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.
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.
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.
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.
A curious ceremony involving some dressing-up, a short speech, the conventional dubbing with a sword…
…and then a booze shower:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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).
Walney Island Grey Seal Colony
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.