Across the Sands to Piel Island

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Sheep Island with Piel Island behind.

Onward and upward, to September and the 2015 Heritage Open Days. There are always lots of interesting events on that weekend across the UK; if you aren’t already aware of the event, then I would recommend that you get acquainted with what’s on offer in your area in 2016.

We chose to join a guided walk organised by the rather wonderful Morecambe Bay Partnership.

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The event will include a guided walk across the sands from Walney Island to Piel Island, led by expert guide John Murphy who will be accompanied by eminent local archaeologist Rachel Newman. 

On Piel Island, Rachel Newman will provide an in-depth tour of the castle ruins, whilst informing visitors about the archaeological investigations undertaken during the 1980’s and hearing about challenges of excavating on a island.

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It was reassuring to have an expert guide on hand. I’ve wandered a little on Morecambe Bay over the years, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like the area close to Piel Island, where the sands disconcertingly wobbled and squirmed like a jelly. The beach was raised in long ridges and furrows, not dissimilar to the medieval field patterns which surrounded the village in which I grew up. You might expect the tops of the ridges to be the driest and safest ground on which to walk, but on the contrary, they often seemed to be the most unstable and conspicuously colloidal: betwixt and between, neither sea nor strand but a treacherous hybrid of the two.

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Roa Island.

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Once on Piel we were treated to an unexpected bonus: the landlord and landlady of ‘The Ship’ are traditionally King and Queen of the island, and today they were knighting two worthy subjects.

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A curious ceremony involving some dressing-up, a short speech, the conventional dubbing with a sword…

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…and then a booze shower:

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As we began our tour of Piel Castle, S and I were distracted by the seals visible, if somewhat distantly, on the beach at the southern tip of Walney Island. I tried to use the zoom on my camera to get S a clearer view of the seals, and was surprised by how clearly Blackpool Tower could be seen in the background.

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Since then, these seals have hit the news..

Seals have used the protected South Walney beaches to haul out and rest for decades. The colony found here are usually older bulls no longer able to control a harem on breeding beaches and sexually immature younger males and females.

But now the reserve could be becoming a breeding colony. Pup one was born almost three weeks ago, then pup two was discovered on Sunday when it was believed to be a day old.

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I really enjoyed the guided tour, but it’s a while ago so I shan’t attempt to regurgitate any of the details. In fact , the principal impression I took away is that surprisingly little is known about the castle, because it so infrequently appears in written records.

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Regular readers will know that I love a good ruin. Tight winding staircases, a dingy dungeon, or lofty battlements all enhance the romance and I was hoping that we might have special permission to access the battlements, but sadly we didn’t. Maybe next September?

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One reason I may not remember too much detail from the castle tour is that little S, once he’d satisfied his curiosity about the seals, discovered that he desperately needed to discuss his feet, one of which was uncomfortable. It transpired that he had managed to pick-up odd wellingtons: to be fair, they looked the same, but were different sizes. Consequently, he returned across the sands barefoot…

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All in all, stunning day out, which was rounded off with an unscheduled fish and chip supper in Ulverston, where, unbeknownst to us – at least before we arrived to find roads closed and streets thronged with people –  the Lantern Festival was in full-swing – all very spectacular (I didn’t take any photos sadly).

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Some links:

Heritage Open Days

Morecambe Bay Partnership

The Ship Inn

Piel Castle

Walney Island Grey Seal Colony

Ulverston Lantern Festival

John Murphy is a former mayor of Barrow, and seemed to have inexhaustible funds of jokes, anecdotes, nature lore, local history, patience and good humour. I gathered that he regularly runs guided walks in and around Walney, and would have liked to include a link, but I can’t find anything on the internet which doesn’t relate to walks which have already happened. Probably worth googling next summer if you are interested.

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Across the Sands to Piel Island

4 thoughts on “Across the Sands to Piel Island

  1. The hazy, lazy days of summer. I love the area down there. Looks uninspiring from a casual drive through but packed with interesting stuff. I shall miss my annual visit next may 😦

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Well yes. Your summer plans might compensate however! It is a great area, and I still feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s there.

  2. That brings back memories for one born near Barrow (Actually a few yards from Furness Abbey) and who spent half his holidays with cousins on Walney. The castle and the island were an important protected port for the abbey which made a great deal of money from trade controlled from Piel. (Actually one of the reasons why the abbey got the thumbs down when Henry’s men were deciding which abbeys were saved and which were ruined.) The picture that gave me a real feeling of nostalgia was the one with Blackpool tower in the background. Both Blackpool and (looking the other way) the Isle of Man could appear very near or very far from Walney. Local legend had it that the Isle of Man was actually below the horizon, but in certain conditions you could see a sort of ghost of the island that looked like the real thing. There was also the local legend that when you could see the island it meant that it was going to rain and when you couldn’t this meant that it was already raining. It’s a legend that re-appears all over Lancashire. Wonderful post!

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