Of all those visited so far Walney felt least like an Island; the Jubilee Bridge crosses into what feels like an extension of Barrow-in-Furness; the town spilling across a tidal channel. The road leads through suburban streets and housing estates before reaching a rough track leading north. Here paths lead away from habitation and into the quiet tract of North Walney National Nature Reserve. Sand dunes to the west protect colourful coastal heath, flower rich meadows and saltmarsh veined with little tidal channels.
Yellows of kidney vetch, hawkweeds and dyer’s greenweed and pinks of heather flowed between water filled hollows and thickets of willow. The path skirted the northern edge of the airfield where the only activity was a small plane towing a glider out over the hills beyond the Duddon Estuary. A few sheep grazed flower filled fields with orchids in a range of purples and pinks: northern marsh, common spotted and variations on the two. Skippers and an occasional dark green fritillary braved the fresh breeze and a four spotted chaser sunbathed in the shelter of meadow plants.
The drive south along the west coast jostled with the frontier edge of Vickerstown with its reluctant seafront against the Irish Sea. The road to Biggar suddenly turns inland from the coastal road into a lane sunken between earth banks, a road that could have been anywhere in West Cumbria. Further south still and the road slowly diminishes as it approaches South Walney Nature Reserve. A small information centre staffed with volunteers was the welcome to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust Reserve.
Once gulls swarmed throughout the site, nesting in noisy and smelly abundance. Now these are largely confined to the spit at the very tip of the reserve. The grassy spaces are home to plants such as viper’s bugloss and its smaller cousin bugloss. The shingle shore was dotted with the flowers of yellow horned poppy, with its hugely long seed pods forming but not yet ripe. A single plant of henbane stood on the shingle shore too, it’s sinister looking flowers a warning of the poisons in the plant. On the inland side the path passes an oyster farm and the remains of an old saltworks before reaching a wildlife hide overlooking the shore. No seals were to be seen but the view took in flocks of gulls on the shore and Piel Castle, on its own island, to the north.
The southern shore with its weather beaten lighthouse marks the southern-most part of Cumbria and from here the main activity was the toing and froing of small ships in and out of Barrow sticking to the narrow channel hugging the island edge. By now the sun was firmly lost behind thickening clouds and the walk back through dunes and bracken mottled grassland seemed much further than in reality is was.