TO MY great relief, it was no longer bucketing down when I awoke in my hotel on the outskirts of Grange-over-Sands, back at the end of April (which feels like a lifetime ago). True, the skies were grey and foreboding with low-hanging clouds but I could forgive that so long as the water stayed where it was — overhead.
Having risen and breakfasted, I set off along the road into town but soon noticed a sign pointing to a promenade. Given the choice between a nice seaside promenade and a fairly dull road with traffic bombing down it, I’ll take the former every time. I thus crossed over the railway line for a lovely stroll beside the…
A mile and a half long, the promenade was constructed in 1904 by the local council with the enthusiastic support of the Furness Railway Company. Taking its cue from Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s excellent work in London some thirty years prior, the promenade concealed a new sewer within its bulk.
At the time of construction, it did indeed face directly onto the beach although even then ‘beach’ was perhaps an overly optimistic term for the slippery, quicksandy banks of the River Kent. Over the subsequent century or so, the river’s course migrated south, leaving the promenade high and dry-ish as salt marsh infilled the space between it and the river.
The marsh is grazed by sheep but their days might be numbered as the river is slowly migrating northwards again.
Ulverston & Lancaster Railway
As you could see from the photo, the promenade runs alongside the railway line, which was opened in 1857 by the Ulverston & Lancaster Railway Company. The construction of the railway embankment significantly changed Grange’s shoreline, cutting off a tidal inlet that now forms a pond within the town’s ornamental gardens.
The railway line was a major engineering accomplishment, requiring dozens of miles of sea embankments and two long viaducts crossing estuaries, one over the Kent and the other across the Leven. Ninety percent of the capital was provided by one family, Manchester businessman John Brogden and his sons, with the rest largely coming from William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington (later the seventh Duke of Devonshire).
A Line of Coke
Though the line brought tourism, transforming Grange, it was primarily an industrial route hauling coke to the steelworks at Barrow-in-Furness. Initially a single line, it was doubled in the 1860s when the Ulverston & Lancaster Railway was absorbed by the larger Furness Railway. This, in turn, was swallowed by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in 1923, which became part of British Railways in 1948.
Having somehow survived the Beeching Axe, the line remains open today and is served by Northern Rail and First TransPennine Express, which meant that I could use it to start my journey home the following morning.
Tree Stump Carvings
As I ambled alongside the railway, I passed two curious statues, an egret and a goose, protruding from tree stumps in an ornamental flower bed. A small plaque explained that the Civic Society Promenade Gardening Group had installed them in 2012 after a freak storm had felled the trees in question in 2011. This, I thought, was an excellent and imaginative approach to dealing with tree loss.
The promenade soon carried me into Grange-over-Sands itself. The first recorded mention of Grange — as ‘Grange-with-Kentisbank’ — is in the registers of Cartmel Priory during the fifteenth century. This makes perfect sense as a ‘grange’ (from Old French ‘graunge’, meaning ‘granary’) was a farm supporting a religious institution.
Torquay of the North
The tiny village of Grange was actually primarily a fishing village rather than a farming settlement, at least until the arrival of the railway when it promptly exploded into yet another Victorian seaside resort. This growth would continue for some decades and by Edwardian times the town was being nicknamed ‘the Torquay of the North’.
The ‘Over-Sands’ suffix was added sometime in the nineteenth century and a popular local tale insists that this was at the urging of the local vicar, whose post kept going to Grange in Borrowdale instead.
Lancashire North of the Sands
Whether that’s true or not, Grange-over-Sands is a good name for the place as going over the sands was the only convenient way to get to it and there was a regular stagecoach route before the railway was laid. This required some serious local knowledge though, either on the part of the driver or in the form of a guide, else the coach could end up under the sands instead.
Even so, crossing the sands was the best option to get there, the fells and lakes to the north making overland access difficult, which is why Grange was historically part of Lancashire (it still is for ceremonial purposes). Administratively it has been part of Cumbria since 1974.
