You know when you suddenly discover you’d promised to do something and life intervened and nothing’s happened.
Well some time ago they were looking for somebody to produce a map of a walk around the boundary of Aldingham, the next parish to us and because I know pretty well all the paths and suchlike, I said I’d do it.
And then somebody emailed me the minutes of a meeting and glancing through them I saw that I was doing this ‘asap’.
So I pulled at the two and a half inch map, went onto http://www.achurchnearyou.com/ and put an Aldingham postcode into the ‘parish finder’. This produces a Google map with the parish boundary on it.
The first thing you notice with the parishes of Furness is that the coastal ones include quite a lot of sea. This isn’t a case of tugging the theological forelock in the direction of Galilean fishermen or walking on water. It’s more that when a body is washed ashore, it ensures that there’s a church whose duty is to bury them.
Bodies aren’t normally hurled up onto the beach; they tend to be gently deposited on sandbars by the falling tide. The father of my godmother was one of the chaps who knew the sea round this area. If the police told him where a body had gone into the water, he’d tell them when and where to find it. Whilst more difficult, if you find the body, you can make a stab at saying where it went in, unless it’s been in the water too long. It’s the sort of bizarre knowledge that a writer can use in a story. I used it in Flotsam or Jetsam, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flotsam-Jetsam-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B011VHS21Y. (As an aside I used a lot of local stuff in The Cartographer’s Apprentice, about mining iron ore.) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cartographers-Apprentice-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B00ECZIM4A/ An American reviewer marked the book down because I’d got it ‘wrong’. But their knowledge was based on a different continent and I was just saying what my grandfather did.)
But back to the point, you can see why it’s vitally important to know which sandbanks belong to which parish, because that’s the church which is going to have to find room for the unnamed body. In our church, Rampside, there are several buried who were just found out on the sands. Whilst buried as unknowns, they all acquired names later as police investigations bore fruit or relatives came forward. There is even one chap buried there who died of plague in the quarantine station off shore. He was buried in his sea chest. His fellow sailors rowed him ashore and then carried him from the beach across the fields to the graveyard.
But anyway, walking on water isn’t one of my skills so I decided right from the start that the walk was along the beach, not out along the low water mark.
So I worked out my route, and then decided that as I would inevitably be working Saturday (because that’s the day that staff appears to deal with sheep) I was going to take Friday off. Our Indian summer was obviously drawing to a close and if it wasn’t Friday who knew when it would be.
So after checking sheep in the morning, I grabbed a coffee, made a few sandwiches, put my Wellingtons back on and at ten-o-clock in the morning, I set off. It’s less than half a mile from home to the parish boundary so that seemed the obvious place to start. It’s actually a footbridge where three parishes meet.
I thought I better stick in a few photos. Not having a camera these are just ones I’ve borrowed off the net.
From there my first stop was Gleaston. Normally it’s about an hour’s walk by the direct route, but this wasn’t direct. The boundary follows an old green lane, little used now which dumps you onto the road from Leece to the coast. Walking a short distance down there I took a footpath, once more heading north east, to Deep Meadows Beck and the sewage treatment plant. The weather was mild enough, you needed a jumper and it was one of those days where you expect the sun to break through the mist at any point.
At the beck you strike North West. It’s a big field and was ploughed by contractors a few years ago. The sewer from Leece runs under the field and there are regular access points. Some bright lad caught one of these with the plough and ripped the metal top of. This was about five years ago. Now you can stand and look down and see the sewer running far below. The vertical access shaft is made of concrete rings and each ring had two metal steps/hand grips cast into it when it was made. There are ten handgrips down to the sewer. I guess you could probably walk, crouched over, down there but I’m not going to recommend it. I’m not sure how breathable the air is going to be.
But I’ve got it pigeonholed in my mind and at some point I’ve got a thriller to write. The hero could need a hiding place, or the assassin somewhere to hide the tools of his trade. Either way, it’s there in the back of my mind, waiting.
From there you keep following the beck until finally you come to a bridge. Cross that and follow the path to Gleaston. This path is a beggar to find from the other end. It keeps crossing rickety bridges across narrow cuts lined by thick hedges and in one place the stile you have to cross looks like a fence. But from the south it’s easier to follow. Then skirting Gleaston it’s north up Mill Lane. This is where you have a problem with the boundary. It follows a stream which goes off to the left, so you have to abandon it and stick parallel. It does at least mean you pass Dusty Miller’s where they do a decent coffee and excellent cake. After a fifteen minute time-out it’s back on the road, and at this point, just south of Gleaston castle, I meet my first walker, a chap heading south. Then on, past the castle (so jerry-built it was falling down even before it was finished) and on to Scales.
