CXXVII – Ulverston to Barrow-in-Furness

Hasteful MammalI RETURNED to Cumbria at the start of May to resume my pedestrian adventure.  I hadn’t really planned to, indeed I had other plans for the long bank holiday weekend, but I decided at the last minute that maybe, just maybe, I could fit in a single day’s walking.  And so, I set off, without even checking the weather forecast.

I arrived in Cumbria amid a driving downpour, which mercifully soon lessened to alternate between drizzle and moderate rain.  Still, it felt right, if by “right” I meant “damp” — this was traditional Cumbrian weather in all its watery glory.  I would continue to be inundated with tradition for the rest of the day but, fortunately, I had recently invested in some properly waterproof clothing, which I trusted would keep me warm and dry. 

Heh! I’m so naive and trusting…


Hoad Monument

And so, with dihydrogen oxide liberally dropping out of the sky, I splashed my way along the streets of Ulverston.  The streets had clear ambitions to turn into canals, which was foolish; the last time Ulverston had a canal it ended up being abandoned.  Ahead of me, atop Hoad Hill, loomed the lighthouse-like Hoad Monument to Sir John Barrow.  Not being an actual lighthouse, it cast no beam through the rain.

Hoad Monument
Behold a beacon of darkness amid the cold rains of despair.

Actually, although the weather was pretty dismal, I was in fairly good spirits.  My waterproofs were living up to the description (mostly to lull me into a false sense of security, I suspect) and I was full of the enthusiasm and anticipation with which a walk typically commences. 

Canal Head

I left the road at Canal Head where — Shock! Gasp! — I found the head basin of the aforementioned canal.

Canal Head
Well, I never saw that coming.
Ulverston Canal

The Ulverston Canal was authorised in 1793 and opened in 1796, the project having been initiated by local solicitor William Burnthwaite who clearly saw it as inconvenient that Ulverston, which had been declared a port in 1774, was actually a mile and a half from the sea. 

In its heyday, the basin at Canal Head would have been bustling with activity, full of ships and surrounded by industrial establishments including a shipyard, iron foundry, timber yard, sailmaker, anchor smithy and various warehouses and docks.  Coasters laden with all kinds of goods were drawn by horses between Ulverston and the sea lock at Canal Foot

For over half a century it thrived — at its height in 1846, it welcomed 944 vessels in one year — but booming local industry would ultimately be its undoing as the discovery of iron ore at nearby Barrow led to the construction of new railways. 

Decline and fall

Trains permitted goods, such as local slate and iron ore and gunpowder from Low Wood, to be carried quickly to Barrow to be laden onto larger vessels, which would not have to navigate the shifting channels of the Leven Estuary.  Unable to compete, the canal saw its custom dwindle to nothing but somehow desperately hung on until 1916, when it finally closed to commerce. 

Today, the Ulverston Canal is basically somewhere to go fishing or to walk a dog along the towpath.

Canal Foot

I saw only one dog-walker braving the rain but anglers were certainly out in force.  Much of the canal was covered in water lilies and these, combined with the ripples of raindrops striking the water, made for a fairly enchanting scene as I fairly bombed along, quickly covering the mile and a half of towpath that led me to Canal Foot.

Canal Foot
Apparently not a medical condition.

Canal Foot is the eastern end of the Ulverston Canal, where it used to meet the sea via a lock.  The lock still exists but is non-operational, having been concreted shut in 1949.  A boat named Nahula was the very last vessel to pass through its gates.

Chemical Works

I passed over the old lock and found myself at the end of a road, around which clustered a handful of cottages.  The road led inland and I followed it for about half a mile, flanked by industrial buildings belonging to GlaxoSmithKline plc (the world’s sixth largest pharmaceutical company, headquartered in London). 

Somewhere ahead on my left was a turning that I needed to take but all I seemed to be passing were car parks and further GSK sites with warnings not to trespass.  For one ridiculous moment I had an image of an enormous figure in tweed and wellies, toting a shotgun and shouting ‘get off my land!1

Sandside & Sandhall

The turn-off, when I found it, took me past the three or four houses that seemed to make up the hamlet of Sandside and over the stream of Dragley Beck before crossing a rather damp and muddy field.  On the far side of the field the path rejoined the road beside a small farm.

