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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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107.  Along the Sands from Millom to Silecroft

The Iron Age lasted from about 1850 to 1968 in Millom. The first shafts in the region were sunk in the 1850s and the last ironworks to close did so in 1968. Before 1850 the Millom area was a pastoral region of a few hundred people but once rich hematite (iron ore) deposits were discovered the village rapidly grew to over 10,000 people. In the years immediately after the ironworks closed the population nearly halved but it has recently recovered to about 8,000. I began my walk from the railway station hoping to see how much Millom has changed in the fifty years since the iron industry disappeared.

I walked to the estuary, passing what the poet Norman Nicholson, who lived in Millom all his life, described as “a parallelogram of straight-ruled, tight-packed, slate-built terrace houses” of a “typical northern industrial town” (Nicholson, 1969). However, Millom was not itself a typical northern industrial town. It was hardly part of the industrial north, being isolated at the south-west corner of (what is now) Cumbria. I have seen no similar terraces elsewhere in Cumbria. Today, the terraces seem incongruous without the industrial context. Millom is, in principle, a fine place to live, deserving of suitable housing, basking under Black Combe (600 metres) and on the bracing Duddon estuary.
Duddon estuary

The Cumbrian fells from the Duddon estuary at Millom

At the estuary I could see what Nicholson meant when he said that despite living in this Millom outpost he always felt part of the Lake District because he could look towards the “saw-edge sky-line of the fells”. Yes, indeed it is a marvellous prospect up the Duddon valley towards the Scafells and the Old Man. The tide was in, filling all the creeks, and, unlike in Nicholson’s day, it was utterly silent apart from the occasional bird-sound. The path that I walked on was once a railway line running to the various mines on the peninsular. On the landward side was the site of the Millom Ironworks, now a Nature Reserve, although it seemed to be fenced off from this path. The flat ‘island’ on the bay-side is marked on the 1968 map as also part of ‘Millom Ironworks (disused)’ with ‘mineral railway’ lines and slag heap. The estuary bank had the remains of an old port although I would think that the estuary is too shallow to allow significant vessels to reach it even when the tide was in.

The railway line path ended, leaving a deserted beach to be crossed to reach Hodbarrow Point. Nicholson described the scene from here in his boyhood: “a desert of slag, with smoking chimneys, roaring furnaces, the clang and bustle of machinery”. Today, it is a scene of tranquillity. The mile-long, curving outer barrier now encloses a lake, forming a haven for bird-life. Before the barrier was completed in 1905 the sea came up to a defensive sea wall from Steel Green to Hodbarrow Point. It clearly wasn’t defensive enough because the mines were liable to flooding before the barrier was built. Halfway round the barrier is the Haverigg Lighthouse, with a large information board nearby giving the history of the mines and the lighthouse. The latter was renovated in 2003, in a project involving the local primary school, but sadly the lighthouse is now in worse condition than the information board.
Hodbarrow

The outer barrier from Hodbarrow Point

Near the end of the barrier are the chalets of the Port Haverigg Holiday Village. They do raise the tone from the appearance, typical of isolated coastal villages, of the salty, rusty, weather-beaten houses of Haverigg but I think I’d feel frustrated not to have a clear view of the sea and not to have a way to sail out from the enclosed lake. Beyond Haverigg I anticipated having about four miles of beach walking. However, to begin with I was surprised to find myself walking between high dunes on the landward side and a gravel bank and lower dunes on the seaward side that prevented any view of the sea.

So I pressed on with no view until, after a mile or so, the gravel bank ended. The beach was now wide, and becoming wider as the tide receded, leaving glittering ripples on the sand. Again, it was silent apart from the occasional bird and the distant wavelets. On the sea’s horizon about two hundred wind turbines could be seen, with the outline of the Isle of Man to the north of them. Once I had walked out away from the sand dunes onto the wide beach I could see Black Combe, the overlord of this corner of Cumbria. Needless to say, it was peaceful, soothing walking, alone (apart from one or two distant dog walkers) far out on the sand, making my way around the occasional lagoon left by the tide. It was quite easy walking on the firm sand and I reached Silecroft earlier than expected. At one point I met a group of five riders galloping across the sands. Imagine being able to do that every day, weather and tides permitting! I ended my invigorating beach stroll by walking inland to the village of Silecroft.
Silecroft

The sands at Silecroft

You may be assuming that since I started at Millom railway station I would get the train from Silecroft back – but no. We have not used public transport since March. Like everybody, we haven’t done a lot of things since March. We haven’t: seen children or grandchildren (except on Skype/Zoom); seen any other relatives (apart from a few at a funeral); had anybody in our house (apart from a plumber and a chimney-sweep); been in any pubs or restaurants; been to any events; slept anywhere other than home. Who knows when this might change?

So our outings, which may become Saunterings reported here, are now a key part in our retaining some equilibrium, having evolved into our ‘holiday’, distributed over individual days. Ruth has joined me more, now that her other activities are curtailed. We make a full day of it, feeding ourselves, using our small camper-van. The walk is only part of the day. On this occasion, for example, we had a challenging diversion over the moors west of Ulverston to have a coffee break with a fine view of the Duddon estuary and Black Combe, and on the way home we paused at a reservoir near High Newton to cook our supper while the sun set behind the hills north of Black Combe. Ruth had tipped me out at Millom and driven on to Silecroft where she went for a ride on the beach. She was one of the five.

    Date: October 15th 2020
    Start: SD172802, Millom railway station  (Map: OL6)
    Route: (linear) NE, E, SE, SW around coast – Hodbarrow Point – W, NW – Haverigg – SW – Haverigg Bent Hills – NW on beach – Silecroft car park – NE – Murthwaite Green Farm
    Distance: 8 miles;   Ascent: 20 metres



     108.   Westward Home!
     106.   Twelve Ponds and a Power Station
               A list of all Saunterings so far

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-

Blencathra

Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell