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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Walk 193 Askam in Furness to Walney Island and Barrow in Furness (Cumbria)

Walk 193 Askam in Furness to Walney Island and Barrow in Furness (Cumbria)

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

Map: L/R 96
Distance: 12 miles or 20 km approx
Difficulty: Easy, flat
Terrain: coastal path, small amount of road. Check tides around Askam as I was told that the walk could be difficult across the sands.
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Trains between Barrow and Askam

Rightly or wrongly I took the advice of a local and started this walk at Askam in Furness rather than Kirby in Furness. He said that Kirby southwards could be very marshy and best avoided. (NB Furness is a peninsula but where did the name come from and what is the actual meaning - have not found a source to tell me),

The streets of Askam are typical terraced rows which once housed the workers of the local iron ore works and pits. Many of the workers came here from mining areas in Ireland and Cornwall. Evidence of the industry is still there, including the pier and names such as Steel Street and Sharp Street (a person involved in early iron ore extraction). Askam has its own lifeboat station.

The walk along the Cumbrian Coastal Way is often along the beach – note warnings above about tides. There a few dog walkers to start with, but judging by my experience, you can expect a lonely walk until you reach the outskirts of Barrow. Follow the path around Sandscale Haws then to the (appropriately?) named Lowsy Point. The path eventually moves inland and follows the route of the main road past the Dock Museum and over on to Walney Island.

There is no path around the coast of the island but you can get good views by following the road to the western side. Jubilee Bridge takes you over to the island across Walney Channel – the bridge gets its name from the silver jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. A plaque on the side also notes that it was freed from being a toll bridge in 1935. Just before the bridge are buildings owned by BAE Systems, the largest employer in Barrow.

On the right, as you cross on to the island, is the picturesque Ferry Hotel – the site of the Barrow ferry before the bridge was built. Near here there are thought to be plague victims buried in a mass grave in 1631.

As you move on to the island you enter Vickerstown which was originally planned as a resort. Instead, Vickers, the Barrow shipbuilders, developed a model estate for its workers similar to that built at Port Sunlight on Merseyside.

Follow the road to the western coast and beach. This is a pleasant spot where you can get good views in both directions. It extends for 12 miles. Walk a little further southwards to Biggar Bank with its white, curved pavilion. A plaque nearby dated 1933 states that the Bank and the pavilion were 'declared free for the use of the public for ever'. There are nature reserves on both ends of the island where natterjack toads, nesting gulls and the unique Walney Geranium can be found. An elderly neighbour, sadly no longer with us, told me that a false harbour was built on the island to confuse the Germans during World War 2.

Follow the road back into Barrow. The town was originally settled around Furness Abbey founded in 1172 but now a ruin. It is on the eastern fringe of the town. Victorian Barrow was a planned development that at one time boasted the largest iron and steel works in the world. It also had a thriving ship building industry. If you have time, it is worth popping into the Dock Museum to learn more. From the 1960s Barrow has been the site for the construction of nuclear submarines. Look out for the impressive town hall which reflects the importance of the town (it remains the largest in Cumbria). In the shopping area, a sculpture marks the industrial past of the town. Outside the Cruise Direct/Barrhead Travel offices is a sculpture of Emlyn Hughes. He was born in Barrow, played locally as a youth before becoming captain of England and Liverpool. He died in 2004.

Photos show: the coast south of Akram in Furness; The Ferry Hotel from the bridge to Walney Island; the 12 mile long beach on the west of Walney Island; industry sculpture in Barrow on Furness.

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