Monday, 26 January 2015

Furness Peninsula

Furness Peninsula

This exploration is to explore the peninsula that juts into the Irish Sea. it delineates the western edge of Morecambe Bay. The long thin island of Walney is at its tip. The area is just outside the national park, being a naturalist this area offers a lot of interest in the form of numerous nature reserves to be seen. And it’s these sites that I want to take look at. And this mission is to also to finish off exploring the area around the Duddon Valley.

Great Urswick walk 9 mile

Taken from the book,  Walks in Ancient Lakeland by, Robert Harris.
The first part of the walk starts at Sea Wood woodland owned by the Woodland Trust, this is an ancient woodland, and hear in spring, there plenty of indicators for this, 58.3 acres of limestone woodland is a Special Site of  Scientific Interest  (SSSI). The geology of the site is limestone what is overlaid with boulder clay, remnant of the last Ice Age.

Sea Wood
Walking through this woodland on a spring sunny morning was a delight seeing the wood anemones and daffodils in flower, I made my up through the wood to come out on Birkrigg Common, from there I made my way to Little Urswick using green lanes, this area is amazing, small outcrops of limestone standout in the landscape, looking at the original route I started to extend it because the map was showing so much more to the area, what I wanted to look at like Little Urswick Crags, on the map it shows a settlement so I went to explore. A raised area of ground, what I thought was an Iron Age settlement, but when I got back home and did some research it turned out to be a Roman settlement.
Back to my original route, in this remarkable landscape, my next stop was a Bronze Age burial chamber; this burial chamber has two huge blocks what support an equally large remnant of a capstone. An earth or stone mound would have covered the chamber.

Burial Chamber
After the burial chamber I crossed more fields and walked into the village of Great Urswick an attractive village with houses set around Urswick Tarn, the tarn is one of many tarns, what was created after the last Ice Age, but this one was special being on limestone, where water easily drains away on this porous rock, but this tarn holds water because of a fracture is known as marl bench, very little is understood about this method.
I left the village on a steady climb above the village, with views opening up of the surrounding countryside across the village to the tarn of Urswick.   
I came to a large hilltop encampment, nothing much to see but for a low embankment, but I  could understand let my imagination take me back to the Neolithic and see why it was such a good place for a settlement or a meeting place for the people of the area, you could imagine traders coming from the coast to exchange goods, with good views all around and on the other side of the encampment was the remains of a Neolithic long barrow just to the north.

Long Barrow
From the encampment it was back to the village and then a steady climb out of the village by road all the way up to Birkrigg Common with wide open views around and many natural outcrops of limestone rock, there were many paths crossing the common I chose a rough south direction onto the common.
There is much evidence of prehistoric occupation on the common, several Bronze Age tumuli can be found hear scattered across the common. The common starts to drop away and you get views across Morecambe Bay. 
I got my first view of the circle now; know as the Druids Circle, it consists of two roughly concentric stone rings. The inner circle has a diameter of about 8.5m, and consists of 12 stones of local carboniferous limestone, with heights from 0.3 to 0.95 meters.
The outer ring consists of about 20 stones places very irregularly, with a diameter of about 24m, consisting of low stones obscured by bracken and some half buried in the turf.  

Druids Circle
On a day like today with the sun shining it was a place of peace and tranquillity. I moved on to finish off my walk and another walk where I have not met anybody not a single walker.
It was not far to the car and the end to such a great walk full of interesting things and what a great landscape.

Sandscale Hawes National Nature Reserve

I arrived and parked up in the car park this afternoon. The whole site is managed by the National Trust and it was the staff of the trust I planned to meet up later for an evening toad walk. So, for now, I decided to go for a circular walk of about 6 miles, so set off, the name Sandscale Haws is derived from the Scandinavian words ‘Sandra’ and ‘skali’, meaning ‘sand’ and ‘temporary hut’. The Scandinavians names in Cumbria are quite common.
I walked through the dunes to the coast and followed the strandline. The sand dunes are in a constant flux, moulded by wind and storm surges and anchored by marram grass, the dunes are growing in size with the oldest dunes at the back, once ground vegetation secures the low dunes, growth gradually continues and the shelter dune slacks encourage thicker vegetation.
I left the coast to walk in between the dunes till I got to the other side of the dunes to the flat coastal plain of farmland using paths and tracks back to the car park and the end of a nice 4-mile walk.

