Wild wide seascapes – two go to South Walney, Cumbria

It was perfect weather for me and friend JG to carry on the project to visit Cumbria Wildlife Trust nature reserves by public transport and Shanks’ Pony. And on our visit to South Walney yesterday Shanks’ Pony was certainly key!

We started with the 7am X6 Stagecoach bus from Kendal Bus Station (I snuck on a couple of stops later) our first and longest bus journey of the day. It took 1 hour 40 minutes to reach Barrow Town Hall. This used to be my daily journey to work, believe me I was having flashbacks, no surprise that back in those days I finished many a sock, glove and a particularly important baby blanket on my commute to and from the office!

Once at Barrow we crossed over the road and hopped on our next bus, the number 1 to Biggar Bank. We got off at Biggar Bank Biggar Garth (Carr Lane) and then the walking began. As always in this neck of the woods people were tremendously friendly and helpful. I have always loved this about the people of Barrow and Walney. Spotting our walking boots a passerby immediately warned us of flooding on one of the routes to South Walney and pointed us in the safest direction and wished us a good walk.

Off we set to a magical reserve of eerie but beautiful magnitude, home to rare and wonderful wildlife, wide majestic seascapes and the whisper of Piel Castle on nearby Piel Island (if you squint you can just see it).

We thought we had a three mile walk to the reserve but it soon became obvious that we had a little-ways further to go, 5 miles infact. JG has a gizmo that measures such things as well as creating maps of our route.

Cool, eh? The road ahead was flat but there were quite a few vehicles and the occasional horse. At least the cars were slowed by travelling through Biggar village which gave me a break from leaping on to the verges.

Not yet March but I saw my first lamb – looked very young – as we tootled on our way.

Must be hardy sheep here on Walney. We had arrived on a good day but it is known locally as ‘Windy Walney’ because of the ferocious winds that whip in from the Irish Sea. Walney Island is certainly a place that is open to the elements. Interestingly we spotted a Barn Owl on the way (sorry but I am as slow a photographer as I am walker) clutching it’s breakfast. We learned later that they are stalking in daylight because the recent heavy rains have limited their hunting. Wonderful to see this beautiful bird (not such a welcome sight for its prey).

As the ‘three’ miles stretched out we saw hopeful signs that we were nearing the reserve.

We arrived to be greeted by two kind and friendly volunteers and shown into the cabin where we were offered a hot drink and could have a look at the artefacts and information about the reserve. There is a car park at South Walney so you do not have to walk there and yahoo there is also a toilet!!!!

With my feet holding up reasonably well at this point and JG being a keen walker we opted for the Red Route (3 miles) which covers the whole reserve. There are also the Blue Route (2 miles) and Yellow Route (1 mile). The signage was brilliant and the colour coded posts kept us to the path – this is vitally important to the birds and other wildlife that breed here.

You really feel you are getting the best brine filled fresh air and I still have a healthy glow – i.e. I am red – from the light wind and sun. There were useful information boards to read. I had not realised that there is a working oyster farm on the island, and definitely did not know that the oysters go on little excursions around Morecambe Bay.

The sea is ever present. Cumbria’s only grey seal colony resides on South Walney’s beaches. They can be watched from the hides or from the comfort of your own home via the Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s seal web-cam. Amazing to see. We didn’t manage to glimpse the seals (I really must get some binoculars!) but the views were tremendous.

Several hides pepper the reserve affording shelter and great views of the landscapes and the wildlife. We utilised a couple to watch the wild world go by while enjoying a cuppa and our packed lunches. Happy days.

South Walney is also home to some precious dunescape habitats which are vital living spaces for many species including common lizards and other sand-loving creatures. Dunes should have areas of exposed sand but troublingly they are increasingly being covered by vegetation that drives out the usual sand dune wildlife. I learned dunes are the most threatened habitat in Europe for biodiversity loss. Thankfully at South Walney Cumbria Wildlife Trust have embarked on a project to restore the fixed dunes and are creating and improving the dune ponds.

For our last little lap of the reserve we walked along the newly installed boardwalk, admiring the views and also the fun hide with all it’s peep holes.

With a long walk back to the bus stop (my feet were twinging) it was time to leave but we grabbed a quick chat with the fabulous, friendly volunteers and the South Walney reserve officer, Jake. They were all so knowledgeable and we learned a lot from meeting them. What a super way to end our visit. Thanks Team South Walney.

With spirits still high from our visit to the reserve and spotting what we thought were a curlew and a little egret en route we set off on the walk back to Biggar Bank. Sadly for me it was soon obvious that my poor old feet were suffering and I confess quite a bit of this journey was jolly painful, a bit like walking on sharp red-hot needles.

