The road down from Barrow station – Abbey Road – is lined by interesting buildings, some in various stages of decay. An old bath house, a conservative club, a Nan Tait centre… but I try not to dawdle because I have a long day ahead.
I cross over to Barrow Island and stop on the bridge to take photographs. The air is clear and the water is calm and still. First I take a photo looking down towards Buccleuch Dock.
Then I look over Devonshire Dock and take a photograph of a large building with a sign saying ‘BAE Systems’. I suspect this is the hangar where the nuclear subs are fitted out, although I don’t know for sure.
I walk to the end of the bridge and am immediately accosted by a man in a security-guard uniform with a lanyard round his neck.
He wants to know why I’m taking photographs because this is a ‘sensitive’ area. What’s my name and have I got any identity on me? Feeling flustered, I fish out my rail card. He writes my name down in his notebook. He asks me to show me the photos I took, and I show him one I took on my iPhone, but don’t show him my camera.
I’m feeling rather rattled. There were no signs on the bridge saying don’t take photographs. I’m on a public road.
Next he wants my address. No. I’d rather not give him my address. He asks if I’m local and I tell him I live in Lincolnshire (I don’t know why I tell him this much!) and then explain I’m walking the coast. Deciding attack is the best form of defence, I begin to ask him questions. Can I walk around Barrow Island? Can I walk down that street? Or that one over there? How far is it to Walney Island?
He rapidly loses interest in me – clearly it’s not his job to answer my questions – and moves away.
This incident sours the first part of the day. Barrow Island takes on a sinister air. Actually, it’s not a very scenic place, being full of warehouses, hangers, industrial units, construction sites, and populated by serious looking people wearing boiler suits or high-vis jackets.
So I’m pleased to reach the bridge over to Walney Island, where I immediately cheer up. This is more like it. The views from the bridge are beautiful.
I find a footpath along the edge of Walney Channel. The marshy bank is littered with boats and the skeletons of boats. Now, safe on the opposite side of the channel, I stop to take more photos of Barrow Island – all the more irresistible because apparently forbidden!
My path peters out at a little headland, alongside a collection of ramshackle fishing huts and lock-up sheds. I’m standing on the edge of a large semicircle of marshland called Tummer Hill Marsh.
Here, according to my map, the footpath continues straight ahead. I look for some sign of a track, but the marsh looks most uninviting and is scored across by deep drainage channels and water courses.
I trek around the edge, through reeds and mud, and reach the, road. Here I can’t resist more photos (with my zoom lens) of Barrow Island and its industrial structures.
The road leads me past new housing estates. One residential road is so new they haven’t yet sorted out a proper sign. It’s a good attempt – but clearly someone just painted on the letters! Makes me smile.
I leave the houses behind. This is Carr Lane. Not many cars – but the ones I do meet are travelling far too fast for comfort. I also meet cyclists. And joggers. But no walkers.
I reach a village called Biggar. The name is misleading…
… because the place is tiny, but I make a note of a pub I see by the side of the road. Maybe I’ll stop there on the way back?
Beyond Biggar the road continues onwards, winding along above the marsh. The view opens out. I can see Peel (or Piel) island in the distance.
Signs warn me not to venture onto the marsh. ‘PUBLIC WARNING. QUICKSAND AREA. KEEP CLEAR.’ I think this must be a bit of a joke, because the grass around the sign looks dry and there is no sign of mud.
Onwards. I know I have miles of road walking ahead.
Rather foolishly, I thought I could whizz around Walney island in a day. Then I got my special measuring string out and realised something – Walney island is long and thin, and actually much larger than I imagined. So my plan today is to walk down to the south end of the island and back again.
The road is scenic, but seems to go on for ever.
A lady stops her car beside me. Uh-oh, she’s going to ask me for directions. But, no, instead she offers me a lift. How kind. It’s very tempting, but I can’t, I tell her. I have to walk. She understands and drives off.
The view to my left changes only very slowly. Across the channel I can see Roa Island, the island I didn’t visit yesterday. It looks much more inviting in the sunshine. (And, again, I regret the paths I didn’t take!)
I reach a place where a track branches off and winds away through the marsh. DANGER says a nearby sign. SOFT SAND AND INCOMING TIDES. NO PUBLIC VEHICULAR ACCESS TO THE SHORE.
Onwards. I’m nearly at the southern end of the island, where there is a nature reserve. I was expecting splendid isolation and so it’s a little disappointing to come across a caravan site and holiday camp.
The holiday site explains the intermittent traffic I’ve met on the road. I wondered why so many people were visiting the South Walney Nature Reserve out of season and on a weekday!
Just beyond the caravan park is a small battery of solar panels. You can regard these as an eyesore and a plague, or as an optimistic sign of progress towards saving our planet. (I prefer the latter view, and I like to see solar panels!)
I pass a tumble-down farm. And then a field of cows. Walney Island is thin at this point, and I can look right over to the far side, and to the sea. There’s a wind farm out there – tall turbines turning slowly. (I like to see wind turbines too.)
I cross a section of very low-lying road. Sea weed and debris is strewn across the tarmac in places, so I work out this must flood at high tide.
