Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Walk 313 -- Foxfield to Barrow-in-Furness

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 127 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 270 days.
Weather:  Heavy rain for the first 3 to 4 hours.  It eventually eased to clear skies with scudding clouds.  A cold breeze.
Location:  Foxfield to Barrow-in-Furness.
Distance:  13½ miles.
Total distance:  3198½ miles.
Terrain:  Lanes.  Grassy paths.  Muddy paths.  Tracks, some muddy.  Top of estuary beach.  Flat.
Tide:  Out when it mattered.
Rivers: None.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos 390, 391 and 392 when crossing back and forth across the railway.
Pubs:  None.
‘English Heritage’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan near Grange-over-Sands.  This morning we drove to Barrow-in-Furness and parked about half a mile from the station.  We caught a train to Foxfield, and started the Walk from the station as it is situated directly across the estuary from where we finished the last Walk.
At the end we finished the Walk on the main road into Barrow, about a mile from where we had parked the car.  So we walked down the cycleway-cum-pavement to where it was parked.  After tea and biscuits we returned to our caravan.

After alighting from the train, we crammed ourselves into the tiny wooden waiting room at Foxfield Station to put on our wet-weather gear.  Colin noticed a swallows’ nest in the roof with three chicks in it and a fourth perched on a rafter.  They looked almost mature enough to fledge, and there was lots of chirping because we were there.  Colin was worried that this late brood had been abandoned, but then a parent flew in with food, quite unfazed that we were sitting below.
It rained frenetically for the first three hours of today’s Walk, so we were unable to take any pictures for the first few miles.  From the station we followed the main road on a pavement for about a hundred yards, then we crossed the railway on to a quiet lane.  We met another couple walking towards us (of about our age) so we weren’t the only idiots out walking in this atrocious weather.  They seemed to be quite cheerful about the wet even though the man was wearing a non-waterproof fleece.  He must have been soaked through!  After about a quarter of a mile we crossed back over the railway, and the same couple caught us up and passed us — returning to their local home, we supposed.
The lane zigzagged through the countryside, up a little hill and down, until we turned off at a farm.  We crossed a small river and took a footpath across some fields.  We did wonder how deep we were going to sink into the mud considering the amount of rain we’ve had recently, but to our surprise it was not muddy — only a trifle squelchy.  There were a few ditches to cross, but all of them had footbridges so we got across with dry feet.
We came out on to a road and walked down to Kirkby-in-Furness Station.  There we sat in the waiting room on the first platform we came to so we could get out of the rain to eat our pies.  But this shelter was fairly open and very draughty, so we crossed over to the other platform where the shelter was more substantial.  There was a man inside painting it, but he didn’t mind us sitting there.  He told us he used to work in an office and hated it.  Now he paints railway stations for less money, but he is much happier!
The path continued alongside the railway on the estuary side.  The wind was strong here and blowing rain into our faces.  It was not nice!  The path was uneven and muddy.  At one point it had eroded away completely, the railway having been built up with big rocks.  We had to go down on to the ‘beach’ which was slippery.  I hated it, and had difficulty getting up the other side — I can’t do big steps any more.
We were very unhappy because of the rain in our faces, and the wind was so strong.  We decided to go inland at the next railway crossing and follow a parallel path across fields.  So we did this at Soutergate.  As soon as we got off the beach the wind was considerably reduced though the rain was just as intense.  The paths across the fields were not well way-marked which made navigation problematic.  It was muddy in places, and we found it difficult to negotiate our way round the gooey patches.  There were lots of stiles which I find increasingly tricky to climb over as I get older and my back gets stiffer.  In the wet the wood is slippery and the steps are usually too big.  We made very slow progress.
Colin was grumpy and I was dead miserable, ready to throw in the towel there and then.  We got to a field in which there seemed to be no way out.  We walked along the hedge looking for a gap, but we couldn’t see one.  Suddenly the rain stopped, the wind dropped and the sky cleared.  The sun came out, it was a different world!  We couldn’t believe how quickly the situation changed — from the depths of despair our mood rose to dizzying heights.
And we found the stile — it was collapsed inside an overgrown hedge hidden from view until we got right up to it.  We struggled through, then walked down a very muddy lane (this was rather horrid) to Marsh Grange.  Behind us, as the clouds melted away, we could see the hills of the southern Lake District for the first time today. 
We decided to return to the beach now that the weather had so dramatically improved.  We walked down a lane towards a golf club where we sat on a wall to eat our sarnies.  Then we crossed the railway for the umpteenth time and struck out towards a small hill.  We didn’t climb the hill, a sort of grass-covered rock in the estuary, but turned south when we reached it.
We were walking on the marsh which was a little squelchy underfoot, but not too bad.  The path divided — the left fork was labelled “Preferred Route” but that went back across the railway and we didn’t want to do that.  The right fork warned us, “This route has natural hazards”.  It went the way we wanted to go, so we decided to risk them.  But the path almost immediately got too boggy, so we had to retreat.  Then we found an unofficial path in between the two which went along the edge of the marsh without crossing the railway — ideal!  We followed this for over a mile without getting our feet wet or sinking into the bog.
As we passed the inevitable golf course, we were amused to see sheep grazing on the greens — there’s rural for you! 
We could see Millom across the estuary, and further back the hamlet of Lady Hall where we really finished the last Walk.  Behind us we could see the mountains of the Lake District, and beyond the estuary we could see hundreds of windmills in the sea.