My comfortable walking distance is around 6 miles and my absolute maximum was 8 miles. On this excursion I had thought I would push that up to 9 miles but when JG’s machine had done it’s calculations we had actually walked …. drum roll please … 13.2 miles. Oh my aching feet. Once I had taken my boots off, peeled off my socks (I thought a bit of my feet would come with them, I was not far wrong) I could see the full horror wrought to my tootsies. OOOOOUCH! All my own fault for not checking the distances more carefully.

Luckily super walker JG was fine, for her this was one of her longer training walks but nothing out of the ordinary. I am now carefully teetering around the house with feet that would not be out of place in ‘The Mummy’ they are so well strapped up with plasters.

None of this sullied the day. South Walney is exceptional and I would recommend a visit without hesitation. But if you want to bus it be prepared for a very long walk to and from the reserve.

Here’s another map of our walking route.

All the best from Madam Sore-toes-a x

Call of the wild – two go to Foulshaw Moss

It is time for a new quest. Some of you may remember back in 2018 friend JG and I attempted to visit all the Herstory exhibitions held in the museums around Cumbria by public transport. Can’t remember? have a look here if you want a reminder. It was a great reason to travel around the county, we went to museums I had never visited before and learnt a lot about the women of this corner of north west England.

Now its edging into winter what do we decide to do? Go outdoors, ‘cos we are sensible sorts…, and start a new quest to visit all 37 of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust nature reserves by public transport! Crickey, where are my thermals?!

When I sat at this bus stop in June 2018 en route to baby-sit in Yorkshire

there was a field opposite but now – one pandemic and many missed bus trips later – it has become an ‘executive’ housing estate.

Skimming over that – stop sobbing M! – as you can see the weather is glorious and I have a bus to look out for, the 11:08 am Stagecoach X6 Kendal to Barrow which should already have JG on board. She was there and ticket bought I settled down for the short hop to our stop next to the entrance to Foulshaw Moss nature reserve.

The Cumbria Wildlife Trust guidebook tells us why lowland raised mires like Foulshaw Moss are so important, they are one of Europe’s most threatened habitats. In the UK 94% of this habitat has been destroyed. To go to Foulshaw is to visit a rare landscape and feel thankful to see it being restored.

We were the only humans visiting the reserve but we were not alone. Although from my photography from the first ‘hide’ you would think we were!

Honestly this was teeming with birds until I tried to take a photo!

Wait, who’s this little fellow?

“Darn it she snapped me. Worms are on me guys!”

Not sure what s\he is, answers on a postcard please. Sparrow? Reed bunting? But truly there were SO SO many birds. We saw all sorts including a couple of pheasants … or maybe corncrakes (you can tell our bird watching skills are honed, cough)… and a magnificent Great Spotted Woodpecker that settled briefly on a feeder. I am afraid my rendering of this bird in pencil and Biro does not do it justice.

Oh dear …

We could have happily stayed in this ‘hide’ all day watching the comings and goings. It was hard to tear ourselves away but the moss called. And what a call it is when you start out along the boardwalks.

The moss is wet and small pools of water show that it is soaking up the water and keeping wet just as it should be. In addition to the surviving mire Cumbria Wildlife Trust are restoring the moss lands into the area that had been planted over with trees for the war effort back in the mid-twentieth century.

Thankfully nowadays there is a lot of talk about protecting and planting trees for their carbon capturing qualities but much less is said about the carbon munching qualities of mires like Foulshaw Moss. I have read that Cumbrian peatland stores five times as much carbon as all of Cumbria’s trees put together. This habitat not only sustains a myriad of amazing plant and wildlife it helps keep us alive too! Gotta love it.

One word of warning, The decay of the plant life – like the famous sphaghnum moss – is what creates peat. It is a slow process and it can take 1,000 years to create 1m of peat so please please use peat-free composts like Dalefoot wool composts (other brands are available) for your gardens.

The board walks make this a wonderful habitat for everyone to visit and enjoy. There is also a fantastically (deliberately) wobbly bridge that I know my granddaughters will love.

As we walked around the reserve it was so beautifully sunny and dare I say warm that we even saw a couple of common darter dragonflies. Yes you know it, they were here and gone before I had wrestled my iPad from my backpack (time to start thinking about a smart phone with a good camera function).

While the moss is reclaiming its home the dying trees give it an eerie yet photogenic feel. Nature however abhors waste and the tree stumps play host to amazing fungi.

We had such a super time exploring the moss I was sad to leave but the days are shorter and we needed to try and find the elusive A590 underpass so that we wouldn’t have to cross the scary, busy and fast road. I was empathising with hedgehogs at the mere prospect of this. But hey! Those little spiny mammals much loved by readers of Beatrix Potter’s “Mrs Tiggywinkle” do have an underpass! Good stuff.

We however were not so lucky. After following what I thought might be a path on the map but wasn’t – it turned out to be the dash-dot line for electricity pylons (shocking) – we had to re-trace our steps. This left only one course of action – other than dive headlong across the road – we had to navigate the verge (you know how much I l-urve a verge).

