Our Solway – Empty, fascinating and beautiful
Our Solway – Summer may mean sandy beaches for many people but there’s no need to head for far-flung shores when you have the Costa Del Solway on your doorstep.
Tourists pile into the lake district, yet our coastline is ignored and with huge swathes of sandy beaches dotted with charming villages, it’s Cumbria’s best-kept secret.
But the northern stretch of coastline is fascinating and full of history. The sand gives way to marshlands and the outline of Scotland inches closer until it touches near the estuaries of the Eden and Esk Rivers.
This part of the Solway Coast is classed as an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it should be filled with tourists, but it’s not. It’s almost eerily deserted and time spent here is a bit like looking into England’s past.
North of Maryport we come across Milefortlet 21, located just off the road it’s a fascinating Roman remain. It was a continuation of Rome’s defences that included Hadrian’s Wall and the fortlets were built because there was no defence if the Scot’s bypassed the wall and raided the coast.
Below are the saltpans where seawater was evaporated to gather the salt and they are a monument to a bygone age.
Grab an ice cream and have a wander in Allonby before pushing north through the charming Victorian town of Silloth. Take a walk along Grune Point, this spit of land has been created by the waves of the Solway Firth and protects Moricambe Bay from the storms of the open water.
The Point shelters the estuary and allows the formation of extensive saltmarsh and mudflats, which is great for birds. There is a distinctive wartime pill-box at the end which is made from concrete-filled sandbanks. Sometimes known as the Cumberland Machine-Gun and Anti-Tank Rifle Emplacement, it’s unique to the area.
Moving along we pass into Abbeytown, not many people stop here but the landscape of the Solway Plain has been defined by the activities of the inhabitants of Holme Cultram Abbey.
Through the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cistercian Monks were masters of land and water management. Marshes were drained, sea dykes built, farms were created and the port of Skinburness was developed for exports. At one time the abbey was the biggest wool producer in north-west England and the Solway, as we see it now, is largely a creation of the monks who changed the landscape forever.
The small village of Newton Arlosh was built on disaster after a sea dyke in Skinburness was breached by a massive storm in 1304. The port and town were devastated and the abbot requested the survivors move to a ‘new town’ at Newton Arlosh which looks across the salt marshes to the Solway.
If proof were needed you are a long way from anywhere then look no further than the local airfields. The RAF picked these sites because they were so far from the enemy. Kirkbride was active during WW2 while HMS Nuthatch was in service over 100 years ago in the first world war.
Beyond Anthorn, the 13 radio antennas of Cardurnock dominate the landscape. These isolated towers are used to communicate with submarines and since 2007, they have broadcast the ‘pips’ signal that marks the hourly time on the BBC.
In this isolated landscape, you’ll find RSPB Campfield Reserve, it’s beautiful and is not just for bird watchers. With a children’s discovery area it’s home to the informative Solway Wetlands Centre.
We head east and our journey ends at the Roman fort of Maia, now known as Bowness-on-Solway. Maia was the final fort at the western end of Hadrian’s Wall and it stood on a steeply rising cliff. The name ‘Bowness’ means ’rounded headland’ and gives an indication of the view it commanded of the nearby coastline. It may have been the very edge of the Roman Empire but you can hear the bellows of farm animals across the water in Scotland.
The masses might head for the valleys and fells further south but for a true taste of rural Cumbria you really need to get lost on the shores of the Solway.
For more information on the area visit www.solwaycoastaonb.org.uk
Images by Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty/James Smith Photography
For the North Solway Coast click here