The clock tower shown in the photo above was erected in 1912 at the expense of a local benefactor, Mrs Sophia Deardon. It replaced a previous version, which had been moved to make way for an extension to St Paul’s Church.
The clock indicated to me that it was time to visit one of Grange’s shops in order to purchase water and snacks for the day’s walking. I duly purchased those items; it doesn’t pay to argue with clocks.
It often doesn’t pay to argue with idiots either — they drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience — but as I headed south out of Grange I saw a sign that made me want to try to smack sense into someone with a blunt implement. A linden branch for instance.
What I saw was a planning application for one of Grange’s many hotels to cut down a couple of perfectly lovely linden trees. The narrative was pretty clear: someone had bought a hotel, knowing full well that roadside trees obstructed its view of Morecambe Bay — you could hardly miss it, on account of the trees being there, blocking the view — and had then applied to get these completely healthy trees, which had been doing harm to no one, cut down on grounds of economic impact. To a business which has clearly had trees in front of it for decades.
I can’t express how much this kind of thing annoys me. If you don’t want trees blocking the view in front of your hotel then don’t own a hotel with trees blocking the view. In the first place, I mean. Obviously, the hotel owner shares my opinion that they shouldn’t own a hotel with trees blocking the view but by my reckoning they’ve come to this realisation a teensy bit late.
The Cumbrian Fells?
A bit further down the road was a petition against the felling of eleven more of these trees (all in a conservation area and covered by Tree Preservation Orders). Maybe chopping down protected trees is just what passes for fun in those parts?
Not Its Actual Bank
Fuming quietly about the trees — I like trees — I followed the closest road to the shore southwards towards Kents Bank. The name of this village is pretty self-explanatory, especially if you ignore the fact that the Kent has shifted almost a mile from the village.
The ancient route across Morecambe Bay from Hest Bank comes ashore there and the village was initially little more than a tiny hamlet and an inn; it’s still quite small today.
Despite its lack of size, Kents Bank has its own railway station, which ironically sits right next to the old cross-sands Right of Way that it essentially rendered redundant. The Right of Way still exists and is marked on OS maps as a bridleway. But even the OS mark it as dangerous and warn you to seek local guidance. And you need a guide because, well, here it is:
A Detour Inland
Fittingly enough, the road I was following also ended at Kents Bank and I was forced to make a right turn and head inland along another road towards Allithwaite.
A tiny village, Allithwaite is slightly unusual in that isn’t sited on the banks of a river or stream but was instead founded in a location well-supplied with natural springs. And while much of the surrounding land was held by Cartmel Priory until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Allithwaite was held by secular lords, the Harringtons of Gleaston Castle.
For me, it represented a chance to sit on a bench, munch snacks and watch some sheep ambling about in a field before I got on with my next stint of walking.
At Allithwaite, I turned again to a more southerly direction, which carried me past Wraysholme Tower. An old Peel Tower, this squat, square fortification was built in the fourteenth century in response to the threat of attack from Scots raids and Border Reivers. Such buildings are common in the counties abutting the Anglo-Scottish border and with good reason: the threat of attack was very real. Quite apart from official strife between the two nations, for centuries the Border Reiver clans were a law unto themselves.
The lane carried me past Wraysholme Tower and towards a remote T-junction with another quiet country lane. To my left, a lane led eastwards to Humphrey Head, a vaguely whale-shaped limestone outcrop surrounded by marsh. Humphrey Head has good views over Morecambe Bay, apparently, and holds one of the many competing traditional claims for being where the last wolf in England was killed — if all such claims are taken as true then the last wolf must have staggered about a lot in its death throes. For at least two centuries.
The Humphrey Head story has the wolf come down from the Old Man of Coniston during the fourteenth century and terrorise the area until a local knight, John Harrington, son of Sir Edgar Harrington of Wraysholme Tower, chases it to its lair on Humphrey Head and either stabs it to death or chases it off a cliff. Or both.
