Save Our Souls

And so to the second of my subjects in the hinterland of Morecambe Bay… once I’ve told you a little about the bay itself.  This is the largest area of tidal mudflats and sand in the UK, though The Wash was more notorious for much of history after King John’s disaster there (which led to schoolboy jokes about him losing his clothes in the wash).  All of that changed in February 2004.

English: Morecambe Bay Walk Crossing from Arns...
English: Morecambe Bay Walk Crossing from Arnside to Kents Bank. This photo shows the group lead by Cedric Robinson – the Queen’s guide – walking out over the sands towards the River Kent. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bay is passable in between tides and for centuries those heading north to the Lake District would employ the services of locals who bore the title “Queen’s Guide to the Sands” to avoid the many quicksands and safely cross before the incoming tides swamped them.  Spending time in Grange over Sands some decades ago there used to a some sort of warning klaxon or siren to indicate the turning of the tides I seem to recall.

The mudflats are rich in shellfish, which attracts plenty of seabirds, but on the 23rd February 2004 it wasn’t birds that were caught out by the tides.  A group of illegal Chinese immigrants who had been smuggled into the county in shipping containers, effectively to work as slaves, were on the sands gathering cockles when the tide turned.  Unfamiliar with the hazards and the geography 21 of them drowned.

On the day of my visit another drama was playing out.  I’d spotted the “lifeboat” out in the bay as I was making my way along the shore, though because of the particular topography here the RNLI actually use a hovercraft.  A little while later a police helicopter appeared overhead too.  My thoughts that this was no training exercise were confirmed when I encountered coastguards scanning the shimmering horizon for signs of life.  Seemingly  a “despondent man had entered the sea” nearby.  They following day they were looking for his body.

It was a different sort of salvation that brought me here though.  I’d come to find Cockersand Abbey (or what remains of it).  There has been a hospital (in the medieval sense) here since the 12th century though it was promoted to abbey status in the same period.  The site may have had a religious function even early than this as finds of Roman silverware were made nearby in the 18th century.

Naturally the abbey fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution and the land was sold on.  In such a remote spot there wasn’t reason to maintain the buildings and these are now little more than bulges of fallen masonry beneath the soil, with the exception of a single structure.  The Chapter House, built in 1230, was put to use as a mausoleum by the land owner in the 18th and 19th centuries, and more recently still has been given Grade I listed status.

Little did I know as I viewed this tomb that death was just a short distance down the slipway to the bay.



English: Red Rose of Lancaster
English: Red Rose of Lancaster (Photo credit: Wikipedia

On my numerous journeys up and down the M6 motorway over the years, I’ve long been intrigued by an elegant domed structure that looks down from a hilltop in the city of Lancaster.  What’s more I’ve never been to the city that spawned the House of Lancaster, one of the protagonists of the Wars of the Roses, a key period in English history.  So you’d think that if I was going to visit this area, Lancaster would be a must.

Well perhaps it will be another day.  Instead I visited the tiny fishing village just to the south called Glasson, for reasons which will become clear later.

As I neared the quay which is central to the village’s existence, I was aware that this was an unusual landscape, where large stretches of land were clearly subject to regular flooding, though I was unsure whether this due to the nearness of the sea and the tidal effects on the River Lune, or variations in the river’s levels due to rainfall from the nearby hills.  Combined with the single-track roads that took me there, the place had a remote, neglected feel that the grounded vessels amplified.

BBC Wales has recently completed the story arc of its excellent crime series Hinterland*, in which half the residents of the Aberystwyth area seem to live in shacks that incorporate elements of boats and caravans.  This part of Lancashire could be a similarly haunting location.  There’s clearly something about these half land, half sea places that inspires a sense of unease; I was reminded of the island residents on the fringes of the Venetian Lagoon.

Those narrow roads meant that it was unlikely I’d be able to park near to my objective, so had to opt for Glasson Quay and then walk the two or three miles through farmland, where barely repaired styles and bridges hidden in hedgerows gave the impression that visitors weren’t actively encouraged.  The lapwings weren’t very happy to see me in their vicinity either.

Finally I reached the coast, specifically Morecambe Bay, though again the first signs weren’t promising!  Following the seawall south I found a clue to one of two features that were the real reason for my expedition, wondering as I did so what the gunners might be hunting.  Surely the birds in this murmuration were too small to be of interest?


And then I arrived.

To this.

And before you disparage my choice of image, look closely at the red circled area.  Might this be the attraction for local hunters?


English: Plover scar range front lighthouse. B...
English: Plover scar range front lighthouse. Built 1847. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway to the lighthouse.  This relatively tiny structure has been under the weather for a year or so after it was struck by a passing vessel (local views vary as to whether the ship was too large or the captain too inebriated).  I knew it was being repaired when I planned my visit, thinking that the spectacle of a crane built onto the structure might provide a unique opportunity to record something a little different about Plover Scar Light (also known as Abbey Light), which was originally one of a pair of guiding lights for the entrance to the Lune.  Typically I learnt that the day before my visit, the cap had been restored to the tower and the crane removed, leaving me with the worst of both worlds; a repaired lighthouse, but clothed in scaffolding.

Plover Scar Lighthouse

I still like it!


*The TV Series was unusual since it was recorded in Welsh and recorded in English allowing it to be marketed in different territories.  The version I watched combined both with the Welsh being subtitled.  The Welsh title is different.  Y Gwyll means “dusk” and though that hints at the darkness of the series I feel Hinterland captured more of the bleakness.