Brick kiln chimney
Its owner appeared to be farming chimneys. It was a small crop, but growing well.

My first guess was that the chimney might have been connected with the ironworks that once stood where GSK is now but a quick glance at Google Maps tells a different story:  The road beside it is Brick Kiln Lane, which rather gives the game away.

Leven Estuary

I didn’t stay on Brick Kiln Lane for long, mostly because it ran to the shore and then ended.  I found myself standing beside the Leven Estuary, looking out into windy, grey misery slightly downstream from the mouth of Dragley Beck. 

A little way out and deceptively close was Chapel Island, upon which a chapel was built in the fourteenth century to serve the needs of fishermen and travellers.

Chapel Island
Chapel Island
Mostly they prayed that the rain would stop.

Chapel Island looks dead easy to walk to and so it is at low tide, provided you don’t mind fording the River Leven. Twice.  And that you avoid the quicksand.  Actually, it’s probably best to stay onshore and look from a distance, which is perhaps a shame as it has some lovely chapel ruins. 

I know they’re lovely because they were designed to look that way when they were erected in 1821; the ruins are nothing but a folly, created to enhance the view from Conishead Priory, when that was also being rebuilt.  A small cottage beside the ‘ruins’, occupied for much of the nineteenth century is indeed now a genuine ruin.

So what of the original chapel that gave the island its name? Good question.  Its genuine ruins were still in situ in 1795 when gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) wrote her Observations during a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmorland, and Cumberland, in which she mentioned:

‘Chapel Isle, on the right from Ulverston, a barren sand, where are yet some remains of a chapel, built by the monks of Furness.’ 

Mrs Radcliffe may possibly have been the first to name it so; historically it was known as Harlesyde Island.

Walking the Shore

In theory, the path onwards skirted along the edge of dry land beside the estuary.  In practice, erosion meant that the path had mostly fallen onto the beach and washed away. 

I thus found myself walking along the upper shore, thankful that the tide was out and all too aware that the muddy sand underfoot was alternately sucking at my boots and as slippery as hell.  And so, being very careful about placing my feet, I skirted around the grounds of Conishead Priory, which is a glorious edifice in Gothic Revival style, built between 1821 and 1836 on the site of the original priory. 

Conishead Priory

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Bradyll, late of the Coldstream Guards and High Sheriff of Lancashire, had inherited the previous house and found it in need of repair.  Instead, he elected to have it completely rebuilt (along with the ruins on Chapel Island to ensure a really good vista).  The work dragged on for fifteen years, cost him £140,000 and contributed, along with some dodgy investments, to his inevitable bankruptcy in 1848. 

Colonel Bradyll was forced to sell the priory, which subsequently changed hands a lot. It later became a hotel, then a convalescent home and served as a military hospital during WW2.  Since 1976, it has been the home of a Kadampa Buddhist community, who have erected a temple in the grounds. 

While not at all what the twelfth century Augustinian founders of the original priory would have wanted, this does bring its purpose round in a nice circle, beginning and ending with religion.

Ungodly Squabbling

The original priory was founded in 1160 as a hospital and raised to priory status in 1188.  It claimed to possess a holy relic, a girdle of the Virgin Mary, and soon became locally powerful — sufficiently enough to enjoy a highly litigious rivalry over territory, influence and income with nearby Furness Abbey (founded in 1123 and the second most powerful Cistercian abbey in the country).  This ungodly squabbling was only brought to an end in 1338, when King Edward II granted Conishead a Royal Charter, confirming its rights as claimed. 

Thereafter, the priory thrived but, as is the case for pretty much any historic religious house in England, its good fortunes came tumbling down in 1537 when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.  The priory was demolished and much of its stone was used to build a country house in the grounds, which was sold to William Stanley, the third Baron Monteagle (his grandson William, the fourth baron, would uncover the Gunpowder Plot in 1605). 