Winder Moor & West Plain Farm
I decided that there was no point in my heading east as the wolf was already dead. To my right, the lane led west across Winder Moor and I went that way instead, turning south when the road ended at another junction. This led me past an airfield to West Plain Farm, where the Cumbria Coastal Way abandoned the road and headed off through Low Marsh atop an embankment.
At least it might have been the Cumbria Coastal Way. It might equally have been the Cumbria Coastal Path.
As I strode along the top of the embankment, staring across the wet, squelchy marsh towards the wet, splashy sea, the clouds above appear to have decided that what I was mostly enjoying was ‘wet’. They therefore proceeded to dump a considerable quantity of water on my head. Purely to enhance my enjoyment, you understand.
Fortunately, the rain didn’t last all that long. Neither did the embankment, with the path dropping to marsh-level as it headed out to Cowpren Point. There I could see Ulverston, my destination for that day, far across the waters of the Leven Estuary. It was about four miles away as the crow flies. On foot it was more like fourteen.
There’s actually another Right of Way across the Leven Estuary, crossing from Cartmel Sands almost two miles north of Cowpren Point but that would have involved waiting for low tide and risking the quicksands, not to mention wading the Leven itself. So, I went the long way round.
The long way round turned out to involve skirting the end of the Cartmel Peninsula via a farm track that eventually led me to a road. The road crested a low hill, which was helpfully keeping the marsh separate from the old fishing village of Flookburgh. Cockling and shrimping are still important local industries and specially adapted tractors are used to traverse the sands.
Flookburgh turned out to have a rather disappointing village square, it having been tarmacked over to make a car park. Judging from the number of cars this was a highly pragmatic decision — it’s not like they could really have parked anywhere else — but it did rather lack in aesthetics. Still, as the square included a rather superior sandwich shop among its retail premises, practicality stomped prettiness into the ground.
Flookburgh isn’t all grim practicality though; it hosts an annual Cumbria Steam Gathering festival and a charter festival (celebrating its Royal charter, first issued by Edward I in 1278).
Cartmel Village Shop
Its southern outskirts are also the home of Cartmel Village Shop, a popular manufacturer of sticky toffee pudding, which isn’t actually in Cartmel village (a good two miles northeast of Flookburgh) but is on the Cartmel Peninsula. Thanks to the meandering nature of my route, I’d actually passed their factory earlier when walking between Wraysholme Tower and West Plain Farm.
Sticky toffee pudding appears to have been invented in the Lake District in the 1970s, so it’s good that one of its largest manufacturers is still based in the region. I made a mental note to have some later; my immediate needs were more savoury.
And so, munching a rather excellent tuna sandwich, I made my way along the road north out of Flookburgh towards the next village, the rather oddly named Cark.
Cark and Cartmel Station
Between Cark and Flookburgh was Cark and Cartmel railway station, again a good two miles from Cartmel village, despite the name. When opened in 1857, it was called Cark-in-Cartmel, which makes a lot more sense as that clearly refers to the peninsula.
The original station building (now a private residence) incorporated a special waiting room purely for the Duke of Devonshire, his family and guests. This is because the station was the closest to Holker Hall, a favourite home of the seventh duke who, you may recall, was one of the original backers of the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway.
Holker (pronounced ‘hooker’) Hall was built for local landowner George Preston in the sixteenth century on land confiscated from Cartmel Priory during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Heavily modified and rebuilt since, it passed through various marriages into the hands of the Cavendish family including William Cavendish, the aforementioned seventh Duke of Devonshire.
Grade II* listed, the house remains in the hands of the Cavendish family, being the home of Tory politician Lord Cavendish, great grand-nephew of the ninth Duke of Devonshire and third in line to the dukedom.
Tempted as I was to detour into the grounds of Holker hall, I instead turned off in the opposite direction, following a narrow lane that soon led me to a track leading up into wooded hills. Occasional signs warned of tree felling due to infection of Japanese Larch trees with Phytophthora ramorum.
