipping trade coming to Furness Abbey through Roa Island, which itself was defended by the fortified Piel Island. Apparently, it was also a bathing resort – somewhat hard to believe today. It’s known locally for its landmark, Rampside Lighthouse or Needle, built in 1837 and the only remaining navigation beacon in the area. One of the houses is an excellent example of Cumbrian architecture with its distinctive chimneys.
I had lunch at The Clarkes; scampi and chips along with a glass of Cumberland Ale, sitting in the warm sunshine enjoying the view across Morecambe Bay.
Barrow-in-Furness has a long history; records dating back to 1190 show it was an island orginally called Barrai, and its name apparently means island with a promontory. The Furness Peninsula used to be controlled by Cistercian monks and Furness Abbey, a few miles outside the town, is now open to the public. Nearby Abbey House Hotel was commisioned by Vickers and designed by renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. (See my article on my Day out in the Furness Peninsula for more on the Abbey and surrounding area.) I had a quick wander round the town centre, admiring the Victorian Town Hall, built in distinctive Hawcoat sandstone. I also popped in to The Forum, a theatre, media and arts centre, where I had recently done Tarot Readings for a local Mind, Body, Spirit event.
I had wanted to visit The Dock Museum, which houses archaeological finds, geological items, natural and industrial collections, The Vickers Photographic Archive and a maritime history section, plus regulary changing exhibitions of local interest. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done my research; it’s only open Wednesday to Sunday and I was there on Monday. Next time …
Driving across the Jubilee Bridge I was on Walney Island, the largest English island in the Irish Sea. It grew in size from the 1890s when Vickers Town was built to house workers at the shipbuilding industry. I turned right and looked back across the Walney Channel for a great view of Barrow (see photo at the top of the page) and then to a tiny cove with yachts and the Lake District hills in the distance. Further along this road I came across Walney Airport. My Seldom Seen Map informed me a RAF training school was based here in WWII. I then drove across the island to Earnse Bay, with its lovely sandy beach and great view of Black Coombe.
The final stop on my day out was at South Walney Nature Reserve, which is at the end of a very long road, past the ancient hamlet of Biggar and a number of very curious cows. A lighthouse hovers in the distance and there’s a great view over to Piel Island. There are a number of observation hides; I spent a little time in Control Tower Hide trying to spot an arctic tern or an Atlantic Seal; I saw a lot of gulls and a few rabbits. However, as I was driving back I THINK I caught a glimpse of a peregrine falcon wheeling overhead; just one of the many unexpected sights in and around Barrow-in-Furness and these unique islands.
I’ve been an ambassador for Pye Motors for 2 years. Family-run Pye Motors is a well-established local Ford dealership and has been in this area since the 1930s. MD Nick Payne is passionate about this part of the world and it was his idea to do a series of days out around Morecambe Bay using the Seldom Seen Maps. Find out more about what Pye Motors does in the local community.
Read more #FollowPye Days Out around Morecambe Bay
The Lancashire Coast: Cockerham to Bolton-le-Sands via Morecambe and Heysham
The Kent Estuary: Carnforth to Sandside via Silverdale and Arnside
The Cartmel Peninsula: Grange-over-Sands to Newby Bridge via Cartmel and Holker
The Furness Peninsula: Ulverston to Broughton-in-Furness
Cumbrian Island: A Boat Trip out to Piel Island
I must admit, like many locally, I hadn’t got great expectations for a day out around Barrow – how wrong I was! It’s one of those areas that gets sidestepped due to its proximity to the Lakes but also to some negative press. It really is well-worth taking time to explore. And that trip over to Piel is very special 🙂 (NB remember ferry doesn’t run in winter.)
Another interesting article about Morecambe Bay. You certainly get about in that Fiesta! Now tempted to revisit Walney Island …
That part of Cumbria often gets overlooked but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Must admit, until I studied the Seldom Seen Maps I didn’d realise how much!
Wow Zoe! I know a lot about Barrow and the Furness Peninsula but you certainly packed it all in – and more! Furness is a magical place with a lot to offer. It has a very mystical and historical atmosphere. And, it’s a pity I couldn’t accompany you on this trip as I haven’t been over to Piel Island since I was about nine years old – and I really like your car!
It’s great to be able to show a bit more of your fascinating local area to others Liz. Hopefully you can join me on another #FollowPye jaunt around Morecambe Bay next year!