Black Combe through the Dunes
In the same car park, I had something to eat and drink on my camping stove while waiting for the Natterjack toad walk. Other members of the public were now turning up in the car park to meet up with the National Trust staff for the walk. 
Natterjack Toad Bufo calamita at Sandscale Haws supports one-fifth of the national population of this rare amphibian, which is only found at a few other sites in the UK. The National Trust staff turned up and took us on a walk among the dunes to a pond; we all sat around as dusk was turning into night.
A purring croak started in the distance, and then another, everyone in the group went quiet, on a calm night we sat there listening, it’s the males that do the croaking during the breeding season, half hour later we had choirs, but not seen one yet, we shone our torches across the pond,  but it was hard to get a good look at one, we left the site back to the car park and just beyond to another breeding pool where we were shown some more natterjacks by torchlight as they moved about just under the surface of the water, they are smaller than the Common Toad but the pale yellowish vertebral stripe is diagnostic and allows certain identification.   
And that again as brought us again to end and another great event, I will never forget the lovely sound of the purring croak of a Natterjack Toad. 

Walney Island

North Walney National Nature Reserve

Early morning at the nature reserve after a wild camp in the car park, I went to explore the 150 ha of dunes, heathland and shingle and mud flats all on a disused section of a airfield from World War two, but first I have to pass several ponds and then skirt the boundary fence of the present airfield cutting through the dune heathland on this sunny morning with birds singing it was delightful walking, dune heathland is a specialist habitat and is now rare in the UK. With the late arrival of spring this year the open landscape was still a green-grey colour, owing largely to the grey cladonia lichens which make their home in the open heathland.
I made my way around airfield fence to the concrete dispersal pads and walked along these seeing how they been reclaimed by nature and now in spring I could hear the songs of finches and warblers in the scrub, with sporadic  glimpses of them fluttering from one perch to another as they defended their territories   

I left the dispersal pads for a kissing gate to a meadow where I met up with a local walker who I walked with briefly and he told me about the site, and what to look out for and that I should come back for a summer visit, we said are goodbyes and he departed and I stopped for a break while he carried on, I sat back to enjoy the views across the gorse shrub landscape to the sanddunes and in the distance Black Combe and the Furness fells. All this and the solitude of the place was just a piece of heaven.

South Walney Nature Reserve

On a sunny afternoon I now was at the other end of the island and I left the car behind to walk along the shore line with views of Piel Island and the castle, the whole site is a sand and shingle bank and a bird observatory, saline lagoons and freshwater marshes.

Piel Island
Along the shore line and on the inner pools I got see my first Eider ducks a surprising resident of the reserve, the Walney area having the southernmost breeding colony in Britain. The Eider has arctic associations because of the superior insulating qualities of it’s down.

Eider ducks
I made my way around the reserve, stopping to do some bird watching, I came across the summer nesting site of lots gulls, there must been hundreds of them, my afternoon was spent bird watching, adding species after species to my list. It was time to move o for my final stop of the day and find a wild camp

Piel Island

Piel Island sits at the mouth of the deep-water harbour of Barrow-in-Furness and to get to it I drove from Walney Island to Rampside village and took  the causeway road to Roa Island where I parked up with plans to leave the car overnight hear. I went to find the ferry port for Piel Island, I found the port and the ferry crossing times, I had a hour to wait. this hour was used up looking around there was a good view over to another island known as Foulney Island a 2 kilometre shingle and grass spit, lying a few metres above high tide and is an important tern breeding ground in summer. 
I got the ferry across to Piel Island the boat being only small with only about 10 people at the max you could fit in the boat.On the island I had planned to spend the night so I had full backpacking kit with me for the night, so the plan was to find a pitch first, I found one on the South-Eastern point of the island with the castle standing in the background on a low mound of clay at the highest point of the island.
After pitching the tent on this breezy sunny evening I went to explore the island first the ruin castle what consists of a keep, with inner and outer baileys, each surrounded by a ditch, and with towers at three corners. In 30 minutes of walking I had done a full circle of the island, the views across the island and beyond was good to the Coniston Fells.

