There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Walking the Limestone Link: Kirkby Lonsdale to Arnside

The Limestone Link is a waymarked footpath crossing 20km of south Cumbrian limestone. Its 500m of climbing are enough to raise the heartbeat and respiration rate but overall it is a relatively easy yet interesting day’s walk. The waymarking, though, was not as good as we had been led to believe and some shrewd guesswork was called for - along with a little wandering around searching for stiles.

Lynne and Hilary dropped Brian and I off at Devil’s Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale around 9.30. The morning was full of promise, though exactly what it promised was obscure, but probably included rain.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

The bridge, a handsome structure dating from the 1430s, is one of five ‘Devil’s Bridges’ in Britain - and there over a hundred more ‘Ponts du Diable’ and ‘Teufelsbrucken’ scattered around Europe. They usually have an associated myth; in the Kirkby Lonsdale version, the devil offered to build the bridge in return for the soul of the first to cross it. When it was finished, an old woman threw a piece of bread across and her dog chased after it, so cheating the devil.

To minimise any residual risk to our immortal souls, we walked away from the river, up a steadily rising field boundary to High Biggins, which is neither particularly high not particularly big. A stroll along the lane took us past Biggins Hall, which sounds grand but is no more than a pleasant family home.

Once clear of the village we left the road, navigating across the fields from stile to stile. As usual, this method worked well until we reached an area where modern farming methods have required a wholesale removal of field boundaries. We thought we knew where we were, and could see a worn path leading up the hill opposite in the direction we wanted to go, but if the pile of stones to our left was, or once had been, Longfield Barn then the turning was not quite in the right place.

A fingerpost suggested the trod up the hill was indeed a footpath, so we made our ascent. There was no stile at the top, but as the wall had become vestigial this hardly mattered. We continued over the grassy tussocks of the broad flat summit until we met a more substantial wall – one that was above head height.

The map suggested a crossing point near the top of the right hand scarp, but we could not find it. We wandered along the wall. It was untidily built and in several places protruding stones might have been intended as a stile, but were not matched by stones on the other side. Looking over at one such place we found ourselves beside Longfield Tarn, which should have been well to the left of the crossing point. A little further on we found three projecting stones, matched by three more on the far side. The stile was several hundred metres from where we had expected, but it did the job.

Down to Hutton Roof

Once over, our descent to Hutton Roof was simple. We entered the village by a lane, crossed the road and started the climb up Hutton Roof Crags, the first substantial area of limestone of the walk.

A rocky path led up through a wood, giving us several choices of route. This is open access land and there was no waymarking, so we guessed. The map shows the Limestone Link following the northern edge of the crags, so that was where we headed, soon exchanging the rocky climb for a gentle stroll up a grassy path.

The grassy path up Hutton Crags
with Wernside and Pen-y-Ghent in the background

 The path stayed just below the crags and at its highest point we paused for coffee. The view was impressive; back to the east the outlines of Whernside, and Pen-y-Ghent marked out the Yorkshire Dales, to the north we could see the massive bare humps of the Howgill Fells, while nearer at hand we looked down on the limestone littered Newbiggin Crags and Holmepark Fell, the next stage of our walk.

Newbiggin Crags and Holmepark Fell

We descended towards Holmepark Fell, the sides of the path lined with harebells, which appreciate the cool climate and well-drained, nutrient poor soil.


Walking round the edge of Hutton Roof Crags meant we had avoided limestone blocks and pavements, but our path across the south of Holmepark Fell took us over and through some substantial stony areas before descending towards the M6.

Limestone on Holmepark Fell

An irritating three-sides-of-a-square detour was necessary to reach the village of Holme via a motorway bridge. Here we again turned west, crossing fields of cereals - and the west coast railway line - before reaching Pye Bridge Lane, which we followed to the King’s Arms beside the A6.

Across fields of cereals

Near the pub, we passed the boyhood home of John Taylor. I had never heard of him, but there was an informative plaque by the farm gate. Born in 1808, Taylor was brought up in the Church of England, became a Methodist at sixteen and then, after emigrating to Canada in 1830, joined the Church of the Latter Day Saints – the Mormons. He made is way to the USA and finally to Utah where in 1880 he succeeded Brigham Young as President of the Mormons. It seemed a long journey from the green farmland of southern Cumbria to the desert of Utah. He died the husband of seven wives and father of thirty-four children, so perhaps it was an even longer and stranger spiritual journey.

