Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Big up for Barrow!

Walney Island
Each year Cumbria receives in excess of 8 million visitors which should be fine as it's the third largest county in England (behind North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire), but most of these 8 million or so people head for the same few places; Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick and Kendal.  True, a few hardier souls will brave the peaks, but even then they all aim for the same peaks; Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw.  With 6768 Km2 to play with you'd think a few people might be a little more curious as to what else Cumbria has to offer.

I can't imagine Barrow is high on many people's “must do” list but it dates back to the 12th century and boasts the beautiful Furness Abbey which is perched high on the edge of the town. The Abbey provided inspiration to Wordsworth and Turner and was visited by a young Theodore Roosevelt in 1869.  Although only the ruins remain it does lay claim to several ghostly visitors, including one regular sighting of a monk brutally murdered during the reformation.
Inside Barrow Dock Museum

If you prefer your history a little more recent and a little less bloody then head across to The Dock Museum.  With free car parking, a fab little cafè and housed in an old dry dock, the museum is tucked away on the industrial side of town.  However once inside you'll find a detailed history of Barrow's proud ship building past, a fascinating insight into the evolution of the town from small farming community to major industrial centre and amazing scale models of some of the most famous ships built there.

Beyond Barrow lies Walney Island which has two major things going for it.  Firstly it's largely comprised of protected nature reserves meaning that there are miles of unspoilt dune and marsh habitats providing safe havens for many of the UK's most endangered species, including the very rare Natterjack Toad and secondly, and perhaps more importantly for the weary legged visitor, it's flat.  Just off the coast of Walney Island is tiny Piel Island which, although small in size, boasts it's own castle and pub, the landlord of which is crowned King of the island in a ceremony that dates back to the 1400's.

I might be a massive fan of the fells, but Cumbria isn't just about hills and lakes.  Barrow may not be the prettiest place in Cumbria but it's still worth a visit.

Peel Island from Walney Island