We came to a picnic site at Askham where we sat on black rock seats to eat our first chocolate.  The beach here was firm and sandy, our favourite walking environment, and there were a lot of people out walking their dogs.  There were a couple of ships beached on the marsh, they were being used as houseboats.
 We walked towards the strange Askham “Pier”, a huge construction of rocks leading out to a deeper channel in the estuary.  It was apparently built from slag, a waste product of the 19th century iron ore furnaces.  We were relieved to find a bridge had been put in so we could walk under it at the top of the beach — no climbing involved.
We found we were on our own after that, for another mile or so until we reached the next car park.  Beautiful beach, but no one walking it, except us.
We passed some big heaps of black stones — don’t think it was coal — at the top of the beach. Don’t know what they were, perhaps remnants of the defunct iron ore industry.
We approached the dunes, but it was difficult to see the way through them to the car park where we knew there was a toilet block.  We followed a muddy track and we eventually found it.  But we couldn’t use it.  It was a wooden shack, but it was locked up with police “crime scene” tape wrapped round it.  There were signs of fire inside — obviously someone’s idea of fun to set fire to a toilet block.  We had to find a bush in the dunes instead.
We removed our kags and overtrousers because the rain had completely gone and it was now very hot.  We were both overtired which made us argumentative.  Neither of us wanted to walk the perimeter of the dune nature reserve because it was too far.  That point we did agree on.  I wanted to go a little bit inland and take a path across fields.  Colin wanted to take a footpath straight across the dunes.  We have got disorientated and lost in dunes so many times before and this path, like many, was not clearly way-marked.  But he wouldn’t listen to reason and strode off in the wrong direction along the top of the beach.  I got out the compass, but he refused to look at it.  I said we were on the top of the beach walking westwards, not cutting through the dunes southwards as the path seemed to do on the map.  He replied that there was no difference between the beach and the dunes, it was all sand.  He seemed to have a mind-block, and got all miffy about having to carry the map.
I’d had enough by then, I was too tired to go any further in the wrong direction, or argue any more with such unreasonableness.  I snatched the map from him, made him carry my sticks because I couldn’t carry both, and insisted we did the inland route because I was now the navigator.  He complained that the field path would be muddy and difficult to navigate, but it wasn’t.  It turned out to be a good track, mostly concrete and it was waymarked very clearly.  We made good time across it, but even then Colin wouldn’t concede that it had been a good route.  What can you do with such obstinacy?
We passed some farmers mending a fence. Then the track turned inland and would have taken us to a road which is what we didn’t want to do.  We sat on a stile to eat our apples.  Colin was in a much calmer mood by now, and we were able to discuss in a reasonable manner how we should proceed.  We decided to continue along the beach even though it looked a bit wild and uggy.  This was always going to be the most dodgy part of the Walk.  We couldn’t make up our minds whether the next mile or so of beach was an unofficial path or the neglected Cumbrian Coastal Way.
We went up past the back of some factories, then down to the beach again.  We passed two Second World War pillboxes — one was teetering on the edge of a soft cliff and the other was already on the beach perched on its side.  Well, they weren’t meant to last seventy years!
Fortunately the tide was well out, and we managed to find a way through on the beach which wasn’t too slippery or stony.
We knew we had to cut in somewhere before we reached the end of the beach and walk out to the road.  This was because the beach deteriorated and eventually got swallowed up into a disused industrial sandpit.  It was difficult to see where the gap was since everything was so horribly overgrown, but two people out on the beach with a dog gave us a clue — they must have come through the gap.  We found it — overgrown with lots of stinging nettles which we had to battle our way through.
We came out by some industrial buildings and turned right along a concrete track.  A signpost pointed the public footpath the way we were going, but we came to a gate with an awkward fastening.  Colin negotiated it, and we carried on.  We were alongside the railway once again.  Colin looked up and said we should be up on that bridge over the railway that we had just passed.  We couldn’t see any way up to it, just fences, brambles and stinging nettles.  We decided to carry on, but soon we came to a locked gate — leading to a waste water plant!
We had no choice but to turn back, negotiating the gate with the awkward fastening again.  Next to it, almost completely hidden by overgrown bushes, was another gate which was leaning awkwardly.  This, apparently, was the public footpath.  But this gate could not be opened at all because there was a haystack leaning against it on the other side!
There was also a notice warning us to keep off the newly sown grass seed’s!  Where?  And what did the grass seed possess that was so precious we must keep off it?
We sort of fell over the gate inelegantly and squeezed round the haystack.  The path up to the bridge was overgrown with twelve-foot high gorse, brambles and nettles.  We had to get through, there was no other way, so we bashed at it with my sticks as we slowly made our way up the bank.  We scratched our faces and stung our hands, but we got there!
The humpy bridge was lined with long grass and OK to cross, but the path the other side wasn’t much better than the first one.  We battled our way through, crossed a field and out to the road.  There we followed a cycle path for about a mile to the point where there was a small car park on a bit of ‘old’ road.

That ended Walk no.313, we shall pick up Walk no.314 at the small car park on the A590 just to the north of Barrow-in-Furness.  It was quarter to eight, so the Walk had taken us nine hours.  We walked about a mile down the cycleway-cum-pavement to where our car was parked in a back street.  After tea and biscuits we returned to our caravan near Grange-over-Sands.

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