Piel Island


Waiting on the jetty, the Roa Island Lifeboat station to the left and Piel castle just visible on the right of the picture.

We continued our exploration of the north side of the bay with a first ever trip to Piel Island. An interesting drive along the coast from Ulverston brought us to Roa Island – a tidal island connected to the mainland by a short causeway. From there we had the excitement of a brief boat trip across the channel on the Piel Ferry. After becoming frightened on a dinghy on Coniston Water earlier in the summer,A became quite hysterical about this trip, but the ferryman was very sympathetic and although she didn’t enjoy the journey, she was much more confident when it came time for our return trip.

The island has a ruined castle, a pub and a row of cottages.

The castle was clearly once very extensive. Built by the monks of Furness Abbey it protected their harbour here and their lucrative trade particularly with Ireland. It’s big moment in history came during the reign of Henry VII when Lambert Simnel, a pretender to the thrown supported by the Yorkist party, landed here from Ireland. The uprising was soundly defeated, but unusually the story has a happy ending for the puppet figurehead of the coup who was pardoned by Henry and given a job as spit turner in the royal kitchens.

The castle has both outer and inner walls, the latter quite well preserved except on the seaward side where the action of tide and waves has undermined and destroyed them. The keep is quite large and it looks as though it should be possible to explore the battlements, but sadly at present the access to those are barred by a locked grille.


The keep.

The wall corners and the edges of windows and doorways are all in the same red sandstone as Furness Abbey, but otherwise the walls are built of a more rough and ready rubble and mortar construction.

The sandstone was everywhere pocked and creased by erosion into fabulous miniature landscapes. The walls on close inspection turned out to be a haven for a wide variety of mini beasts. One wall of the keep was festooned with snails, at least until the boys pulled them all off.

More mobile and therefore not so easy to photograph were a tiny black and white wasp hauling the carcass of a pale spider up a wall, and the odd earwig like creature which B coaxed out of a narrow fissure and onto his coat. There were inevitably plenty of spiders taking advantage of the rich pickings.

With the white cross on its abdomen I think that this is our Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus. A little surfing leads me to believe the diadematus means crowned or wearing a diadem, perhaps a reference to that rather spectacular pattern. A more successful resident of the castle than old Lambert Simnel then (and isn’t that a name to conjure with?).

The island has a wild and stark beauty of its own. The beaches are shingle…

With stones of many hues, textures and types.

This was a feature of the beaches on the Baltic too, indeed the holiday home which we stopped in (a house swap – thoroughly recommended if you haven’t tried it) had copies of two colourful guide books – Strandsteine and Noch Mehr Strandsteine with identifying pictures of the geological treasures to be found.

I found a fossil here on the beach…

It’s the one on the right, on a desk at home. The circular striated pattern runs through to the other side of the stone. The fossil on the left I found in Germany. I think that it’s something like a Sea Urchin, it’s not really seen to best advantage here, but has a five neat lines of dots like a thin starfish on the bottom.

The top edge of the shingle was colonised by specialists like this Horned Poppy

All parts of which are apparently poisonous.

Or this Sea Campion with its gorgeous veined pattern…

Scarlet Pimpernel is rather less specialised and much more widespread, but as some common names imply – ‘change-of-the-weather’, ‘poor-man’s-weatherglass’, ‘shepherd’s-sundial’ – it closes in dull weather and so I offer this photo as evidence that despite the cloudy views on show we did have some sunshine!

At present camping on the island is free and a number of groups were taking advantage of that opportunity. There is a toilet block by the pub with a couple of showers. The pub is being refurbished but drinks and food can still be had. The publican is traditionally ‘King of Piel Island’ and I suspect that the pub will be well worth visiting when the new incumbents have restored the seat of their fiefdom.

We rounded of our day with a visit to the Lifeboat station on Roa Island…

…and an ice-cream in the cafe.

These handsome Starlings were feeding in the road by our car. I presume that the beige heads are because they are juveniles?

Piel Island

Furness Abbey

It’s fairly astonishing that a man could travel half way round the world to visit the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, but never get round to seeing even older ruins virtually on his own doorstep. I put that right on Tuesday with a visit to Furness Abbey, accompanied by TBH and the boys.

