I don’t see anything of the village of Askam, because I stick to the shore.
Out in the marsh are a number of boats, including this ugly old tub which I bet never sails anywhere. I’m sure it’s used as a houseboat. It even has a golf putting green nearby.
My map shows a public footpath runs along the shore from here almost all the way to my final destination today, Kirkby-in-Furness. But will it be passable? On the map it looks as if it goes through marsh.
The first bit is rather tricky, with thick mud and a slippery wall to negotiate, and I nearly turn back. But I persevere because the alternative route involves a long slog round by a busy road. I wish I had wellies. But after a while it becomes easier.
This is more like it! Easy walking. And the mountains ahead look glorious.
I hear an irritating buzzing noise, and turn to see a quad bike travelling along the sands. It seems to be going much too fast.
The shore curves around a bay. The hump of land on the other side is called Dunnerholme, which looks almost like an island from this angle. My map suggests the footpath goes straight across the marsh… but I decide that’s much too dangerous, and I’ll stick to the bank, thank you.
The quad bike has stopped. Oh. It’s found a mate! Then I realise I’m watching a rescue attempt, as the man on the first quad bike leaps off and begins attaching a rope to the second one. He tows it, backwards, out of the marsh and onto the sands.
That explains why he was driving so fast. I know the tide is coming in and it would be a shame to lose a bike to the water and the mud.
Dunnerholme seems popular. I meet several groups of people out for strolls, and a group of young children are busy making sand castles on the sands.
But I can see the water is creeping closer and closer to the walls of the ‘island’. In fact, by the time I get there, it’s almost encircling the outcrop. Wow. That was fast! I still can’t believe the rate at which the tide comes in.
The sides of the headland are scooped out, as if hit by bomb shells. Then I realise the place is scarred by the remains of old quarries. A rock climber is packing up his equipment.
I climb to the top and look over the other side, where the river channel swirls close to the shore. A curved sandbank in the middle of the current catches my eye.
I follow a track down off the peninsula, passing some rather fine sheep on the way. The high ground just inland from here is Bank House Moor, and it forms a dramatic backdrop to the view.
When I look back up the estuary, I’m surprised to see the curve of sandbank I noticed earlier has almost disappeared. This photograph (below) was taken exactly 3 minutes after the one above.
The sight of this disappearing sand bank rather unnerves me. Will I be able to get through to Kirkby-in-Furness? Or have I left it too late?
Coming down off Dunnerholme, I reach a golf course. And it takes me a few minutes to find the footpath.
Here it is, with a stile and, a little further on, a bridge over a dyke. So far, so good.
The walk across the marsh is fine, with the afternoon light low and golden behind me. The ground is boggy in places, but perfectly passable, and the water seems a long way away and well below the top of the bank. I was panicking needlessly, again!
I’m nearly defeated by a broken bridge. It looks like the thing has been picked up by a surge of water, and then simply dumped back down across the stream. The slabs (made of concrete!) are higgledy-piggledy, but I climb over on hands and knees.
To my right is the railway line, and I’ve already noticed several crossing points. Now I reach the point at which my footpath turns inland: Soutergate Crossing.
But here I find a finger-post for the Cumbria Coastal Way. And, to my surprise, instead of crossing the line, it points along the edge of the marsh. Really? Is that where the Coastal Way runs? I hesitate. But the ‘path’ is very overgrown with spiky grass and reeds, and the nearby ground is threaded with water courses. And the tide is coming in.
No, I’ll stick to the official public footpath.
After crossing the line, I cross over a boggy field. In fact, it’s so waterlogged, I wonder if the marsh path would have been the easier option after all! And the place is littered with soggy cow pats… although, luckily, I don’t meet any of the creatures.
I walk past a field of sheep and join a farm track. Here a couple of sheep have escaped and my presence throws them into a total panic. They try to butt their way through the gate at the far end, until finally taking the plunge and racing past me to regain the safety of their field.
Just beyond the gate, I meet a lady walking a border collie. She’s staying in a caravan on the farm and has come to feed a carrot to the horse in the nearby field.
‘My dog is scared of horses,’ she tells me, and ties the dog to a fence. But, as she leans over the gate to offer the carrot to the horse, the dog manages to yank itself free. Knowing the dog is supposed to be afraid of the horse, I expect it to disappear down the track, but instead it hurls itself at the gate, growling and barking ferociously.
The poor horse rears, turns, and kicks ineffectually with its back legs. Meanwhile, the woman tries to grab the collie, who seems intent on trying to batter its way through the metal bars of the gate.
What a commotion!
The woman seems quite shaken by the incident and I don’t have the heart to take a photograph of the dog. We walk along the track together and she tells me the dog has always been scared of the horse (although, ‘scared’ isn’t exactly the word I’d use) despite the fact she’s been a regular visitor here for years.
I leave her at the end of the track, and walk down to cross back over the railway line. According to my map, a footpath runs from here along the edge of the marsh for a mile or so, all the way to the village of Sand Side.
Oh dear. A sign tells me the route might not be passable at high tide. I hope I haven’t left it too late.
But the path looks clear and dry… until I come to a point where the bank has been destroyed by either a tidal surge, or by a swollen river. (Last winter, Cumbria suffered from some terrible floods.)
At first I try to keep to the high ground by inching my way alongside the railway line, but a pile of huge and unstable boulders makes it too dangerous to continue, so I have to climb down (another hands and knees – and bum – job) across the boulders and onto the river bank itself.
Here the surface is muddy and slippery, and the water is lapping close by. I begin to worry. Will I be able to make it round the next corner? This section of bank will be underwater within a few minutes, and I can’t see if the route ahead is clear. There’s another wall of stone in front of me…
… and I quickly climb up, trying not to panic. What a relief. The way ahead is clear. Muddy. But well above the river. Whew. Onwards.
I look back down the estuary. The sun is low in the west and the sky is golden. Meanwhile, the sands have been replaced by a shining film of silver water. What a change! And how beautiful it is.
Ahead I see the houses of the tiny village of Sand Side. And there’s the platform bridge of the railway station. I’m nearly there.
[Confusingly, when I tried to look up train times on the internet, I couldn’t find a station called Sand Side. Took me some time to work out the station is known by the name of the larger village just inland, Kirkby-in-Furness.]
I climb over the railway bridge and stop to take a photo looking along the line. Tomorrow I’ll be continuing up the estuary, but my walk is finished for today.
When I get to the station entrance, I see my husband has just pulled up. Instead of driving away immediately, we stop for a drink in a little pub nearby. The Ship. It’s open at 4.45 in the afternoon, which is a miracle in this country. Perfect end to a great day.
There’s an amusing account of a similar walk here: Forever Changing. It describes some of the history of Askam, the changing landscape, and mentions an item that has no name on my map – Blacks Pond.
Walk today = 12 miles
Total distance so far around coast= 2,882 miles