Despite earlier misgivings, the day had become steadily warmer and brighter. We sat outside the pub in pleasant sunshine and enjoyed an excellent beef sandwich and a couple of pints of refreshment.

Fortified, we crossed the road and headed up Hale Fell. In the woods, a jumble of limestone and a multitude of paths, some marked on the map, some just existing on the ground, made navigation difficult. There were way markers, but not enough to be confident and I was relieved when we emerged onto a minor road just below Slack Head rather than at a campsite or marble quarry.

Limestone Pavements

A little further on we returned to the woods where a clear path with a gentle gradient took us up towards Whin Scar.

We had been following fingerposts enigmatically marked ‘to the Fairy Steps.’ After leaving the top of Whin Scar and crossing some huge blocks of limestone we discovered what they are. The path off the plateau leads through a crack between two limestone blocks. It is a small descent, some three or four metres, and is aided by natural steps that have formed in the crack. According to legend if you climb the steps without touching either side, then the fairies will bless you and grant a wish. I am not sure if the offer also applies to the descent, but as the crack is less than 30cm wide at shoulder height and Brian is what Bill McLaren would have called ‘a solid citizen’ he reached the bottom resolutely unblessed. I, on the other hand, tend more towards the spherical. Even after removing my pack, I was in full and firm contact with both sides all the way down.

Brian descends the Fairy Steps

A broad, straight path took us down through Underlaid Wood. After the brilliant sunshine of an hour before, it had now started to drizzle and the wet veins of limestone obtruding into the path became treacherously slippery.

A broad, straight path through Underlaid Woods

We reached the minor road at Hazelslack Tower Farm, where they were busy silaging. We paused in the farmyard as huge vehicles brought in the cut grass and shifted it into a barn, where a smaller tractor ensured it was evenly distributed.

...a smaller tractor ensured it was evenly distributed.
Hazelslack Tower Farm

Across the road, Hazleslack Tower itself is attached to a dilapidated farmhouse. It is a peel tower, one of hundreds built across the north of England in the fifteenth century for protection against marauding Scots. Designed to withstand a short siege, livestock were accommodated on the ground floor while the defenders lodged above them. Many, like Hazelslack, have fallen into disrepair, some have been incorporated in to grander houses, such as Sizergh Castle, while others were used as quarries by local builders and have disappeared.

Hazelslack Tower
We traversed a campsite, solved a navigational problem and descended onto Arnside Moss. The final kilometre was easy walking. The salt marsh was not as boggy as the name implies but was fully exposed to the drizzle that was quietly transforming itself into steady rain.

Crossing the railway to the edge of Arnside we made our rendezvous with Lynne and Hilary at 4.10. We had spent an hour in the pub and ten minutes drinking coffee, so the 20km had taken us some five and half hours walking. Good enough for a couple of old blokes.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Morecambe Bay and Sunderland Point

[Addition 31/05/2014 at end]
I find the sight of Morecambe Bay both awe inspiring and unsettling. 310 square kilometres of sand and mudflats is not only a vast expanse of nothing, it is an expanse of nothing with a strangely threatening air. And the threat is real. The quicksands are dangerous, but it is the tides that have been the great killer over the years. Amongst the highest in the world, they sweep in faster than a man can run. Sand bars that are almost undetectable by the naked eye are first cut off and then submerged. 23 Chinese cockle pickers, many of them illegal immigrants, died here in February 2004 when they were caught out by the tide.

Morecambe Bay as the tide comes in
The 2004 Gangmaster Licensing Act was a direct consequence of this disaster, but passing well-meaning legislation is easier than enforcing it. The cockle beds closed in 2005, more as a measure to conserve the cockles than the cockle pickers. They will reopen one day soon, and I hope they will be worked by local cocklers who have the skill and knowledge to do the job safely.

The River Lune flows into the bay a few miles south of the town of Morecambe. Sunderland Point, on the northern side of the river mouth, is a low-lying projection into the wasteland of mud and silt. At high tide in spring and autumn, the tip of the point becomes an island, but the rest of the time the village of Sunderland is connected to the mainland by a single-track causeway.