The remains are so large that no vantage point within the grounds offered an opportunity to really do them justice with a photo.

The abbey was built with local sandstone which has a lovely warm colour. Sadly, it seems in some places to be disintegrating – the stone is covered in a fine red powder – like the scales on a butterflies wing. S pronounced the abbey – “broken down” – a pretty fair assessment

A stream runs through, underneath the abbey – it looks as though culverts where cleverly used to convey water to the many buildings around the abbey.


Furness Abbey

The Cloven Ash and Coldwell Lime Works

Sunday afternoon saw me and the nipper…

…on a short spree to the edge of Silverdale Moss.

One reason for coming this way was to check on the progress of this ash…


…which has a huge crack running right through the heart of its substantial trunk…

The gap has widened since I first noticed it, about a year ago, but as you can see, both halves of the tree are still standing. It was very still on Sunday – it would be interesting to see how the tree behaves in a gale.

S didn’t share my interest in the tree, but he was enjoying playing with sticks, picking up sheep droppings and clambering on the mossy rocks beside the path.

“Horsey, horsey…”

The path here is bounded by a dry-stone wall on the west and to the east a small natural rock wall.

This seems to be a continuation of the Trough, a very curious local feature which runs across the AONB in an almost perfect straight line, in many places with rock walls on either side. In times gone by it was apparently used to hide stock from border reivers.

S was set on having a thorough explore of this natural playground, so I decided to do the same. There were several old felled tree trunks. Most had lost their bark, revealing a quilted, elephant-hide map…

Moss is beginning to colonise the bare wood with verdant islands of green…

One trunk was liberally covered with jew’s ear fungus…

And down amongst the yellow grasses, I found this little surprise…

Could it be scarlet elf cup?

Although we were on the edge of Silverdale Moss, it’s actually hard to get a good view of the moss from here. We could hear geese and ducks, but not see them. We did see a buzzard wheeling away across the tree tops – I’ve often see buzzards here. There is a good view of Arnside Tower from here, perched 30m above the moss on the saddle between Arnside Knott and Middlebarrow. Unfortunately, the light wasn’t conducive to longer views…

I shall have to come back early one clear morning. This is also one of the few spots from which it’s possible to see just how large Middlebarrow quarry is…

My other motivation for coming this way was to take another look at the ruin in the woods just back from the path. In the event, there is a well worn path heading directly into the woods and that ruin. It’s not a right of way, but what harm could there be in taking a look?

The structure is built of stone, but is brick-lined, leading me to wonder whether it might be some kind of kiln or chimney. I didn’t have to wonder for long, since there is an information board…


And this is Coldwell lime works. Restored in 2005, apparently. But not very restored…

One question – why an information board when there is no footpath?

I had been expecting a bright afternoon, but in fact the weather had been resolutely dull – I was surprised that it hadn’t turned to rain. As we retraced our steps to the car, it finally began to clear a little and late afternoon sunlight bathed the cloven ash.

The Cloven Ash and Coldwell Lime Works

Bonsor Mine

I didn’t get particularly far in my wanderings at Coniston, but I did walk up to the ruins of Bonsor mine a couple of times. The mine is above the youth hostel, alongside Red Dell Beck…

There are lots of shafts in the area, and the remnants of several buildings.

The crag across the Coppermines Valley is Kennel Crag, with Raven Tor lurking in the mist behind (the Coniston Old Man ridge is somewhere behind that).

This is a view across some of the ruins down to the spoil heaps around the hostel…

The mine entrance was dank, running with water, and blocked off after a few yards with sheets of corrugated iron.

Across the valley a cutting rounds Tongue Brow, staying remarkably level as it contours…

Following the cutting round its purpose soon becomes apparent…

…the sluice gate indicating that it must have carried water at some time between Bonsor and Paddy End by Levers Water Beck. At one point a tunnel has been created through a small crag. But why go to such effort when there is an abundant supply of water at either end?

Copper was mined in this valley from somewhere around 1590 and stopped in 1942. In very wet and windy conditions it was hard to imagine, but easy to sympathise with, the lives of the men who worked those mines.

Bonsor Mine