The house, still known as Conishead Priory, then changed hands repeatedly over the centuries until it was inherited in 1818 by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Richmond-Gale-Bradyll who, as mentioned above, knocked it down and rebuilt it.

Low Furness

Conishead Bank

Skirting around the edge of the grounds as I was, I didn’t really get a good view of the priory.  I didn’t get a good view of much really, apart from where I was carefully placing my feet.  Not that there was great visibility anyway — in theory I should have been able to see the Old Man of Coniston on the skyline to the north, in practice what I could see was mostly just grey

Red Lane & Coast Road

I soon got fed up of dealing with boot-eating sand (below the tide line) or ankle-busting shingle (above it) and so joyfully headed inland the moment I found a narrow road leading up from the beach.  The road was a lane that deposited me on the moderately busy A5087 but I was okay with that; the tarmac was at least a stable surface. 

That particular section of the A5087 was also a bypass, carrying traffic past the village of Bardsea.  I, though human traffic rather than the vehicular kind, was similarly kept at arm’s length.


Mentioned in the Domesday Book as ‘Berretseige’, Bardsea was among the lands that had previously been held by Earl Tostig and was therefore forfeited when he fought against his brother, King Harold, and lost (as did Harold to William the Conqueror almost immediately afterwards).  It was a small fishing and mining hamlet until 1853 when it got its own church, which technically made it a small fishing and mining village instead.

Holy Trinity Church, Bardsea
Yes, thank you, Holy Trinity; you’ve made your point.

Near the southern end of Bardsea, where its high street emerged to rejoin the A-road, I found a café that provided me with a cup of tea and a generous helping of surliness. Although I was dripping water everywhere and the previous customer had requested ‘a tea, no a coffee, no a tea, definitely a tea, have you got hot chocolate?’ so I suppose a level of customer disservice might perhaps be forgiven.

Bardsea Beach

My tea consumed, I continued along the roadside, which hogged the shore for a while.  Well, I say ‘shore’.

Bardsea Beach
I guess building sandcastles is out, then.
Sea Wood

The road entered a small deciduous wood and climbed steeply, curving away from the shore while a path along the latter offered an alternative route. I pondered both possibilities and came to the conclusion that I’d seen enough marsh reeds. Besides, I’d have to rejoin the road on the far side of the wood anyway and, if it was going to climb the hills, I might as well climb with it. 

The wood, through which the road arced, was imaginatively named Sea Wood, and had once been the source of shipbuilding timber for the Ulverston boatyard; its logs were floated down the coast at high tide. 

Sea Wood sits on clay over limestone, which is unusual in that part of Cumbria, and is mostly composed of sessile oak. Elm, sycamore and hazel are also present and in early to mid spring Sea Wood is a riot of bluebells

Lady Jane Grey

This delightful patch of greenery and bluery (if there is such a word) was owned by Lady Jane Grey in the mid sixteenth century. Lady Jane Grey, the “Nine Day Queen”, was the daughter of the Duke of Suffolk and great grand-daughter to Henry VII — her grandmother, Mary, was Henry VIII’s sister. 

When the latter Henry’s son and heir, Edward VI, lay ill and dying he nominated Jane as his successor but it didn’t last long.  As Edward’s half-sister Mary marched on London with an army, the Privy Council decided that it had better be supporting her when she arrived and thus switched sides and had Jane imprisoned.  She was charged with high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. She was only 17 when they beheaded her. Sea Wood and all her possessions were forfeit to the Crown.

Sea Wood Farm

As it emerged from Sea Wood, the road had climbed about 50 m, which at least meant that I could now see the sea.  Or at least a misty, drizzly grey blur where I knew the sea to be. A nearby farmhouse was almost inevitably named Sea Wood Farm and the road ran directly past it, on its way towards Baycliff.


As with Bardsea, the A5087 bypasses Baycliff village but I decided not to.  The village is small with a green at the centre and contains a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings.  Originally a fishing and farming community, it later branched into iron mining and stone quarrying, the latter of which continues to this day. 

I considered stopping for a drink in one of the village’s two pubs but decided that it would be better if I pressed on.

