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3825 miles already walked

Battling to Barrow

This has definitely been an extended ‘Curate’s Egg’ walking week – some good parts, some bad.  Irritations have been ongoing problems with my right foot, poor signage, a frequent retracing of steps, and bad weather leading to revised routes and schedules. Positives have certainly been meeting submariners at Barrow, and huge levels of support given by kind people we’ve met – all keen to make our winter journey easier.

My week began at the red sandstone cliffs of St Bees, well known as the start point for the 192-mile Coast to Coast walk which crosses England, passing through 3 National Parks, before ending at Robin Hood’s Bay.  My Support Team ruefully observed that although we’d completed this walk together in 2011, this time I’d done it by the daftest route imaginable!

Not long afterwards Sellafield loomed into view.  Beginning its life as an Ordnance factory, it switched roles and subsumed the original nuclear sites of Windscale and Calder. The vast site became a repository for radioactive waste but is now slowly being cleansed and decommissioned. It continues to be a big local employer, many of whose employees live in the nearby dormitory town of Seascale.  It was here I noticed ‘Good Luck Victory Walker’ wishes stuck on the window of a seafront house.  

Nearby, Eskmeal Range had red flags flying which meant I veered inland to Drigg, towards Holmrook.  I discovered Holmrook Hall had been requisitioned during WWII and commissioned as HMS Volcano: a good name for what was a bomb disposal training establishment!  One of the students is said to have been Cdr Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabbe who led the underwater bomb disposal unit in Gibraltar during the war. Decorated for his services, he subsequently disappeared in suspicious circumstances in April 1956 at Portsmouth Dockyard.  Having retired from the Royal Navy, it’s alleged he was undertaking a covert reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser berthed in the harbour.

Until I studied the Cumbrian maps, I naively thought my days of walking up and down inlets were over.   Not so!  The coastline has varied considerably this week, ranging from cliffs, to vast banks of pebbles, marshland, fields and a collection of long estuaries thrown in too. The Cumbrian Coast and Furness rail routes cling to the coastline with viaducts frequently criss-crossing water courses.  As I found to my cost, not all pedestrian rail bridges take walkers over railway and water – despite what the map shows.

I was luckier with some attractive packhorse bridges, one of which dated from 1772.  Waymarking has proved to be poor and in some places non-existent.  Evidence of newly constructed gates and stiles for the English Coastal Path are clear to see, but the accompanying signage to advise route direction are missing.  Having passed through many older gates, what struck me about the newly installed ones is how much wider they are. Today’s walkers are obviously better fed!

Moving down the coast, my first estuary tackled was Ravenglass, above which Muncaster Castle stands sentry. Alleged to be haunted, it can’t be too intimidating as visitors regularly flock to this local attraction.  My second estuary hike began at Haverigg which marked the start of my route up the wide, long and beautiful Duddon estuary.  I began by walking Haverigg’s outer barrier which encircles a vast lagoon before heading upstream towards the market town of Broughton-in-Furness.  After this it was a long road slog before hobbling into its much larger neighbour, Barrow-in-Furness, late the following evening. 

Next morning, I headed for the historic Barrow shipyard which over the years has built numerous ships for the Royal Navy.  Today, it’s managed by BAE and the new ‘A’ Class and Dreadnought class of submarines are being built here.  It was good to see a bunch of submariners from HMS Audacious and HMS Anson waiting to greet me at the Crow’s Nest Gate.  We later moved round to Michaelson Bridge where I had good views of the huge construction sheds and dock area.  Sailors’ humour always amuses and that morning was no exception: in the collecting bucket one cheeky matelot had donated the princely sum of two navy-blue pusser’s buttons! 

Leaving Barrow, the weather quickly deteriorated; storm-force winds and rain lashed my route and I’d no choice but to abandon walking on safety grounds.  I returned to push on up the enormous Ulverston channel, eventually leading me into the genteel seaside town of Grange-over-Sands with its Grade II listed railway station.  On the way, points of interest included ‘the Needle’ at Rampside village.  Built as a leading light to help Masters bring their ships into Barrow in the 1800s, it’s the only one to survive.  Having seen stormy weather raging around that spindly beacon, I’m amazed it’s still standing. 

Ulverston was an interesting place too.  Not only is it the birthplace of Stan Laurel (Laurel and Hardy comedian duo), on its outskirts it also plays host to an International Centre for Modern Buddhism and Temple for World Peace. This comes complete with a Meditation Centre and Buddhist Temple. 

The town of Ulverston itself is dominated by the 450ft Hoad Hill, on top of which stands a monument of the same name.  Built to commemorate Sir John Barrow who was born in Ulverston, it was modelled on John Smeaton’s famous Eddystone Light.  However, Trinity House never permitted the monument to have a functional light, so although it looks like a lighthouse, it isn’t!  Highly accomplished, Sir John Barrow was, among other things, a founder member of the Royal Geographic Society and Second Secretary to the Admiralty with responsibility for running the Royal Navy.

As Storm Diana howled about me, I was rewarded by the sight of a Sticky Toffee Pudding factory shop.  Cartmel, a little inland, is reputed to be where this classic pub dessert was first created. I didn’t stop for a taste as the delights of a windswept and deserted promenade at Grange-over-Sands beckoned me.  Among its classic Edwardian buildings, I noticed a vast former Working Men’s Convalescent Home, built in 1914, and now a brightly pink-painted Care Home.

At the start of this blog I mentioned numerous acts of kindness shown by strangers during a demanding week.  Not only have I received unexpected and generous donations, I was also presented with a plaque by the Treasurer of the Royal Naval Association Millom and District at the end of a long day’s walk.  Local members had congregated to watch and wait for the presentation, which eventually took place in the dark.  It was one of those days when I’d been forced to retrace my steps, more than once and was late.

We’ve also benefitted from free nights at some camp sites where owners were keen to show their support for Naval charities.  Another night we parked at Barrow’s Sea Cadet Unit, and we’ve also been hosted on private driveways with an electrical hook-up supplied.  All this practical assistance makes life simpler and more bearable when the weather is so grim. Someone else provided me with a taxi service to get my foot looked at and gave us lifts to and from local shops - this saved Frank battling through heavy traffic in the Victory Van.   And finally, some delicious gingerbread, homemade scones and damson jam were given to us to enjoy.

If this continues, I’ll be glad of those extra wide walkers’ gates!

See Photo Album No 57 - Battling to Barrow