283am Barrow to Askam-in-Furness

My husband drops me off at the Dock Museum in Barrow. The tide is out this morning, so the view down Walney Channel is very different from yesterday. After navigating a litter-strewn dock, I head down the promenade – a combined cycling and walking route.

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I look over to Walney Island and soon spot the point where I was defeated by high tide yesterday. And I see something else. A pedestrian causeway across the channel.

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It’s marked as a footbridge on my map (FBs) and I was looking out for it yesterday, as a possible route back to the mainland. Of course I failed to spot the footbridge and the reason is glaringly obvious now. It’s not really a proper bridge at all, but a tidal causeway, and yesterday it would have been covered by water.

Onwards. After a couple of miles the cycle way comes to an end.

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Ahead are some strangely contoured cliffs – it looks like the remains of an abandoned quarry. According to my map there are mussel beds below here, in an area of marsh called Walney Meetings. Beyond is the familiar shape of Black Combe.

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I’m walking over a ridge of high land, with Walney Channel just to my left, while to my right I can see the outskirts of Barrow and an industrial estate.

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The sign is clear. ‘WARNING. Unstable cliffs.’  But, of course, I can’t resist making my way up to the highest point…

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… from where the views are wonderful across Duddon Sands.

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On the way down (a very, very steep slope) I meet a trio of women out with their dogs. The footpath turns inland at this point, but I ask if it’s possible to continue along the shore. ‘Yes,’ says one of the women. ‘In fact you can get all the way to Black Cottages. But I’m not sure what the ground is like underfoot.’

She calls the cliffs, the ones we are currently walking over, slag heaps.

(Black Cottages? I think this is what she says but, later, when I look at the map, I can’t see any landmark named as Black anything. Apart from Black Combe, which today is certainly living up to its name. Very black indeed.)

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I scramble down to the shore. The tide is low and the ground, although rough and rocky, is dry. Ahead I can see a toppled pillbox, lying at the bottom of the low cliff.

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In fact, this section of my walk is punctuated by pillboxes. After I pass the first one and round the little curve in the cliff… there’s another one, straight ahead.

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And, then, another one. Here the shore is overgrown with long marsh grass, and there is mud underfoot, but I find a path to follow.

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Immediately to my right are fields and the steaming buildings of the industrial estate. I remember seeing these factories yesterday as I looked across the Walney Channel.

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It’s funny to be so close to industry, and yet I’m walking along such a quiet and isolated stretch of shore. I’ve met nobody since I talked to the dog-walking ladies.

Further along… another pillbox. This one is the most dramatic of the day, having fallen right off the cliff and now lying on one of its six sides.

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The ground becomes more difficult to navigate, with rubble and undergrowth obscuring marshy pools. I move further away from the bank, looking for an easier way through on the mud flats.

But my deviation into the bay turns out to be a big mistake. Patches between pools may look firm but, as soon as I step onto them, the mud turns treacherously soft under my boots. And in places where there only appears to be a thin sheen of moisture covering baked mud, I either end up slipping as if on ice, or sinking as if wading through porridge.

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Shakily, I make my way back towards the safety of the bank. At least I’ve managed to bypass a difficult area of the foreshore and it’s better here, with only rough shingle to worry about. And I spot yet another pillbox, perched up on the cliff. Pillbox number five.

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I’ve reached the edge of a wide ‘bay’ in the marsh, called Scarth Bight, where a line of fencing stretches out into bog. The wires are strewn with seaweed, which means it must be pretty much completely covered when the tide comes in. Why the fencing? I’ve no idea.

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Directly east of here – across the channel – is North End Haws with its finger of dunes at the tip of Walney island. On the opposite lip of the bay (at Lowsy Point) is another line of dunes stretching out from the mainland as if trying to reach out and touch its counterpoint on Walney.

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I scramble up an overgrown bank, climb over a stile, and now I’m back on firm ground and walking along wide grassy paths. Nearby is a track where a couple of cars are parked. I meet couples out walking with their dogs.

As I walk around the edge of the bay towards Lowsy Point, I come across a final pillbox. It’s been a great count today. Number six.

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I’m entering another National Nature Reserve (this part of the country is riddled with them!). Sandscale Haws. It’s not exactly a finger, more like a great fist of vegetated dunes, sitting on the southern lip of the Duddon estuary.

Sandscale Haws seems to have no public footpaths, and I wasn’t sure if there was public access to the area. So I’m relieved to find plenty of tracks and to see other walkers strolling around.

I join a gated road and walk around the curve of the bay. Here I come across boats, some in a state of total wreckage, lying as if tossed randomly onto the roadside. I guess they’ve been pulled from their moorings and washed up here during high tides.

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Lowsy Point is home to a motley bunch of shacks and bungalows. One seems to be built around the hull of a ship. Others appear to be assembled from collections of garden sheds. A group of small fishing boats and a sailing yacht are moored on the grass nearby.

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Do people live here? The area has an impermanent, cobbled-together look, haphazard and ramshackle, and reminds me of Dungeness in Kent, except with grass instead of shingle.

At the end of Lowsy Point is a shingle bank, with fabulous views across Duddon Sands to the mouth of the estuary and the sea.