Here, Baycliff helpfully shows me the exit; the A5087 lies just round the bend.

Beyond Baycliff, the road climbed further, reaching its maximum elevation (about 60 m) beside the farmstead of Hillcrest, where a rough sculpture of a mermaid with a fish watched over the bay.  From there, the road descended, making its way down Edge Bank towards Aldingham


Another small village, Aldingham was once a mile in length (or so local folklore has it) but much of the village has since been consumed by the sea.

Aldingham distant
That’s Aldingham over there, where the trees are. Just follow the sound of the sea licking its hungry, hungry lips.

As before, the village wasn’t actually on the A5087, which passed close by it, but was instead at the end of a lane from the nearby small village of Scales (from Old Norse skáli, meaning ‘huts’).  The lane turned right abruptly on reaching the shore, creating two sides of a triangle with the A-road as the third. 

Aldingham Hall

As I slowly descended into leafy Aldingham, I became aware of a large stone building with towers and battlements to the rear.  This was Aldingham Hall, begun in 1846 by the Revd John Stonard (1769-1849) and completed the year after his death. 

In his will, he left his estate, including the unfinished hall, to his butler, Edward Jones Schollick, as a reward for saving his life on the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay.  Schollick developed interests in shipbuilding and mining and became a local philanthropist, giving money for the Hoad Monument and various other local causes before emigrating to Australia in 1876.  

The hall later became a convalescence home and is now a residential home for the elderly.

Aldingham Hall
Shouting “watch out for the quicksand, sir” is a better investment than one might expect.

Opposite Aldingham Hall was St Cuthbert’s Church, dedicated to the patron saint of northern England. 

St Cuthbert

St Cuthbert (c. 634-687) was born in the Kingdom of Northumbria and grew up near Melrose Abbey (which is now in the Scottish Borders).   After military service, he became a monk at Melrose, rising to the position of Prior in 661.  In 676, he retired to become a hermit but was reluctantly persuaded by King Ecgfrith to take up the position of Bishop of Lindisfarne

Posthumous Peregrination

He died on the Holy Island from a painful illness and was initially buried there although his remains were later removed to Durham to protect them from Viking marauders.  The route by which his remains reached Durham was extremely circuitous: Having evacuated Lindisfarne in 875 to escape the Great Heathen Army (a massive pan-Scandinavian force of Vikings), the monks carted St Cuthbert’s remains back and forth across Northumbria for seven years before finally settling at Chester-le-Street.

Twelve years later they were off again, thanks to yet another Danish invasion, but this time the cart carrying St Cuthbert’s body became stuck at Durham and the monks took this as a sign that the saint had had enough travelling. 

Aldingham, situated at pretty much the opposite end of Northumbria from Lindisfarne, is one of the places that St Cuthbert’s body rested, which is why the tiny village has its church dedicated to him.

St Cuthbert’s Church

St Cuthbert’s Church was built in the twelfth century, extended in the thirteenth and had its tower added in 1350 (the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw some restoration work).  Its builders thoughtfully included a hole in the chancel wall through which lepers could watch the service from outside without causing the rest of the congregation to scream and flee any unease.  Not that Aldingham’s tranquillity has never been disturbed by the church…

William de Bardsey

In 1288, a monk from Furness Abbey, William de Bardsey (i.e. ‘of Bardsea’, just down the road) got himself murdered as part of an ongoing heated dispute as to whether the underage lord of the manor, John de Cansfield, was a ward of his family or of the Abbot of Furness

Many centuries later, a bitter falling out with the churchwardens of St Cuthbert’s would be one of the contributory factors that helped push Edward Jones Schollick into heading off Down Under.

Passing Elbow Scar

Taking my cue from Mr Jones Schollick, I took my leave of Aldingham and headed south.  There our similarities ended and I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a mob of kangaroos grazing by the side of the A5087.

I’d have been dreadfully disappointed if I was.
Moat Farm

About a mile south of Aldingham, I passed Moat Farm; you can probably guess why it’s called that.  And why would a farm need a moat in its grounds?  Because it’s the site of the old manor house.

