Today I face a long trek – much longer than my usual walking distance – in order to get from Arnside to Grange-over-Sands. If you could walk over the railway viaduct, this walk would only be about 4 miles long. But you can’t.
I start from the railway station in Arnside. It’s a windy day, with dark clouds chasing across blue skies, and the trees are just beginning to turn golden with their autumn colours. It’s perfect weather for some dramatic photography.
I was anticipating a stretch of road trudging, but found a walking blog that described a route along the river. The trick is to cross over the railway at the station, and from there you can follow a permissive path along the marsh bank.
The bank loops around in a shallow semicircle. After a mile, I could look back at Arnside and see the viaduct across to Grange-over-Sands. So near… and yet so far away! It’s going to take me all day to get there.
Onwards. I follow the bank. The tide is going out, but at the moment there is plenty of water in the River Kent.
I reach the beginning of Sandside and run out of bank. It’s time to join the road.
The views are lovely, and the river is full of sea birds of various sorts. Gulls. Egrets. Waders. Various sorts. (I’m still hopeless at identifying birds.)
As usual, I take far too many photographs. The constantly changing light creates a series of constantly changing vistas. I’m so glad I have a decent lens on my camera again. And I’ve got another addition to my photography kit – a polarising filter. I think it makes for better shots across the water.
Farther along and the water has retreated away from the bank, leaving exposed mud. I love the patterns the water has carved.
I run out of pavement and have an unpleasant mile of road walking. (I could have turned inland, where a quieter road runs parallel with this one, but I missed the turn off.)
Opposite a new industrial estate the road rises, and a footpath leads off to the left. Thank goodness! I can leave the traffic and walk along a very pleasant route, down through trees and then close to the shore. Here I meet a couple out walking with their dog. (They turn out to be the only other walkers I meet all day.)
The river bank is interrupted by a tributary, the River Bela, and the route turns to run along its bank. I pass a frothing weir…
… and then reach the Milnthorpe Bridge to cross over the River Bela, from there I turn off along a minor road on the other side to rejoin the River Kent.
This is Marsh Road. Aptly named. And, although I can’t actually see the River Kent over the high bank, it makes pleasant walking.
I meet a few cyclists.
And a few more.
And, after three miles or so, arrive back on a major road – the busy A6. It’s not so pleasant, but at least there is a separate footpath for walkers.
I pass Levens Hall on the left. Great topiary. The grounds are open and I’m tempted to pop in for a cup of tea… but decide to carry on. It’s almost lunch time.
Just beyond Levens Hall is Levens Bridge. This bridge, finally, takes me across the River Kent. It’s the apex of the walk. Hooray!
A slip road from the A6 branches off to meet the A590. There is no pavement, so instead I follow a narrow and very overgrown footpath that runs parallel with the road. The path is unpleasantly sandwiched between a hedge and a fence.
After a short stretch of road walking, I turn off down a quiet country lane. There are two possible routes. Strictly speaking (keeping closest to the water) I should follow the lane as it continues down to a tiny place called High Sampool. But after that the route is interrupted by yet another river (the River Gilpin) and so I would have to take a bridleway to double back up to the road and the nearest bridge crossing.
Instead of this tortuous route, I choose to follow another bridleway. This one is going to take me up and over the A590, to the village of Levens.
The pub in Levens looks very tempting, but I’ve promised myself to keep going to the next pub. So, onwards, and now I’m heading to a village that has a confusion of possible names on my map. Gilpin House. Or Sampool Bridge. Or Gilpin Bridge.
The road is narrow, and I only meet the occasional tractor or 4×4. And, of course, bicycles. This is part of National Route 70, a long-distance coast-to-coast cycle way.
The approach to Gilpin/Sampool Bridge is lined by car dealerships. And car scrap yards. But the village itself is quite pretty and, most importantly, it has a pub. Lunch time!
I have my standard pub lunch, lasagna and salad. It’s surprising and disappointing to discover there are so many British pubs that think it’s acceptable to serve undressed salad, which I find pretty inedible. But this salad comes with an excellent dressing. And the lasagna is good too.
After lunch I cross the A590 and head down a country lane. It’s signposted as a dead end. ‘No access to Foulshaw Moss’. Uh-oh, that doesn’t look promising. Now I’m really hoping the footpath on my OS map still exists, and hasn’t disappeared along with the official Cumbria Coastal Way.
The road is long and straight. After a mile I come to the first buildings on the road. Foulshaw cottages.
To my left are fields. And somewhere nearby is the official nature reserve of Foulshaw Moss. The raised land behind is, I think, Wakebarrow, which is also the Whitbarrow National Nature Reserve.
