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Train from Carnforth to Barrow-in-Furness to walk in Arnside & Silverdale

Posted by Chris Woodley-Stewart at 01:30 on Friday 05 September 2014

Photo: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerPhoto: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerChris Woodley-Stewart takes the train around Morecambe Bay, stopping off to follow one of the walks devised by the Arnside & Silverdale AONB team

It's a Saturday morning in North Lancashire, and I'm in Carnforth Station. There's a bakery, cafe, heritage centre, bustling meeting rooms (suspiciously dominated by jumper-clad men of a certain age - my age) and it all feels very welcoming and thriving. This is where 'Brief Encounter' was filmed and the cafe has been restored to how Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard would remember it.

The journey from here around Morecambe Bay to Barrow and the Southern Lakes takes less than an hour, but it's packed with fantastic landscapes. When the train comes it's, well, just a train, and after the Brief Encounter experience I half expected something to appear hissing from a wreath of steam, but in minutes the modernity of the transport is forgotten and we are heading to Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), one of my favourite places. An expanse of marshes and mudflats appears almost immediately and I'm treated to a flock of pristine avocet just yards from the window. Godwits, redshank, shelduck and more are all on show - it's a great start to the day.

Crossing Morecambe Bay from Arnside village. Photo: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerCrossing Morecambe Bay from Arnside village. Photo: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerOnly five minutes into the journey we reach Silverdale, where I'll return later, and the train largely empties itself of walkers in a rustle of rucksacks. Today I'm going on to Barrow, getting on and off as I please for less than £12 return.

I've sometimes seen the little train make its way across the viaduct at Arnside, including once at 5am when it was a ribbon of moving light in the coal-black winter night. But today it's my turn to seemingly glide on the water, with the Kent estuary on one side and the Bay on the other. We soon reach Grange, a lovely little place that from the station at least has the appearance of a model village. The train trundles along the fabulous coast, with small, wooded, limestone hills giving texture and depth to the landscape, tumbling down to wild marshes and inlets dotted with waders. Near Kents Bank there are little egrets, which 15 years ago would have been a rarity but now they seem to occupy the whole English coastline.

>> Getting to and Around Arnside and Silverdale AONB by public transport

After Cark and Cartmel the bay appears again and another lovely little viaduct takes us over the Leven to Ulverston, an interesting blend of gentility and industry, dominated by the outstanding Hoad Monument. Built in 1850 to commemorate John Barrow and modelled on the Eddystone Lighthouse, it's about a mile walk to enjoy the 360 degree views of the Bay and the southern Lakes that it offers. Today's journey on to Barrow is mainly to make my travel times work, but there's plenty of industrial heritage to see there, and it's the gateway to Walney Island, famous for its seals and birdlife.

Arnside village. Photo: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerArnside village. Photo: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerAvocet. Arnside and Silverdale is one of the country's most important places for wintering wildfowl and waders. Photo: Mike RedmanAvocet. Arnside and Silverdale is one of the country's most important places for wintering wildfowl and waders. Photo: Mike RedmanThe return journey gives a new set of views of the marshes and wooded hills and before long we're crossing the viaduct to Arnside and back into the Arnside & Silverdale AONB. In some respects it's a bit of a well-kept secret but to lovers of wildlife it has it all. It's one of the most botanically diverse places in the UK, and its nature reserves are also famed for their butterflies. At its heart, for me at least, is Leighton Moss, one of the jewels in the RSPB's crown of nature reserves. And then of course there's the wide-skied wildness of the Bay itself, one of the country's most important places for wintering wildfowl and waders.

For my walk, I'm getting off at Silverdale and following one of the excellent routes devised by the AONB team. It's a great walk to do with young children, as there's plenty to see and at just over two hours we're always 'nearly there'. Crossing the golf course, the path goes past Dogslack Well, where cowslips are in bloom and some conservation work has given breathing space to these and other flowers.

Just a little further on we enter Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve, where a small herd of Exmoor ponies has been brought in to graze the grassland near Hawes Water. The walk follows round most of the lakeside and eventually along a boardwalk, giving superb views of the reed-fringed lake with wooded hills behind. The lakeside woods seem full of newly-returned migrant birds and I linger to listen to the song of a garden warbler, my first of the year, like a fast, babbling blackbird. A marsh tit calls from right above me as I photograph a woodpecker hole left half finished - it's not just me that doesn't complete DIY jobs then.

Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve. Photo: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerGait Barrows National Nature Reserve. Photo: Diana Jarvis/GreentravellerHeading to Trowbarrow Local Nature Reserve, everywhere there is evidence of active woodland management. Trowbarrow is an imposing former limestone quarry, rich in plants and butterflies and from here it's just a short walk through the woods to Leighton Moss. From the track that runs along the edge of Leighton Moss I sit and scan the reedbeds. Almost at once a female marsh harrier lifts and begins sailing through the air just ten feet off the ground. From where it lands, a superb male rises and effortlessly drifts over the swaying reeds. It is mobbed by black-headed gulls and lapwings but shrugs them off and glides away magnificently, the perfect creature of the marshes.

Sitting in the sun, about to have tea and cake at the RSPB's cafe, I'm reminded that by train I'm less than five hours from London and less than two hours from Manchester. Silverdale station is literally just round the corner and in five minutes I'm back in Carnforth.

This is the best stretch of coastline anywhere between Dumfries & Galloway and Anglesey. It's also one of the most accessible by train, and it's on a wonderfully human scale.

>> Greentraveller's Guide to Arnside and Silverdale AONB


Blogs posts categorised as 'Reviews' have been written with the support of one or more of the following: accommodation owner, activity provider, operator, equipment supplier, tourist board, protected landscape authority or other destination-focussed authority. The reviewer retains full editorial control of the work, which has been written in the reviewer's own words based on their experience of the accommodation, activity, equipment or destination.

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