A fungus-like pathogen, P ramorum causes sudden oak death in oak trees and blight and dieback in various other woody plant species but its first ever recorded infection of larch was in 2009 in the West Country. It has since been found in larch plantations across the UK, leading the Forestry Commission to adopt a policy of large scale felling in an attempt to contain it. Fortunately, the paths I needed to take did not appear to be affected and so I was able to enjoy the greenery in peace.
Lower Allithwaite (Again)
Mount Barnard & Speel Bank
I skirted around the hill called Mount Barnard and followed a not always obvious path past Burns Farm to the farmstead of Speel Bank. There, I was supposed to go one way but deliberately went another on account of some rather overexcited sheep — they made it quite clear that if I opened their gate they would rush through it and scatter. Instead, I followed another footpath, confident that with my OS map, I could find my way back to where I intended to be.
Very quickly, as is often the case with ‘lesser’ footpaths, the waymarks disappeared and all sign of the footpath vanished. I kept going nonetheless, not least because some pointy-horned cattle were getting a little too interested in my traversing their field. I may have lost the footpath dotted on the map page but I soon found another one which wasn’t shown at all.
This new path zig-zagged its way down a very steep hillside to a farm beside a junction where a quiet, gated lane branched off from the B5278. This was Stribers Farm, according to its handy sign, and the lane was one I was planning to cross further up.
Burn Barrow Wood
I let the lane lead me around to where my original path would have crossed it and thus regained the Cumbria Coastal Way (or Path). Not that there was anything coastal about it. First, it descended the hillside to cross a tiny stream in the grounds of a farmhouse called Grassgarth, then it climbed gently, winding through High Stribers Wood. The weather had warmed up considerably by now and as I climbed I gulped down cool water, all too aware that I was starting to run low.
I emerged from the trees onto an open hilltop, where a man with a dog immediately approached me to ask if I knew the way down onto the road. I did of course (it was right behind me) and as he descended through the trees, I paused to get my bearings.
While pausing, I had my second encounter of the hilltop in the form of a chatty and heavily tattooed young man who appeared to be cycling the path. The Tattooed Cyclist also asked me about the path down to Grassgarth (specifically, could he cycle it?) and explained that he was semi-local but didn’t know this route. We chatted amiably about the view, walking, cycling and — since we were both English — the weather.
During the course of this conversation he realised that I was low on water and insisted that he had enough spare to top up my water bottle, which he then did. A few minutes later, as he sped off down the hill and I crested the top of it, I reflected that if this were a Fighting Fantasy book (a kind of choose-your-own-adventure book popular in the 1980s) I’d now be adding 1 LUCK for my fortunate encounter.
Just past the crest of the hill lay Bigland Tarn, a small natural lake.
‘Tarn’, from the Old Norse word tjörn, meaning ‘pond’, is the term used across northern England to refer to a natural upland lake, typically formed by a glacial cirque. They are usually fairly small and Bigland Tarn was no exception. It still seemed pretty magical though, as natural lakes often do.
Bigland Tarn was overlooked by Bigland Hall, the sixteenth century home of the Bigland family. The Biglands farmed the hillside and acted as local squires for centuries, from the Norman Conquest through to about the 1940s.
Today, much of the estate is rented out and used for horse riding and trout fishing. As I wasn’t doing either of those things, I passed by Bigland Hall and began my descent down the other side of the hill.
The path down more or less ran alongside a small stream connecting Bigland Tarn to the River Leven below. At the bottom of the hill on the banks of the Leven, was Low Wood, which being both low and wooded was well-named.
Low Wood was the site of a gunpowder mill from 1798 to 1935, which initially supplied gunpowder to merchants engaged in the triangular trade and then, after the slave trade was abolished in 1807, the mill switched to making blasting powder and became a market leader.
Ulverston and Lakeside Line
The Leven flowed westwards from Low Wood, meandering and widening as it went before making a bend to the south and opening out into the estuary. The village of Greenodd sat at that bend, which is also where the River Crake, draining from Coniston Water, flowed into the Leven.