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While I’m admiring the scenery, a man comes up over the shingle bank with his dog. I ask him if he lives here. ‘Here? Not really.’ He chuckles. ‘I guess you could call it my man cave.’ Then he points out various shacks. ‘But old Tom lives here. And that one has a permanent resident too. And that one…’

I turn northwards to walk along the shore around the edge of the dunes. And get a real surprise. What an incredible, fantastic beach! The best beach I’ve come for a long time.

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Nothing on my map prepared me for this. I was expecting marsh and shingle. But this is glorious. And absolutely empty of people, apart from a few dog walkers on the fringes.

I stride out across the sands – confident because I know the tide is still well out – and I really enjoy this stretch of the walk. Over two miles of nothing but rippled sand.

Keeping the curving line of dunes on my right, I eventually turn my back on the sea and begin walking up the Duddon estuary. There’s Askam in Furness, dead ahead.

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After a while, I make my way back towards the dunes, where I sit on a hummock of grass and eat my picnic lunch. I could stay here for ever… the sun is shining, I close my eyes…

No! Get up! Onwards.

I reach the end of the beach. Now I’m back in the familiar territory of sticky marsh, fringed with a strip of sand and shingle. Surprisingly, this is where all the people are. Dog walkers, horse riders, families out for a stroll… even a man haring along on a quad bike. Why here and not further along on the glorious beach? Of course, because there’s a car park nearby.

The shore curves gently around. Residential houses poke above the bank. I’m approaching Askam in Furness.

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A long, thin strip stretches out into the estuary. Askam Pier, according to my map. My path passes beneath it, under what appears suspiciously like a railway bridge. The ‘pier’ itself seems a manmade structure, consisting of slabs of broken concrete and rubble.

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I would have like to climb up to take a better look at this weird pier, but time is passing and there seems no easy path to the top, so I simply walk under the bridge and carry on.


Later I learn that Askam was once the site of iron mines and hosted a bustling steel industry. It sprang into existence only 150 or so years ago, and the pier is actually built from discarded slag from the iron and steel works.

[Took too many photos for this day to be contained within a single blog post! To be continued…]


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.
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8 Responses to 283am Barrow to Askam-in-Furness

  1. jcombe says:

    Glad you could make it along the shore all the way. When I reached the end of that cycle path I decided against triyng to climb up the track through that white area ahead (slag heaps) as it looked like it was still working industry to me and the tide was too high to make it along the shore. So I had to head along the busy A590 passed Ormsgill, which was not very pleasant, rejoinng the shore at Sowerby Lodge and then continued along the shore as you did to Sandscale which I too loved. Didn’t realise any of those shacks were permenantly inhabited.

    I am sure it was the same for you but I was intrigued as to how south of Askam Pier it was still (basically) beach but go under that arch and suddenly it’s become salt marsh! Wondering if you took the same route as me onwards (I finished at Kirkby-in-Furnes this day). I remember it being quite tricky.

    • I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to follow the bank of the estuary, but I’m glad I met the dog walkers, who said I could. I can imagine trekking up the A590 (which I quite anticipated doing) would be pretty unpleasant.
      Yes, you’re right about the sudden and dramatic change as Askam. Under the arch… and you’re in a different environment completely. I’ve been reading about Askam on another blog, and it was once a dirty and disease-ridden industrial village. Interesting how places can change so quickly.

  2. owdjockey says:

    Hi Ruth, i managed secure a couple of samples of the “slag” at Askam. It quite amazing how big steel production was at the time. Askam had the second largest iron ore reserves in the country. You could see a number of the iron ore spoil heaps as you walked into Askam.

    • I think it’s extraordinary they were allowed to just dump unwanted industrial rubbish on the shore. How times have changed.

      • jcombe says:

        You’ll see similar (possibly worse) when you get to Country Durham, where waste from the coal mines was dumped directly onto the beach via a conveyer belt (see the end of the film Get Carter, to see it in operation). The beaches have been cleaned up now so they are no longer black, but there is still a lot of the old waste material now forming and odd sort of layer of rock on the beaches..

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    I have never heard them called the Black Cottages” before, but the women were obviously talking about the ‘Black Huts’. These are the huts you photographed at Lowsy Point. At one time, perhaps a hundred years ago, they were all black because their entire outer surfaces were waterproofed with tar.

    The fields behind these huts are historically interesting because during the Second World War this area was laid-out with lights mimicking the street-layout of Barrow. The idea was that the German Bomber Planes would hopefully bomb this area instead of the real town which was in total black-out and shrouded under clouds of smoke created by burning oil in various parts of the town.

    • Hi Mike. The women may have actually said ‘Black Huts’ and I misremembered the phrase. I do remember being puzzled because there was nothing with that name marked on my OS map. So the funny little cottages on Lowsy Point were once all black because of a coating of tar! And I’d heard about the fake lights set up to protect Barrow, but didn’t realise that’s where they were sited. Interesting. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  4. Marie Keates says:

    What a fabulous walk. All those pillboxes, especially the one on its side, and the shacks all cobbled together out of this and that. Then the pier. These are just the kinds of things I love to stumble upon.

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