Wild camp
So this was it for the night as I sat  by the tent with the last of the daylight with reflections of what I had done today.

Broughton in Furness

Next morning was a gray morning with a stiff breeze, I packed up and made my way back to the ferry port within an hour I was on the boat for a choppy crossing back to the mainland and then back to the car, I then drove the car to Broughton in Furness.  
Broughton is a lovely village as I passed through on my way to the campsite I had planned As I set up camp the weather had changed to showers, so when I had finished setting up camp I had planned to walk too Broughton a 3 mile walk, the advantage of finding this campsite was that it was where part of the disused railway line was from Broughton to Coniston what is now in part a walking trail what I intended to use on my way back from Broughton but first an afternoon stroll along the footpaths to Broughton.
Spring has been late in arriving this season, everything is a month behind so now everything is coming out at once instead of the gradual change. I made my way into the village; found the only way to get cash was to use the local pub.
Just outside the village is an interesting geology feature, so this was my mission to find this feature, the site is known as Eccle Riggs on the outskirts of the village, I walked the and I found it set back from the road. The bedding here is practically vertical and the abandoned quarry face shows the underside of a large sandstone bed. On the face of the rock are large bulbous flute clasts, the preserved rippled surface features of the ancient ocean floor on which these sands were deposited, Silurian rocks, it is known locally as ‘Donkey Rock’.

Quarry face

From Eccle Riggs it was back to the village to pick up the disused railway line back to the campsite a nice afternoon leisurely walk, but for the odd shower. This railway had about hundred years of service carrying slates and copper ore and passengers from its terminus at Coniston.


1 ½ miles,  

After having some to eat and a bit of a relax around the campsite I was itching for something to do on this grey evening I know it's been busy day since leaving Piel Island this morning but the advantage of having longer daylight at this time of the year is good, given me more time to explore this next mission would only take a couple of hours to do, so off I went in the car to the A5092 and found a parking space.
This short walk started along the A5092 road and then a country lane till I found a path that would take me to the grassy summit of 298 meters at the trig point. And another fell bagged off the Wainwright list.
The views were not great on this grey evening with the mountains covered in cloud, the best views were out east to the Duddon Estuary and south of the Coniston Fells.I retraced my steps back down to finish of the walk.

The summit looking towards Coniston Waters.

Woodland Fell, Yew Bank, Wool Knot.

 5-mile circular

Next morning the weather was much better, but I had to stock up on food supplies, so a trip to Coniston first then onto the Woodland fell walk.
I found a parking space near the church and got ready to start my walk, the last time I was in this area was the last winter mission on a grey winters day, and the one before that was my first ever winter mission where we stayed at Fell End camping barn.
Now I was here again, in spring and a chance to get out on foot to explore this quiet area, where you are lucky to meet any walkers because most walkers come for the Coniston Fells.
It’s an interesting area of woodland, heathland, and prehistoric remains.  So with joy, I set off to explore on a day of moody skies and the odd sunny spell. I made my way out of the woods crossing fields and a gentle climb up onto the open fells and as typically with these walks they become pathless as I ascend Yew Bank to find the summit, The summit had good all-around views at 207 meters.

Yew bank summit and Coniston Waters
From the summit, I pass an ancient cairn and started my descent down passing over a small stream and another cairn to Beacon Tarn where I stopped for a late lunch this is such a great spot to be with nobody about I enjoyed the solitude

Beacon Tarn and Beacon Fell 
After lunch, I passed Wool Knot and started the descent back out of the open countryside and into the farm field systems and back to Woodland church and the end of a good walk.