We shouted over the traffic and I wrestled with several hawthorns – why did I think putting a crash barrier between myself and the cars would be safer? – much to the amusement of JG who had been bolder and walked traffic side of the barrier. But finally, trying not to trip over the detritus thrown from passing vehicles, we made it to the underpass. Yeah!

It was worth being entangled by those hawthorns. Safely on the other side of the road we enjoyed a throughly lovely walk in the golden autumnal light following the cycle-way to our bus stop for home at Gilpin Bridge.

Aaaaaah, breathe in the calm.

What a splendid day. We walked 5.5 miles, JG measured it. A very short walk for JG but perfect for me, I am done at about 6! Here’s where we walked … I think!

Have happy outdoors days all.

Mx

Down at the Doctor’s

Hello All

Don’t worry I am not poorly but undertaking another excursion as part of my Women of Cumbria quest. This time me and buddy J were off by X6 bus and then train from Barrow In Furness along the west coast of Cumbria to the port of Whitehaven.

One of the bonuses of this quest is travelling to lesser known areas of this wonderful county and by using public transport taking in fabulous scenery and history to boot. Arriving at Whitehaven I can do no better than quote from Hyde and Pevsner’s description of this safe harbour:

“Noble breakwaters of interlocking pinkish stones, worn by the fretful seas…”

If you have exceptionally good eyesight you may be able to make out the very hazy outline of the Scottish coast on the horizon opposite the harbour entrance. No? It is there….honest.

There is definitely something fishy about Whitehaven and we had fun spotting the marine connections along the Millennium Promenade:

Until we got to our destination, the Beacon Museum.

This fabulous museum was quite rightly described by one member of the very friendly and helpful staff as ‘like a Tardis’. It is huge. We only had time to look around two floors!

Starting with the viewing gallery we gained an overview of the town and coast. We spotted important landmarks and buildings, and even saw Scotland (it is there I tell you).

We moved on to an exhibition by a Japanese photographer of the towns in Japan left empty after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 11 March 2011. The artist overlaid his photographs with drawings of monsters lurking transparent against the uninhabited buildings. Images of a lingering fearfulness made more pertinent by the proximity of the nuclear plant at Sellafield only a few miles away – we passed it on the train…

Perhaps it really is time to visit the doctor. Edith Brown: Medicine Woman here we come.

Well with waiting times going up you have to grab the opportunity when you can…!

Born in 1864 Doctor Brown started her career in different times. Luckily Edith, the daughter of a Whitehaven banker, was determined. She was one of the first women to study at Cambridge. Cambridge only began to admit women in 1869 and did not allow them to sit exams until 1881, even then when Edith passed her exams she was not given a degree because Cambridge (I thought they were clever folk there?!) did not award degrees to women until 1948 (1948!!!! Hope someone’s report card read ‘Could do better’).

As I said Doctor Brown was determined and after studying at Edinburgh, Brussels and London she qualified to practice. Driven by a childhood ambition Dr Brown travelled as a missionary to India to open a hospital for women. Realising that she could not do this alone she set about training new Indian female doctors.

I am personally uncomfortable with other countries, communities and faiths being patronised by early 20th century missionaries however there is no denying Edith had a huge effect on healthcare and brought opportunities for other women to train as doctors. She was one tough cookie. Especially when this was the sort of medicine cabinet she had to work with:

I spared you the amputation kit.

Time for some fun. J and I moved on to the ‘Changing Times’ gallery to explore thousands of years of the region’s past. I was able to indulge my love of all things Roman and Viking and even reconstructed a replica of the Norse Gosforth Cross. A lot easier than I have made it sound. But it was on board the ‘Maria Lowther’ a replica 3D ship from 1838 that we got really silly,

Struggling to steer the ship on the very effectively swaying deck and running about as giddy aunts pretending to be ship’s crew we had a hilarious time. You are never too old…

Leaving the museum there was one place we felt we needed to visit before boarding our train back to Barrow. Edith Brown’s house. Walking around Whitehaven in search of her home at 10a Coates Lane we got a feel of Whitehaven’s grid street layout. Much remains of the original Georgian housing and I understand it has a flavour of 18th century east coast America. Very quaint.

Lo and behold we found Edith’s house amongst the Georgian buildings:

Today’s mission complete.

With it’s wonderful history – including being the site of an American attempt at ‘invasion’ led by John Paul Jones in 1778 during the War of Independence – this one time major port is a gem tucked away on a sleepy section of England’s north west coast. A great day out.

Retracing our steps along the Millennium Promenade we took in the whale-tail benches with their histories and tragedies from Whitehaven’s industrial past.

And a collection of knot sculptures one of which is close to my heart, the Granny Knot.

Ironically the Granny Knot, also known as the lubber’s or booby knot, apparently has only one practical purpose…as a surgeon’s knot! Hope Edith knew how to tie one.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx