THE morning of the 13th of June brought humidity and haziness in place of the scorching sunshine of the previous day. While I devoured my breakfast, I pondered which was better for walking and came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter because I was going to walk in it anyway. My rapidly disappearing breakfast agreed with me entirely — deliciousness clearly implies agreement.
Breakfast was all but demolished when it occurred to me that the Lemming was also walking with me for the day and that we had arranged to meet at breakfast. What we hadn’t done was actually meet at breakfast.
Now, I have a number of friends who have raised unreliability to an art form, not only to the extent that turning up at all is in question but that even their extreme unreliability is unreliable and sometimes, just very occasionally, they turn up on time to confuse me. The Lemming, in my experience, is not one of those people and his non-appearance was worthy of comment. I therefore tracked him down to do some commenting.
A short while later, deep in discussion about alarm clock confusion and unbroken fasts, we made our way to Barrow-in-Furness Station and jumped aboard a train to Foxfield. To our mutual surprise, the train was not the typical modern multiple unit but was in fact an old-fashioned set of unpowered carriages pulled by an even older Class 37 locomotive.
Large and noisy (they sound like tractors), Class 37s were amongst British Rail’s earliest diesel electric engines, built between 1960 and 1965 and serving as the workhorse of the post-steam railway network. Until recently, they were still being used for freight traffic in some places but I didn’t expect to see one on passenger duties. Still, it did its job and the 1970s carriages had the added benefit that the seats all lined up with the windows, meaning that we could look at the view whizzing past.
Having been deposited at Foxfield station, I led us to where I finished my last walk.
This time, I was not welcomed by chickens but I somehow survived my crushing disappointment. A Cumbrian Coastal Way sign pointed us up a steepish lane and we climbed it, soon coming to a gate and then a farm track. The weather was still warm and hazy but visibility wasn’t too bad. All in all, it seemed like a pretty good start.
Coal Gate Farm
The track led us directly to the buildings of Coal Gate Farm.
Eccle Riggs Hall
At Coal Gate farm we joined a quiet country lane but only very briefly as one of the rare Cumbria Coastal Way signs directed us off across a field. At the far end of the field we found another, boggier field, and then we were skirting the grounds of Eccle Riggs Hall to the raucous accompaniment of some out-of-sight peafowl. My God, those things are noisy.
A Tudor-style country house, Eccle Riggs Hall was built in 1865 for Richard Assheton Cross (1823-1914), later Viscount Cross. Cross was a Conservative MP who served as Home Secretary under two Prime Ministers — firstly under Benjamin Disraeli from 1874 to 1880 and then under the Marquess of Salisbury from 1885 to 1886.
The house remained in use as a private residence until 1959, after which it served as a hotel for about forty years. Today, it is occupied by a publishing company specialising in school textbooks and exam papers and also by a members-only leisure club for the local community.
I might have taken a photo of Eccle Riggs Hall or indeed of the lovely cottages forming the hamlet of Eccle Riggs (probably meaning ‘church ridge’) but that would have rather relied on me having my camera, which I did not. This was not an entirely pleasant surprise as I’d definitely had it fifteen minutes earlier at Coal Gate Farm.
A quick game of searching my bag and emptying all my pockets ensued before we resignedly squelched back across the very boggy field and backtracked as far as the road, where my camera turned out to be taking an extended rest.
The Road Route
Having done the boggy field twice already, we decided to forego it a third time, even if it also meant not photographing those cottages. Of course, it also meant not being deafened by the ear-splitting hell-shriek of peafowl, so that was another point in favour of sticking with the road we were now on.
The road led downhill and met another at a crossroads and we, turning left, soon passed by the lane to Eccle Riggs and found ourselves entering Broughton-in-Furness where delicious ice creams awaited.
St Mary Magdalene
Broughton-in-Furness is a small market town which dates back to at least the eleventh century. Its oldest building is the church of St Mary Magdalene, parts of which date back to the twelfth century (although much of it, including the interior, is nineteenth century restoration work). Although no older parts now remain, the church has stood on the site since Saxon times, predating the Conquest in 1066.
When William I’s massive survey of taxable estates was completed twenty years later, the resultant Domesday Book listed Broughton (‘Borch’) as part of the Manor of Hougun, which had belonged to Earl Tostig (brother of Harold II, killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge). Although it was already a small market town then, it was later granted a charter to hold fairs by Elizabeth I; this charter is read out annually every 1st of August in the town square.
The square itself deserves mention. It was set out in 1760 and is flanked along one side by an arch-fronted market hall, built in 1766. This later became the town hall and now also houses the tourist information office.
George III Monument
At the time of building the market hall, George III had been King for six years. His would be an eventful reign (ten years after the market hall was built thirteen of the American colonies would declare independence) but it would also be a long one in which George would prove to be a far better king than expected, barring his madness in later life. In 1810, at the height of his popularity, he celebrated his Golden Jubilee and Broughton decided to properly mark the festivities with a memorial.