Way back in 1086, when the Domesday Book was compiled, a man named Ernulf had held the manor. Later the Manor of Aldingham was combined with those of Leece, Dendron and Gleaston, which had all been held by Earl Tostig in pre-Conquest England.   A thirteenth century hall was built at what is now Moat Farm and used until the lords of the manor upped and offed to Gleaston Castle (constructed circa 1326).

Now that I think about it, this means today’s Moat Farm was probably where William de Bardsey was murdered by the Cansfields.

Moat Hill

Just past Moat Farm, the A5087 did a bit of a detour around a low hill that formed an equally low cliff.  I made no such detour, taking instead a public footpath right across the hill.  This aroused the intense interest of a herd of cows, along one side of whose field I traipsed, and they all stood up slowly and then trotted over to see who I was.  I don’t mind cows but I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable when dozens of them are running in my direction. 

Whether by accident or design, they managed to close in on me as I reached the field’s corner, which meant I had nowhere else to go.  Quite literally cornered, I stood and watched them as they drew closer and came to a stop, watching me watching them from a distance of maybe three metres. 

‘Hello ladies,’ I said in a confident voice; the cows immediately fled.  I have that effect on women sometimes.

Former Castle

One reason the A5087 went around the hill, apart from it generally being easier, was that right by the cliff were the telltale earthworks of an old motte and bailey castle. This was Aldingham’s original manor (before the one at Moat Farm), enlarged into a castle by the Fleming family on a site originally fortified by Roger de Poitou, an Anglo-Norman aristocrat who owned vast tracts of northern England.


I rejoined my old friend the A5087 at the tiny village of Newbiggin, whose name is Middle English for ‘new building’.  I was getting hungry now and none of its buildings were a shop or a pub so I left Newbiggin as quickly as I had entered it. 

For the next few miles the road ran directly next to the shore and would probably have been delightful had it been sunny.  But it was not sunny. Instead the rain decided to intensify, having summoned a stiff breeze for moral support. 


Head down, I stomped along the roadside, passing through the hamlet of Roosebeck with barely a glance. Not that there was much to see, just a handful of houses (from 1879 to 1962 Roosebeck also possessed a Methodist chapel but this has long since been demolished).

This is not to say that Roosebeck is irredeemably boring: in 1870 seven skeletons were unearthed there, neatly arranged in two rows. No one knows who they were or why they were buried like that but a stone celt (i.e. a hand axe) was also found nearby.  

The ‘Roose’ part of the hamlet’s name comes from the Celtic word for ‘moor’.


At the southern tip of the Furness Peninsula was Rampside, where the A5087 and I parted company. While the A-road took a sharp right-hand turn and headed directly for Barrow, I kept going in the direction I was facing, taking me into the village.

Inhabited since at least 1292 (when it appears in the records of Furness Abbey as ‘Rameshede’), Rampside has few of its historic buildings remaining and is now mostly modern in character. 

Clarke’s Hotel

In the late eighteenth century, it became a bathing resort while nearby Barrow was still a tiny hamlet; a hotel erected in 1720 catered to its visitors.  The hotel still exists and I availed myself of its bar, ordering a stiff drink and some hot food and generally dripping water all over the floor (they didn’t seem to mind, I guess they’re used to it). I really needed that hot food.

As I sat and ate and relaxed, I realised that while my waterproof trousers had done their job well, my coat was not doing so well.  Water had seeped through the zip and the seams, leaving me somewhat damp. This was clearly a situation that could only be remedied by consuming a second gin and tonic.

When I emerged from the hotel, the rain had eased slightly but the breeze had intensified to make up for it.  If I faced south, the wind blew the rain directly into my face, which made it hard to see where I was going.  Fortunately there wasn’t much south left to go.  I was almost at the most southern point of the peninsula.

Rampside Lighthouse
Rampside Lighthouse
Not quite the southernmost point

Rampside Lighthouse, also known as the Needle, was erected in 1875, one of thirteen such beacons.  It is the only one still standing although it has long been disused. It stands towards the eastern end of the shoreline. 