I meet a farmer on a buggy. He stops for a chat. He farms sheep, although most of his flock are currently on the salt marshes at Silverdale. I wonder if I saw them yesterday? He talks of the flooding problem. And reassures me that I’ll be able to find a way through at the bottom of the road, although he’s not sure if it’s a proper public right of way.
We might have stayed chatting for some time, but a 4×4 interrupts our conversation, and my farmer has to zoom off to negotiate a passing space.
Onwards. The road develops a little kink and I come across the second building: High Foulshaw. (You will notice an unfortunate pattern to the names in this area. Everything has to include ‘Foulshaw’!)
Just beyond High Foulshaw is a footpath, leading off to the left and heading towards the river bank. Yippee! I’m going to be walking beside the water again…
… but my excitement is dashed when I find the river bank is fenced off and, instead, I have to walk along a horribly boggy road. The photo doesn’t demonstrate how every inch of this road is either covered in water or several inches of sticky mud.
After splashing along for a while, I’m very relieved to hit a section of bank without a fence. Now I can walk along the grassy top. This is much better.
Unfortunately, the sun decides to disappear at this point. In fact, despite a furious wind blowing in from the east, the clouds above are hardly moving. They seem to be stuck in a trough above the river valley.
Rather irritatingly I can see sunlight in the distance. But I remain under a stubborn dark cloud for the next hour or so. There’s sunlight on the Cumbrian hills inland…
… and sunlight on the slopes above Sandside across the water.
It isn’t until I’ve nearly reached the end of the bank that the sun breaks through.
Ahead is a small area of open access woodland, Crag Wood. If I had the time, I would have liked to explore it. But instead I must hurry on, and so I make my way around the curving bank, past Crag Cottage…
… and then nearly miss the footpath turnoff on the other side. Actually, I think it might be possible to follow the farm tracks through Meathop Marsh as an alternative to the footpath. They’re not marked ‘PRIVATE’. But I don’t want to come to a dead-end, so I stick to the footpath instead.
It crosses a very deep ditch. Main Drain.
And then strikes off across fields of… not sheep… but goats. Unfortunately they are too far away (the goats) for decent photographs.
I walk along a raised bank and, close to a farm at a place called Ulpha, discover a memorial bench. It’s a perfect spot to sit and enjoy a snack and a drink.
At this point, I’ve reached the limit of my comfortable walking distance. So the next few miles are quite difficult. And I’m heading west, so the sun is in my eyes.
I join a quiet lane and follow it uphill and into the village of Meathop. (Do you pronounce it Meath-op or Meat-hop? I don’t know.)
Just outside the village I spot this tiny, beautiful, new-born calf. It totters unsteadily. Mother looks on warily and gives me a warning grunt, but doesn’t get up.
Meathop is a pretty place but has a dead feel to it. A commuter village, not a real one. Many of the houses seem to be new developments, converted barns maybe, although sympathetically done. There is no pub, no shop, no school.
I follow the road towards Low Meathop. It plunges down through woods, and I notice much of the woodland is for sale. How wonderful to own a wood!
As I reach Low Meathop, I meet a car. They stop and ask me directions. Luckily I can remember the names of some of the houses I’ve passed, so I can tell them they’re heading the right way.
The road flattens out. To my left is a steep and rocky slope. To my right is Low Meathop Marsh.
The scenery today has been an odd mix of fen-like marshes and drains, and glorious Cumbrian hills. Lincolnshire on steroids!
Now there is one last river to cross. The River Winster. Although it looks more like a drain, or a canal, than a natural river to me.
The road here bears evidence of recent floods. Sump holes have been dug in places. And there are still warning triangles along the verges.
The sun is low and glaring in my eyes. I can barely see a thing in front of me, but I hear the rumble of the train, and manage to catch a blurry shot as it shoots past. It’s just come from Arnside too, but its journey has been much shorter than mine!
This last stretch of road walking is really hard. I’m tired and my feet ache and I’m glad to reach the point where the promenade begins. It runs along the entire shore of Grange-over-Sands.
First I must climb over one last bridge – over the railway. There’s Arnside in the distance.
Grange-over-Sands might once have been a seaside resort, but now it sits beside a marsh. The sun is low and the colours across the grasses are wonderful. Almost unreal.
The promenade is well kept and has flowering borders. But I’m more interested in the view out across Morecambe Bay. There’s Heysham Power Station! Time for one last photo in the fading light.
I’m staying in an excellent B&B in Grange. But I stop off for fish and chips first. It seems a long time since lunch.
Walked today = 17 miles
Total distance around coast = 2,794 miles