High Cross Inn
Having paused, rested and eaten ice creams, the Lemming and I decided it was time to wend our way. We climbed a low hill (43 m) out of Broughton to find a road junction atop it that was essentially a crossroads. Beside this junction stood the High Cross Inn, which has been serving beer to passers-by for almost two hundred years. It was way too early for beer though so we merely glanced at the pub and moved on.
Lake District National Park
What we moved onto was the A595 and, looking ahead. we could see that the pedestrian pavement had no intention of continuing very far along it. This caused for momentary dismay — the traffic, though intermittent, was also bombing along at an approximate speed of ‘smear-you-along-the-carriageway-like-jam’ mph. We needn’t have worried.
Upon leaving Broughton, we had also entered the Lake District National Park, which is not exactly unaccustomed to walkers rambling about all over the place. The pavement extended just as far as it needed to connect us with our next footpath.
The footpath, which was there mostly to save us from a sudden jam scenario, led into fields and across the River Lickle, a narrow tributary of the River Duddon. Before long it led us to the banks of the Duddon itself, the estuary of which had basically taken up the entirety of the previous day’s walk.
This far upstream, there was no quicksand, no shifting channels and no tide; there was only the river. It all looked so peaceful. Right up until the Lemming examined a mass of sticks and stuff beside the path and realised that it was flood debris.
It is of course no surprise that a river draining Lakeland suffers intermittent floods. The Duddon flows for about fifteen miles, rising near the Three Shire Stone that marks where the historic counties of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland met. The river forms the boundary between the first two for its entire length.
We only needed to head upstream about a quarter of a mile in order to cross at Duddon Bridge but doing so involved a moderate jam risk, as the bridge was also the A595 and lacked a pedestrian footway.
Duddon Iron Furnace
Immediately across the river was the tiny hamlet of Duddon Bridge, where a side-road permitted our escape from the A595. Moments later a footpath allowed us to escape from the side-road also, conveying us up a hill into some woods. But first we passed this:
Duddon Iron Furnace is one of the largest and most impressive of its kind. It’s also surprisingly intact. The furnace is part of a long tradition — iron ore was mined in West Cumbria from Mediaeval times and was smelted in bloomeries — basically hearths — wherever charcoal was readily available. Then, the eighteenth century brought with it the new-fangled blast furnace and the iron industry never looked back.
This particular blast furnace was in use from 1736 to 1866. Charcoal-fired, it consumed huge amounts of ore and fuel while air was pumped into the combustion chamber via bellows driven by a water wheel. The wheel is long gone but the course of its leat remains; it took its water from the Duddon at a point half a mile upstream.
It seems funny now to think of intensive industrial effort in what seems today to be such a peaceful rural setting. Yet when Duddon Iron Works was in its heyday, the furnace would be in non-stop twenty-four hour operation for up to thirty weeks at a time – once you’d got it to the right temperature you didn’t want to let it cool down again without good reason.
The furnace was worked with twelve-man shifts: six to man the furnace itself, two to fetch charcoal and iron ore, another two to feed those things into the furnace and the final two to actually cast the iron.
After closure in 1866, the site became sadly derelict. It has since been partially restored under the care of the Lake District National Park.
We briefly contemplated pausing for lunch at this wonderful site but a cottage across the path housed someone with other ideas.
Because being screeched at by mammal-phobic guinea fowl is not the ideal accompaniment to a spot of luncheon, we elected to follow the path up into the woods, stopping beside a tiny stream whose course had clearly changed several times and which may well have originally been the leat for the furnace waterwheel. Rest was had, sandwiches were eaten and I double-checked that I still had my camera for about the four billionth time.
A brief but delightful woodland trek followed, covering about three-quarters of a mile. Above us, atop a nearby hill, was a stone circle — the Ash House Standing Stones — one of many in the area.
Duddon Bank Cottage
Sadly our route did not take us to the standing stones but instead carried us down the hillside, exiting the woods beside a house that, unlike the iron furnace, still had one of these:-
Our delight at finding a water wheel that still revolved (even if it didn’t appear to be hooked up to anything) was as boundless as our conversation thereafter was predictable, exploring the possibilities of small-scale hydro-electricity. The delight was short-lived however as we had now returned to the A595 and were forced to dash across it, dodging traffic on the way.
Jellification was successfully avoided.
Lady Hall Lane
The next three miles or so were a quiet country lane, skirting the foothills facing onto the Duddon Estuary. Flat, reclaimed fields stretched off towards the marshes, beyond which lay Duddon Sands. There was no traffic barring the occasional 4×4 and a single, inevitable Royal Mail van.
Near Low Bog House we passed through a hamlet that didn’t appear to be one on my map. This perplexed us as we couldn’t find the footpath we wanted on account of being in the wrong place. A local chap tried to help us but, since he didn’t know we thought we were somewhere else, his directions just confused us more.
Lady Hall Hamlet
Eventually we decided we didn’t want to take an uncertain footpath towards a definite marsh when we had a perfectly lovely country lane to traverse. We therefore continued along the latter until we reached Lady Hall, which is where we had thought we were before.