Roa Island Causeway

At the other end of the village was a headland formerly shaped like a ram, which gave the village its name (it originally meant ‘ram’s head’).  Allegedly. 

It’s kind of hard to tell if it was ever ram-shaped though because in 1846 it became the site of a causeway built to carry trains across to Roa Island, a small but inhabited islet off the shore.  The railway spur to Roa Island was lifted in 1936 and the causeway today sports a road. 

I looked down this road — a mistake as I was looking south and therefore earned a faceful of rain — and tried to decide if small islands on the end of causeways were a thing I wanted to do that day.

Roa Island causeway
Do it… Do it…  You know you want to…

Roa & Piel Islands

Roa Island
Roa Island
Told you so

The causeway was built for John Abel Smith, a London banker who almost immediately fell out with the Furness Railway despite having built the causeway to carry their trains.  He also built a deep-water pier from which steamers could sail to Fleetwood, although that was demolished in 1891 after the Piel Channel shifted its position leaving the pier stranded in the shallows. 

Today, the island is home to about a hundred people, a yacht club, a lifeboat station and a café.  In keeping with my personal tradition, I reached the café shortly after it had closed.

Piel Island

Directly south from Roa Island is Piel Island, a vaguely teardrop shaped isle with Piel Castle at one end.  Previously known as Fowdray Island (from Old Norse fouder + ay, meaning ‘fodder island’), it was given by King Stephen to the Savignac monks of Furness Abbey in 1127 (twenty years later the Savignac order was absorbed by the Cistercians). 

The Abbey used it as a port and warehouse area and fortified it, creating a motte and bailey castle that was then the largest in northwest England.  This kept out both Border Reivers and customs officials alike, for the monks were immersed in smuggling right up to their tonsures. 

Lambert Simnel

If exporting wool without paying taxes had been dodgy, that was nothing compared to 1487 when the island was used to import outright rebellion. In a last gasp of the Wars of the Roses, Lambert Simnel, who was claimed to be the Earl of Warwick and thus a Yorkist claimant to the throne passed through Piel Island from on his way from Ireland to England and defeat by Henry VII.

Pile of Fowdray

When Henry’s son, Henry VIII, dissolved the monasteries in 1537 the island and its castle, known as “the Pile of Fowdray” became the King’s property and their defences were strengthened. 

In 1662, Charles II gave it to the Duke of Albermarle and over time it became a trading post as an outlying part of the Port of Lancaster.  Eventually it passed to the Duke of Buccleuch, who donated it to Barrow-in-Furness in 1920 as a memorial to the Great War

King of Piel

Today, Piel Island is managed by English Heritage and has a permanent population in single digits. Amongst them is the landlord of the Ship Inn who is, thanks to a tradition going back centuries and referencing Lambert Simnel’s rebellion, known as “the King of Piel”.

Piel Island
The King is in his castle public house.
Roa Island Watchtower

The nineteenth century saw nearby Barrow grow into a sizeable port and, though the monks were long gone from Piel island, smuggling remained a headache for the authorities. To this end a watchtower was constructed on Roa Island in 1847 as a lookout post for the Customs and Excise to monitor the movement of sailing vessels in the Walney Channel and beyond.  Over the years the building has had a number of uses including use as a lifeboat station and a Wesleyan place of worship.

Roa Island watchtower
The all seeing eye of the taxman gazed out of the dark tower.
Nothing could get past him. Except hobbits.

Piel Channel

Former Branch Line

Being an island on the end of a causeway, Roa Island was a dead end requiring me to turn about and retrace my steps to the southern end of Rampside.  From there the only route out by road was back to the A5087 but for walkers and cyclists there was another way.

Northwards! To Barrow and beyond!
Rampside Gas Terminal

The footpath soon veered slightly left to run alongside the Piel Channel, at which point things got a tad industrial, starting with the Rampside Gas Terminal.

Built on the site of a previous coal-fired power station in 1985, it is actually a complex of three terminals, all run by Centrica on behalf of various clients, and receives gas from fields under Morecambe Bay. 