I left Mill Lane along a bridle path which drops you onto Long Lane just west of Scales. By now the parish boundary is playing silly beggars just west of you, following field boundaries and ensuring that a farm isn’t split between two parishes. (This was vitally important when the boundary was laid down because you had to know just who a farmer had to pay his tithe to. Remember farmers were forced to pay tithes and similar down to the 1930s and in some parts of the country you had an ‘alliance’ between the British Union of Fascists and non-conformists to break this.)
But anyway on Long Lane (the second of the two lanes of that name on the route) I headed back to Scales and let the parish boundary frolic free behind me. I took the bridle path that skirts Scales and heads for Birkrigg, the boundary condescended to join me at the edge of Birkrigg.
At last on Birkrigg common, the sun started to burn through the cloud, it was worth taking the jumper off, and there were people about. The boundary follows the edge of the in-bye, none of the common is in Aldingham but the view from up there can be very impressive. Except as you looked out east over Morecambe Bay somebody had stolen England and replaced it with mist. Still dropping down towards the sea you look out over Bardsea woods and the leaves were starting to turn. Today’s wind could have ripped a lot off, but last Friday most of the leaves were on and you were just starting to see the reds and gold. A beautiful sight and it probably won’t get much better this year. Apparently the woods were once owned by Lady Jane Grey, but I doubt she ever saw them.
Then it was just a case of walk down the road to the beach; again, very quiet, no cars and only a couple of dog walkers. Once on the beach it’s a case of heading south. Here there are a lot of rushes between beach and sea and you find yourself walking along the shingle with the rushes to your left and a low cliff to your right with the woodland at the top and cascading down the side. Finally I hit an area of flat rocks, the rushes had gone and I sat and ate my sandwiches looking out over the sea. By this time the tide was pretty much full in. Also by the time I got to the flat rocks (Limestone Pavement) there was nobody else about, it’s too far from road access for dog walkers. It was very pleasant just sitting there looking out over the sea and finishing of my copy of Bulldog Drummond. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bulldog-Drummond-Peterson-Quartet-Supernatural/dp/184022620X
As a child I can remember swimming here, but the spartina has taken over the sands and the flat rocks, with their beautifully carved inscriptions are now cut off from the sea.
From then on it’s just a slog along the shingle, exchanging greetings with monosyllabic fishermen who are taking advantage of the tide being in. Past Aldingham church itself, which must be one of the nicest settings for a church anywhere.
After Aldingham you come to Moat Farm where you can still see the old Motte from Michael De Fleming’s Motte and Bailey castle. (That’s the one they abandoned to move to Gleaston.) You’re very much on the frontier here. With a grandiloquent surname like De Fleming, it places our Michael as the expendable Flemish mercenary granted land on the unfashionable side of Morecambe Bay.
This is the bit where after the Norman Conquest the maps had ‘And here there be dragons.’ Even when they wrote the Doomsday book the compilers never actually visited the area but just asked people on the Eastern shore of Morecambe Bay what was happening in Furness. Old Michael was a trip-wire. The flames of his burning castle would be visible from the other side of the bay and they’d know that they had at least a day to get ready before whoever it was causing the trouble could get a favourable tide and cross the sands.
Later it made sense to move the frontier up to Carlisle. It pushes the barbarians back that bit further and increases the thickness of the ablative shield.
For me it was then onwards until I got to Newbiggin. Because the tide was full in and well up the sea wall it was a case of walking along the top of the wall.
I’ve always wondered at the mentality of those who say that seawalls aren’t worth having because you have to maintain them and they won’t work for ever. We’ve had them here since before the war, and yes, you have to maintain them. But if you don’t want the bother of maintenance, don’t live in a house whatever you do. And they don’t last for ever, nothing does. In the long term, we’re all dead but it doesn’t stop us trying.
And then it’s back inland to follow the Sarah Beck, until finally it comes to a footbridge where three parishes meet and I’ve done it. Five minutes to home and it’s half four in the afternoon, surely time for a coffee.