I now headed westwards to Greenodd, most of that distance being covered by the private road to Mearness Farm, which doubled as the Cumbria Coastal Way and used to be the Ulverston and Lakeside Line of the Furness Railway. The road being private, there was very little traffic and its low-lying nature meant that it could afford to be flat and easy going. I thus fairly bombed along it, showing rather more energy than the lazy-looking pheasants that I passed.
After about a mile and a half the footpath broke free of the private road and struck out across a field. On the far side of the fields was a narrow footbridge across the River Leven, which was starting to look properly estuarine.
The Leven is approximately eight miles long and drains Windermere, England’s largest natural lake. It is navigable (tide permitting) as far upstream as Low Wood. At low tide, it can theoretically be forded as part of the Right of Way between Cark and Ulverston (about three and a half miles downstream of Greenodd), although even then it is thigh-deep, fast-flowing and flanked by dangerous quicksand so a guide (or local knowledge) is absolutely necessary.
Egton with Newland
I crossed the Leven and entered Greenodd, a small village that was once a thriving port until the coming of the railway and the building of the Leven Viaduct. Not only did the railway provide alternate means of transport but the viaduct altered the shape of the estuary, badly affecting the viability of Greenodd’s quayside.
Today, it seems a small, sleepy village with little or no sign of its commercial past. Protected from the roaring A590 by a bypass built in the 1980s, it is surprisingly quiet. Its name means ‘green promontory’.
Penny Bridge & Smithy Green
From Greenodd, I took a street leading westward into the neighbouring village of Penny Bridge. I would not be crossing its bridge over the Crake but would instead be heading the other way, southwards through the hamlet of Smithy Green, following National Cycle Network route 70. I was soon striding along narrow country lanes, with fells in the distance and the sun having finally appeared in the sky. It was bliss.
Annoyingly, it was at this point, just as everything was going a bit Disney, what with the sunshine and the twittering birds and an unnatural urge to break out into song, that my camera decided for the first time ever that it would run out of battery. It turns out that when I’d last recharged it I had in fact done no such thing (it helps to switch the power on, apparently).
Oh well, I thought, at least I have my phone. And I did. It had one single bar of power left.
Slightly annoyed with myself for this state of impending cameralessness, I continued on my way. The country lanes conveyed me to the hamlet of Mansriggs and thence to the busier (but not too busy) B5281, which led directly south to Ulverston.
Ulverston takes its name from a personal name — either Old Norse Úlfarr or Old English Wulfhere, both meaning ‘wolf warrior’ — and the OE suffix tūn, meaning ‘settlement’. It is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Ulurestun’ and was granted a market charter by Edward I in 1280.
An attractive-looking town, Ulverston has embraced tourism without becoming tacky and hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. It was the birthplace of Stan Laurel (1890-1965) of the famous comedy double act Laurel & Hardy and has a small museum dedicated to them.
Above the town, atop Hoad Hill, stands a monument which at first glance appears to be a lighthouse. This is because it was designed to resemble the third Eddystone Lighthouse although it has never housed a functional light. It was erected to honour Sir John Barrow (1764-848), a statesman, writer and civil servant who was born in the town.
Sadly, with my camera out of action, I could only rely on my phone to take pictures of Ulverston. Or not. It managed one picture, in which it rather failed to deal with the light levels — or I failed to operate it correctly, take your pick — and then gave up and lost all power too.
Having reached my destination for the day, I availed myself of Ulverston’s shops and enjoyed some food and a rest. I also took advantage of its taxi rank as I was actually staying in Great Urswick, three miles southwest of Ulverston, and I didn’t feel the need to do any more walking.
I stayed overnight in a pub in Great Urswick, the extremely hospitable landlord of which took interest in my walking and explained to me the best possible route for walking back to Ulverston in the morning. His barmaid, a bubbly young woman, was rather nonplussed by the idea, responding to news that I’d walked twenty miles with the genuinely perplexed question:
‘But why would you do that?’
Because, of course. Just because.
This time: 20½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,075 miles