We now had the opportunity to head off-road along the footpath that we previously couldn’t find and so, perversely, we decided to ignore it. It was warm and humid and I rather fancied a sit down and a cold drink in a pub. Not that Lady Hall had a pub, just several lovely cottages.
The lane led us from Lady Hall past a dilapidated-looking building with the glorious name of Elf Hall and from there to the village of Thwaites, where we once again ignored a perfectly good footpath.
Thwaites is labelled as ‘Hallthwaites’ on my OS map but it appears that no one except for cartographers affixes ‘Hall’ to the name. As a toponym, thwaite comes from the Old Norse for a clearing or cutting and Thwaites can trace its existence back to the Viking invasions of the late eight century, when Norse settlers arrived accompanied by thralls from Scotland and Ireland.
St Anne’s Church
The village is small, with a surprisingly large church (built to cater for the whole parish including hamlets such as Lady Hall) and sits on the banks of Black Beck, a minor tributary of the Duddon. A small stone bridge arches its way across the beck. It was a nice enough bridge but we had no need to cross it.
Deliberations on the Bench
A little further on from Thwaites we sat on a handy bench and considered our options. The road we were on continued to The Green, which was technically a hamlet (having no church) but which was actually larger than Thwaites and hence probably had a pub. Alternatively, we could pass through a gate down a farm track to Arnaby, which really was a tiny hamlet. It wasn’t much of a discussion; pub won hands down.
Punch Bowl Inn
The Green did indeed have a pub, albeit one not normally open on a Saturday afternoon. Fortunately for us, The Green was having a village fête and the pub had opened specially. We sat in the shade and downed some beers and generally recovered our desire to continue onwards.
As luck would have it, our keenness had regenerated just in time for us to leave as the fête began to empty out into the pub, packing it solid. We couldn’t have timed it better had we tried.
Strands Bridge & Green Road
We took the road eastwards out of The Green, past the outlying hamlet of Strands, and finally crossed Black Beck just before we reached Green Road railway station, about a mile east of The Green. A level crossing carried us over the railway line, beyond which the road came to an end becoming a bridleway and foot path.
Although we were turning right and heading down the estuary via an embankment at the edge of Millom Marsh, this was not the only route onwards. Dire warnings of drowning and death flanked a route that headed straight out across the estuary. This was one of the ancient Rights of Way across Duddon Sands to Kirkby-in-Furness and we were agreed that it looked like utter madness.
I’ve done quite a bit of walking in salt marsh. And so long as your path is raised and dry, it’s okay. But you do need some actual variable terrain features now and then. This particular stretch of the marsh was monotonous and even the Lemming, who grew up in Norfolk, had had enough before long.
It’s not that it wasn’t lovely. It was just mostly the same. Maybe we were just in the wrong frame of mind.
After two and a half miles of marshy boredom the embankment ended on the outskirts of Millom. We decided not to enter the town just yet but instead to turn south and skirt round its edge, continuing along by the estuary shore.
We did maybe another mile before we found ourselves confronted with a road into Millom and said to ourselves ‘oh, why not?’ The humidity was sapping our strength and our willpower and, while the walk had been fun so far, neither of us were desperate to do any more of it that day. I’ve said before that I don’t have many walking rules — I don’t need to stick to the coast and I don’t have a set goal — but I do have one rule of primary importance and that is: it’s supposed to be fun.
We had had enough fun, so we headed into town.
Millom is a nineteenth century development, that grew up around an ironworks and swallowed existing hamlets and villages. In the mid-nineteenth century. iron ore was discovered at Hodbarrow, on the shore of the estuary southeast of Millom and this kick-started Millom’s expansion.
A station was opened by the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway in 1850 and a new town sprung up in the 1860s. Over the next century this grew significantly, being home to around 10,000 people by the 1960s. The ironworks closed in 1968 and since then the town has struggled, with its population having dropped to less than 8,000 by 2011.
Millom is attempting to regenerate itself and to make something of its history. One manifestation of this is a ‘discovery centre’ at the station, while another is a statue of The Scutcher — the man who stopped wagons of iron ore using only an iron bar and his own strength as a brake. The statue is made of iron ore dust mixed with resin.
North of Millom, and outside the town, lies Millom Castle, built as a twelfth century manor and licensed to crenellate in 1335. Its sixteenth century Great Tower is basically a large Peel Tower and was badly damaged during the English Civil War. Even so, the Great Tower is doing better than the castle walls which were already dilapidated by 1739.
The castle is grade I listed and a scheduled ancient monument but is seldom open to the public on account of being a private residence — the great tower serves as a farmhouse.
The Lemming and I did not head so far north as the castle. We plodded through town as far as the station and there sat gratefully on some benches as we waited for our train. It was a long wait — the trains were running late — but we were in no particular hurry. We had only walked eleven miles in total but it still felt like enough.
This time: 11 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,118 miles