Onwards. I reach the beginning of the Nature Reserve and stop to read the sign. Somewhere ahead is a car park and, another sign tells me, I have to buy a permit to enter the reserve. It’s only £3.00, but still – a permit to walk around a marsh?!
I check my Garmin. At this point, I’ve already walked over 8 miles. Crikey! That means another 8 miles to return to Barrow. I’m approaching the limit of what I can realistically achieve in a day of walking. But I’ve come so far it seems a shame not to go to the end of the island.
Sitting down on the bank, I pull out my map. There’s another 3 miles to go if I want to walk around the reserve. At least 3 miles, maybe more if I get distracted or lost. 8+8+3= 19 miles. Uh-oh. That’s well over my comfort zone.
Because I can’t decide what to do next, I decide to have lunch. Before I settle down, I take a photograph across the marsh to Piel Island. The castle looks quite dramatic.
20 minutes later, I pack away my snack box and look up. Wow! The tide is coming in. I take another photo across the marsh to Piel Island.
The water has snuck up slowly, taking me completely by surprise. Now I understand all the warning signs I’ve seen along the way. I had no idea the landscape could change so quickly and so completely. Mesmerised, I continue watching as the water slowly, and insidiously, consumes the land, and I document the invasion with a series of photographs.
This photo is taken 20 minutes after the one above.
Suddenly I remember the section of low-lying road. Will I be cut off by the tide? I decide not to hang around any longer, and abandon any ambition of walking to the tip of the nature reserve. I’ve made it to the southern end of Walney Island. That’s good enough.
Walking back the way I’ve come is an interesting experience. It’s the same road as I came out on (there is no alternative way back) but the landscape has been transformed but the onrush of the tide.
Egrets are gathering on the grass banks. In the distance loom the hills of the Lake District. The sheen of the water makes everything seem more beautiful.
If the tide hadn’t been so dramatically high, I might have cut through fields to the west side of the island and tried to walk along the shore. But I’ve been unnerved by the creeping water. And what if I can’t get through? My walk is long enough already and I can’t afford to add any wasted miles to the tally.
So I stick to the road. I walk back past the semi-ruined farm…
… and note the interesting colour of the sheep in the nearby field. I love the two-tone colour. Some are so dark they are nearly black. Others are a much lighter blue-grey colour. [Later I look up the breed and think this is a Herdwick sheep.]
I walk past the place where the track branched off into the marsh. It has completely disappeared beneath the water. The DANGER sign suddenly takes on a new significance. SOFT SAND AND INCOMING TIDES. Indeed.
The lady who stopped to offer me a lift on the way out, now pulls up beside me again in her car. I think she is going to offer me a lift back to Barrow (actually, that would be tempting!) but instead she just says, ‘Well done. You’re a hero.’
I immediately feel guilty because she probably assumes I walked all the way to the end of the nature reserve, and instead I spent 40 minutes sitting down and watching the tide come in!
Onwards. Here’s the PUBLIC WARNING, QUICKSAND AREA sign. Instead of looking superfluous, the sign now looks menacingly obvious.
Eventually I reach Biggar. The pub looks tempting, but it’s nearly 4pm and I can’t afford to stop. At least at this point I can take a different road, one that is going to head along the seaward side of the island.
I’m walking down Thorney Nook Lane. Over to my left is Barrow Island, with the BAE Systems’ buildings glowing in the afternoon sunlight. The sight makes me remember the man who challenged me this morning, and I have to fight down a sense of grievance. I refuse to ruin the rest of the day by mulling over the encounter.
A learner driver comes towards me, very slowly. I’ve seen quite a few on the roads today. Maybe the quiet lanes of Walney island offer a nice, safe, starting point for Barrow learners?
This road sign looks a bit odd. Takes me a few seconds to work out why!
And then I reach the beach on the western side of the island. It’s rough shingle and rocks, with a crumbling cliff in the distance. Immediately I feel cross with myself. I really should have cut across the field of cows and tried to make it along the shore. Too late now.
I look ahead. What a lovely walk. From here I can follow a clear footpath across open land beside the water. Perfect.
I stop at a memorial bench for a rest and a drink. It’s not the usual memorial to an elderly person who ‘loved this place’. No. It’s dedicated to a young sergeant, Peter Thorpe, who was killed in Afghanistan. How very, very sad. Nearby is a wreath and a photo of the young man.
From here onwards the path becomes more popular. And there are plenty of dog walkers.
I have another unfortunate encounter, this time with a little terrier who doesn’t like me and comes growling and yapping at my ankles. Its owners are embarrassed and call it away, but every time I turn my back, the terrier comes snapping after me again. They have to put it on a lead in the end.
Ahead is an area of play equipment and then it is time to turn inland and cross the bridge back to Barrow.
The road isn’t very inviting – derelict buildings and more hard tarmac.
Before I leave the shore behind, I take one last photograph. The sea is metallic – grey and silver – while the clouds are turning golden behind the line of distant turbines. Lovely.
I decide to catch a later train and stop for an early evening meal at the Wetherspoon’s in Barrow, where their special offer today is steak with all the trimmings for a mere £7.99. I think I deserve it.
Walked today = 17 miles
Total distance so far = 2,858 miles