The Sunderland Point Causeway

Samphire grows abundantly along the roadside, while around it the normally flat mud has been sculpted into mounds and water-filled hollows. A heron stood in a pool looking for fish abandoned by the tide. As we reached the village, a curlew flew low overhead, dropping down onto the riverside where it joined a group of redshanks, using its long curved beak to harvest a layer of mud below that reached by the shorter, straighter beaks of its smaller companions. Further along, oystercatchers were doing what oystercatchers do, which is generally eating worms and small molluscs rather than catching oysters. Overhead a variety of raucous gulls announced their presence.


The channel of the River Lune was maybe fifty metres away. On its muddy banks, fishing boats lay abandoned, awaiting high tide. Sunderland Point feels remote and desolate, though on closer inspection it is neither. Lancaster is not far away, the Ashton Memorial, the city’s hilltop landmark, is clearly visible. The small group of houses and barn conversions that comprise the village are well maintained and the eighteenth century buildings are fitted with twenty first century flood defences. Although there was nobody about, there were clear signs of a still active community.
Fishing boats beside the River Lune
Once, though, Sunderland bustled. Vessels anchored in the river, awaiting the high tides that would take them upstream to the port of Lancaster. Sailors came ashore to do what sailors do – which is not necessarily catching oysters – and Sunderland catered for their needs.


In the 1780s,when Glasson Dock was built on the other side of the Lune, ships no longer had to wait for tides and Sunderland slipped into obscurity.

Eighteenth century Lancaster played its part in the triangular trade that brought cotton and sugar from the West Indies, took manufactured goods to West Africa and bartered them for slaves. There are even records of some forty black slaves in the Lancaster area.

Sambo, for that was the name he was given and the name he is buried under, arrived in Sunderland Point in 1736, either as a slave or as a cabin boy. He immediately fell ill and soon after died in the brewhouse of the Ship Inn, now known as Upsteps Cottage. As he was not a Christian, he was buried in unconsecrated ground on the tip of Sunderland Point.

Sixty year later James Watson, a retired schoolmaster, raised money from summer visitors to fund a memorial. In 1796 he placed a plaque on the grave bearing a poem he had written himself.

The plaque, Sambo's Grave, Sunderland Point

The words – with modernised spelling and orthography – read:

Full sixty Years the angry winter's wave
 Has thundering dashed this bleak and barren shore
Since Sambo's head laid in this lonely grave
Lies still and ne'er will hear their turmoil more
Full many a sandbird chirps upon the sod
 And many a moonlight elfin round him trips
Full many a summer's sunbeam warms the clod
 And many a teeming cloud upon him drips.

But still he sleeps - till the awakening sounds
 Of the archangel's trump new life impart
Then the Great Judge his approbation founds
 Not on man's colour but his worth of heart

The grave today is well signed and frequently visited. It is surrounded by flowers and painted stones, put there mainly by local school children - teachers are worthy and wonderful people.

James Watson’s brother William was a prominent Lancaster slave trader. Sixty years after his death the unfortunate Sambo was used in a quarrel between two brothers about a great issue of the day. It was, however an issue on which the long dead young man may well have felt strongly. At least his memory was co-opted by the right side.

A court judgement in 1772 had declared slavery illegal in England, slave trading was banned in 1807 and slavery itself abolished throughout the empire in 1833.

Slavery may be illegal, but that does not mean it no longer exists. The status of the Chinese cockle pickers who perished not so far from here in 2004 was little better than that of slaves. The law may no longer be on the side of the slavers, but enforcement, even in this country, is far from easy.

Addendum 31/05/2014

While strolling beside Morecambe Bay near the village of Bolton-le-Sands we came across the Praying Shell. Made from Portland limestone it is the work of Morecambe sculptor Anthony Padgett and was unveiled on the 30th of November last year as a memorial to the Chinese cockle pickers who died in 2004.

Praying Shell by Anthony Padgett, Bolton-le-Sands
We had visited this spot before and bought some of the excellent salt marsh lamb from Red Bank Farm (some of the farm buildings can be seen in the background). We had not realised that this is where the incident took place.

Mud flats, Bolton-le-Sands
In the picture the tide is out and the mud flats are relatively safe, provided you avoid the quicksands; but the tide can sweep in fast enough to drown the unwary - as it did in February 2004.