Roosecote Power Station

The industry didn’t stop there though. Next was the site of Roosecote Power Station, a gas-fired power station opened in 1991, mothballed in 2012 and in the final stages of demolition as I passed it.


Roosecote (meaning ‘moor huts’) was a small village founded by Michael le Fleming of Aldingham sometime between 1107 and 1152.  By 1157, it was a grange of Furness Abbey but reverted to the crown after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Today, it is still a tiny village on the outskirts of Barrow and is generally considered to be an outlying part of the suburb of Roose.  Now a contiguous part of Barrow, Roose has existed as a village since at least 945.



While the A5087 passes directly through both Roosecote and Roose, I merely skirted their peripheries, entering Barrow via its suburb of Salthouse.  It wasn’t the most uplifting and salubrious of arrivals as the footpath picked its way uncertainly through what appeared to be an unofficial tip followed by the hollowed–out remnants of industry past in the form of derelict mills.

Derelict mills
Welcome to Barrow.

The path led under a railway bridge and emerged on the far side into long, straight streets of red brick terraced housing. 

I consulted my map to make sure I knew where I was and almost immediately a passing bloke approached me to see if I needed directions.  After the grim dereliction, it was quite a cheering moment. And as it turned out I didn’t need directions and was quite able to navigate Barrow’s streets in order to find my hotel.

Barrow Island

Barrow was for much of its history a tiny hamlet on an island, Barrow Island, now joined to the mainland.  The name come from a Cumbric element (barr-) meaning “promontory” and the Old Norse suffix ay meaning “island”.  Which means that adding another “Island” to its name is just getting silly. 

Furness Abbey

Barrow and the other hamlets that now make up its suburbs were dominated by Furness Abbey prior to the Dissolution and remained tiny thereafter — in 1843 Barrow had a population of just 32 but things were already changing…

Henry Schneider

A man named Henry Schneider (1817-1887) had arrived in town as a young speculator in 1839 looking for deposits of iron ore. Having failed to find any, he was just about to give up when he struck lucky in 1850, discovering huge deposits of haematite.

Railways & Steelworks

To transport the ore he and other investors founded the Furness Railway with the first section of track opening in 1846.  Realising that they could just as easily process the ore right there, Schneider and James Ramsden, the railway’s general manager, then oversaw the construction of what was then the largest steelworks in the world.

In 1857, the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway was opened by a group led by Mancunian businessman John Brogden, providing a vital link east across the sands, and this was bought up by the Furness Railway in 1862. 


Extensive docks were constructed on Barrow Island between 1863 and 1881, by which time the population of Barrow had exploded to 47,000.  A shipbuilding industry followed, with a significant focus on ships for the Royal Navy. In 1901, the UK’s first ever submarine, Holland 1, was built in Barrow. 

Postwar decline saw the steelworks close but shipbuilding continued at a reduced rate. Barrow mostly focussed on submarines, building the UK’s first nuclear-powered sub, HMS Dreadnaught, in 1960. 

The Trident-armed Vanguard Class, which compose the UK’s nuclear deterrent, were manufactured in Barrow.  Next year they are expected to begin work on the Vanguard Class’s new replacement.

Henry Schneider Statue
‘What are you doing, Mr Schneider?’
‘I’m looking for Iron ore.’
‘Iron or what?’
Barrow Town Hall

Barrow has a magnificent town hall, opened by the Duke of Devonshire in 1887 to coincide with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.  Unfortunately, they had to build the clock tower twice because the contractors tried to cut costs and skimped on materials the first time. The building cost £80,000.

Barrow Town Hall
Ooh blimey, you’ve had some cowboys in here, mate; whole clock tower’s gotta come down.
Faded Glory

Barrow is a town that has seen better days.  It has many grand buildings from the days when it was rich and many closed shops and some derelict buildings now that it isn’t.  I was unimpressed when I first saw the town (the rain didn’t help) but I think I judged it way too harshly.  It’s certainly not thriving but it’s by no means dead yet, and the new submarine contracts should help keep it in business for a while.  I hope so, anyway.

Distance Summary

Hasteful MammalThis time: 16 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,091 miles

1A Big Pharma Farmer of course.

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