Blawith Knott

2 ½ mile circular

When I was last here was last winter I did an archaeology walk around Blawith Knott, this time on this sunny afternoon I wanted to visit the summit so the second walk of the day was just up the road from the woodlands walk, so I took the car the short distance and found a parking spot.
On the winter mission it was a bleak day, but today the sun was shining as I ascended the fell and made my way to the summit cairn at 248 meters.
Blawith Knott
A lovely summit with good views all around, a summit not to be rushed and take in the surrounding views, when I did decide to move on it was to Tottlebank Height so I aimed across the rough ground, to reach the summit of Tottlebank Height, with a glimpse of Coniston Water. From the summit, I took a decent to Tottlebank Farm and then picked up the main track what I last used in winter a joy of walk as I headed back to the car and the end of a good day of walking.

Whitfell, Kinmont, Buck Barrow. 

5.32 miles

This walk has been put off so many times, either for bad weather or far more interesting walks, but I  was wrong, this walk has a lot more going for it than what it looks like on the map or what Mr Wainwright says about it.  
Another sunny day and I took the car up onto the Fell Road to the summit and found a car parking space. The first section of the walk was easy you just followed the wall but finding my way around it to Kinmont Buck Barrow crags was not straightforward, when there is no path to follow and then the scramble up to the summit on a day like today the views was good and clear, the summit stands 535 meters, the view north was less interesting up the coast to the power station.

Kinmont Buck Barrow summit with view to Black Combe

The next section of the walk was to aim for Burn Moor the first section again difficult over rough ground but got easier as I progressed to nice grassy path with all-around views this was fantastic. I made my way over  Burn Moor seeing the Trig point at top of Whit Fell in the distance made navigation easy, the summit stands 573 meters. 
The big panorama view what greets you as you reach the summit was just fantastic I soon settled down for lunch with Wainwrights southern fells laid out in front of me, so over soup and coffee, I sat there naming the fells in a wide open landscape of mountains. where it felt like I  was own miles from civilization.

Whitfell and the Southern Fells
It's only now that I realize how much I have learnt from these travels that I can now name so many fells and that the Southern Fells was coming to an end in the next year and I will move on to the Central Fells.
These outlying fells of Wainwrights are excellent at seeing the big picture. Time to move on and retrace my steps back so far to  Burn Moor on the way I found another path what took me in the general direction of Buck barrow my next destination and in all this time not see anyone till arrived at Buck Barrow where I met a lady out dog walking.
I made my way to the summit of Buck Barrow and at 549 meters, and great viewpoint and another rest point.

Buck Barrow and the Furness Peninsula.
After my break, I made my way down and picked my path up running alongside the wall and back to my car and what great walk that was.

White Combe 

4-mile circular

White The last walk on my list to on this mission and this walk again took from Wainwrights Outer fells book and this walk is part-two of Black Combe, what was done in the last winter mission. White Combe is a buttress of Black Combe on the east side and its this side I was on the A595 looking for car parking space found one at Beckside Farm.
The first section of the walk was crossing fields and then crossing the A595 for the zigzag path up White Combe with views growing as I climbed, it was a warm sunny afternoon and I soon reached the flat grassy top of White Combe at 517 meters, now was the time to rest and enjoy the view and think about what I have achieved on this weeks mission as it now draws to a close.
My wild camp on Peel Island, my first sight and sounds of a Natterjack toad, loved the Whitfell walk, and the North Walney walk, cannot forget the Druids Circle, such a  fantastic site, so many good memories. 

White Combe summit and the Furness Peninsula 

Black Combe and the screes 
I made my way over to screes and picked up a path to take me back down to the car.and the end to a great week of walking and discovery and the beauty and solitude of area away from the popular areas of Cumbria and the Lake District National Park. I feel I have got to know this area by the missions I have done in and around the Duddon Valley and its estuary to the very tip, but it is not finished yet.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Duddon Estuary

Winter on the Duddon Estuary

Warton Crag

Warton Crag is prominent limestone hill in Lancashire, just off the M6. And looks right across Morecambe Bay to Black Combe a fell I was planning to visit on this mission. But for now a great place to be, for a one night’s wild camp in the car park, I and a friend turned up in the dark and pitched up for the night.
Next morning we were out exploring on this damp, cloudy morning, climbing the crag to the summit of 163 m (535 ft).  Warton Crag is part of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB),  of Arnside and Silverdale. A Local Nature Reserve in Lancashire, and looked after by the council, RSPB and the Wildlife Trust.
There is also much more to the site than nature there are caves and a hill-fort also. The site is a SSSI, for species like the fritillary butterflies.

