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Sunday, 28 August 2016

Walk 189 Workington to Whitehaven (Cumbria)

Walk 189 Workington to Whitehaven (Cumbria)

(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)

Map: L/R 89
Distance: 12 miles or 18km approx
Difficulty: Moderate – much is flat but there are hilly sections
Terrain: coastal path which includes some road walking
Access: Parking in each location
Public transport: Frequent service between the two towns 300, 130, 302 and 31. Trains are also possible.

To get to the path you need to start on the north side of the River Derwent. It can be a bit confusing depending on which part of Workington you start from. Follow the path out to the point, then it cuts southwards through the old steelworks. Tata still had a factory here when I went but I am not sure whether that is still the case. One things for sure, it is one of the most uninspiring coastal walks I have come across. Much of the area has been denuded of industry leaving swathes of rough ground. In its heyday the steelworks produced vast quantities of iron and steel assisted by a new process invented by Henry Bessemer. For mile or so the path passes alongside the railway.

The barren scenery fades when near to Harrington. Industry left here in the 1930s and there was once five rail stations (just one now). The harbour area was used in World War 2 for a secret magnesium works (extracted from sea water) to make aircraft parts. Look out for strange conical rocks which I assume are sea defences.

After Harrington the path cuts inland past a wind farm, then there is a bit of road walking into Lowca. In 1915 it was attacked by a German U-boat that surfaced close inshore and fired ineffectively at a chemical works; the first time a submarine had ever targeted a dry land location.

After walking through Parton there are good views back along to its harbour and the coast beyond. The path continues alongside the railway once again. Look out for two chimney like structures which connect to mine shafts that run a long way under the sea.

The walk finishes at the pleasant town of Whitehaven with its busy harbour. The town centre was inspired by Sir Christopher Wren's plans for rebuilding London after the Great Fire. Broad streets run down to the harbour. In the 18th century Whitehaven rivalled Liverpool and Bristol as a port and was the third largest town in the north of England. If you have time, go to the Beacon Museum with its interactive displays about the town's history. Whitehaven was attacked in 1778 during the American War of Independence. The famous John Paul Jones anchored his boat at nearby St Bee's Head but his plans went awry when the alarm was raised. A local told me it was because his men were drunk. Also worth visiting is The Rum Story which tells the story of its making and its association with the slave trade, the British Navy and smuggling.

A memorial garden in the town marks the tragedy on the day in 2010 when a taxi driver shot (mostly randomly) at several people.

Photos show: the site of old industry south of Workington; Harrington; mine shafts north of Whitehaven; Whiatehaven Harbour.

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