So here we are on a winter’s morning in December 20/12/2012, going up the hill to check the site out for a future visit. We climbed around outcrops of limestone rock and then onto the limestone pavement, long distance views was poor with low cloud, we came across the summit in mist, not many signs of a hill-fort and not seen any caves, we moved into the woodland, from my botany experience, I can see this place is going to be a good place to visit in spring and summer. We followed a main track through the wood, what took us down the hill to the road and a walk back by road back to the car park.

The next stage of this winter mission was to drive to Kirkby in Furness and the Duddon Sands Hostel next to the Ship Inn, what we had booked for the week. This small village is on the banks of Duddon Estuary with its own little train station. From the footbridge over the railway line, you can see Black Combe and all the narrow creeks and mudflats with flocks of waders wheeling low over the shallow water in the estuary.

Back at the barn, luxury is all I can say about the hostel is electric, hot water, central heating and a TV; pure luxury, and we had a pub next door and we had the place to ourselves.   
This winter mission was to carry on exploring the area of the Duddon along the estuary, most this area I was exploring is outside the national park.

Kirkby Moor walk, 4 miles.

A damp afternoon as we walked up through the village for this next walk, took from the book, walks in Ancient Lakeland by Robert Harris, a great book on prehistory. On we went up to Beck Side a group of stone houses and a church, we carried on climbing with open views of the Duddon Estuary and its tidal sands, Black Combe is on the opposite side of the estuary , with its top in low cloud.  We headed out onto open moorland still slowly climbing following paths with the tops of wind turbines coming into view, these are part of the wind farm on top of Kirkby Moor, we all have our views on these, I like them  for their green energy, but a lot of thought must be in place, when sighting these farms.

Duddon Estuary
Just near the skyline is a large burial cairn, it was probably a long cairn, constructed of smallish stones which, at one end, covered a stone cist. This is now exposed as the covering of stones has been partly removed. Two large slabs near the cist could be the capping stones which have been removed. Who was buried here upon this hill with wide open views to the west? It must have been someone important to get such a grand grave and site. With the wind farm behind us as we looked out west, we knew this site was of great antiquity and just to emphasizes the importance of this whole south-west corner of Cumbria, we could see out across the Duddon Estuary to the Irish Sea, was this a trading route from across the sea?  With a number of sites we have visited in this area, it must have been important.  

We left the site to start back down the hill towards Gill House Beck, passing a ring cairn; they are a mystery, as they appear to be more for ceremonial use rather than a place of burial.On we went to Long Moor and back to Beck Side and the finish, a nice little walk of interesting archaeology.


Black Combe 

Walk 5 miles.

Hoping for a better weather today, I left the camping barn to check the view out across the estuary this morning and was greeted with a view of Black Combe.

Black Combe

Satisfied with the view, it was going to be a mission to tackle Black Combe today, so we packed up and took the car to Whicham for the start of the walk.
There was going to be two walks, first, a Wainwright walk from the Outlying Fells book, Black Combe and the second was another pre-history walk called Lacra Bank. So on a bright and breezy morning, we set off up Moorgill Beck.

Moorgill Beck
With a steady ascent,  the views down the beck and beyond started to open up, we left the beck and carried on climbing on the upper slopes of the fell with views seawards now. Black Combe the only fell in all of the fells of the Lake District, none is so close to the sea as this one. As we take another turn in the path it brought us views up the coast to Eskmeals Dunes, and it was at this point that the wind also hit us gale force, it was a struggle to get to the summit, the summit was now in cloud, as we made our way to the trig point and a nice sheltered spot for lunch.

The rock that makes up Black Combe is Skiddaw Slate, what is new for me in the geology of the lakes, we followed the same path back down, with good views, once back out of the cloud, and no gale force winds, just pleasant views back to the start.
After a short break, it was on to the second walk crossing the flat fields of Whicham Valley, we came across a wind sculpture hawthorn, it just shows you the main prevailing direction.

Lacra Bank

We came to the village of Silecroft  and went through the village looking for the sign post what says ‘standing stones’ we found this and headed out across this flat, marshy coastal landscape crossing fields and there on the horizon was the standing stones known as the Giant’s Grave, so we made our way over to them, the two stones stand at the edge of the field, standing about three meters high.
Giant's Grave
What was their purpose? They align up the Whicham Valley, where they some kind of gateway of an ancient trackway?  Black Combe stands in the background with the top in the cloud, was black Combe a sacred hill? They stand there weathered and covered in lichen on the seaward side.
 We left the standing stones behind and made our way into our next village of Kirksanton, through the village and across the main road and then a steady climb up onto moorland on the hillside and started our search through the rocky hummocks and hollows for Lacra’s  secrets.
We found a small ring of rounded boulders; this must be the stone circle of Lacra.

Lacra Stone Circle
On this platform where the stone circle sits, this place is a quiet and secluded setting, with views across the Duddon Estuary and down to the town of Millom and  Hodbarrow Nature Reserve.  We carried on to find the second stone circle what was sadly damaged, we went on to find unusual alignments of stones here and there, where these avenues to the circles? We will never know, we had to press on because of the time, on these short winter days, another short climb over the hill brought us back into the Whicham Valley and the great bulk of Black Combe, and with a steady descent back into the valley we went, and back to the car and the end of a good day of walking.

Next day brought a day full of rain and no walking in the fells we had a visit to a town called Ulverston, nice place and did some shopping, the rest of the short winters day was back at base with an evening watching dvds.

Woodland fell walk 7 miles.

A damp grey day with low cloud, we could not waste another day, so planned another walk, starting from Blawith, a seven-mile circular.
This interesting area has a variety of habitats such as mires, tarns, heathland,  acid grasslands; it is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interested a (SSSI).
Even on a dull grey day as today, we walked along the track to Tottlebank,  my eyes surveyed the landscape, and wondered what it must be like in summer when it’s buzzing with life.   We followed the unfenced  lane, meandering around rock outcrops passing Tottlebank, the top of Blawith Knott was in mist, so we did not visit the summit and onto to a site named on the map as Giant’s Grave, a kerbed cairn with a large standing stone at one end.

Giant's Grave

The Duddon Estuary has long been known by the Neolithic and Bronze Age people as a trading route from the Isle of Man and Ireland and from the south of England, the sites I have seen so far around the estuary has shown that this area was popular, the estuary would have existed much further inland, than is seen today, now the estuary is silted up around the flat marshy coastal plain. 
Back on the route going down the hill towards Woodland, there are more cairns to be seen, the best time of year look for these is winter when the bracken has died back.
We leave the road again for the track going up the hill into the more open landscape, and my eye captures the site of hawthorn shrubs, but these shrubs were decorated with lichens Evenia prunastri.

Evenia prunastri.
Back on route again cairn spotting, as smaller cairns turn up, as we leave the path for the site of White Borran a large ring cairn built into a small natural rock outcrop.

White Borran
So peaceful is this place, even on a cold winters day, to sit for awhile and take it all in. The siting of White Borran cairn is spectacular. The view of Dow Crag and the Old Man of Coniston is stunning, it was no mistake that this site was picked. So far on this walk, we have not seen anyone out walking.

Another stop to look at some Juniper shrubs, leaving the beauty of these shrubs, we found our way back on the path and the final stretch of the walk back to the car and what a lovely and interesting walk, look forward one day to visit it back on a summer’s day.

Sandscale Hawes National Nature Reserve

The last mission was to pop in and visit Sandscales Hawes National Nature Reserve, just to see what type of site it is, as I have plans to be back in spring.


Two hours we spent at the nature reserve, on a cold day with rain showers in and out of the sandunes, a great place looking forward to seeing it in spring.

And that’s the end of the holiday and now the drive home.