As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Arnside & Silverdale, Jo Keeling picks out a selection of natural areas, gardens, animal centres and other family fun experiences in this glorious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in northwest England.
Calm Victorian grandeur, Quaker history, leafy lanes and stop-you-in-your-tracks beauty, each of the region’s villages has something rather special to offer curious visitors. Take your time to explore their hidden corners (and stop in for tea and cake at the many fine cafes along the way).
Walk further afield and you’ll soon realise there’s something rather unique about this at first unassuming region. That little extra something all comes down to the limestone, which underpins a host of habitats and shapes the character of the whole region. At Warton Crag and Trowbarrow it’s sheer and formidable, home to circling ravens, jackdaws and peregrine falcons. On Arnside Knott it breaks through the moor-grass in ragged peaks while, perhaps most charmingly, at Gait Barrows and Fairy Steps, it hides within woodland and creates an almost otherworldly atmosphere. Spend some time getting to know the geology and you’ll come to understand what sets the AONB apart – and why you’ll find so many rare species within such a small area.
This Victorian seaside resort at the far northern edge of the AONB has a quiet, unhurried charm. Well served by the train line, it’s a great base from which to explore the area. It’s also a place to idle and enjoy simple pleasures: to eat fish and chips on the pier, amble along the promenade at sunset, watch herons gingerly stepping in the shallows and listen to the sand fizzing as the tide draws out. Keep an eye out for clusters of people on the prom, binoculars in hand, because this means something exciting is about to happen: the tidal bore is approaching or a steam train is due to cross the bridge. The promenade at Arnside is a great spot to watch the tidal bore, which occurs when the huge tidal range in Morecambe Bay is forced through the narrow Kent Estuary. When it full spate, it’s a formidable sight. On a spring tide it can be anything up to a metre in height, travelling faster than you can run and covering the sand up to 3.5m in a matter of minutes. In summer, a siren gives warning of the incoming tide, sounding once 15-20 minutes before the tide is due and again when the bore reaches Blackstone Point. When walking on coastal footpath it pays to be aware of tide times and take heed of the notices to never stray onto the sands. There’s more than a tidal bore to worry about out there! arnside-online.co.uk/walks.htm
Beetham & Fairy Steps
Beetham is one of those pretty-as-a-postcard villages that will stop you in your tracks. Step inside St Michael’s Church to marvel at their remarkable wooden ceiling and stained glass windows depicting ‘Charles the Martyr’ (I wonder which side they were on). Pop in for afternoon tea at the Old Post Office Tea Room or for a pint at the unbearably attractive Wheatsheaf Inn, which has been welcoming guests since 1609 - first as a farmhouse providing meals to local farm labourers and later as a coaching stop for folk travelling from Lancaster to Carlisle. Once you’ve had your fill, the walk to Fairy Steps is unmissable (allow 1 hour). The steps refer to a narrow cleft in a limestone cliff - and legend has it that if you can walk through the passage without touching the sides then you will be granted a wish by the fairies.
Silverdale is a rather spread out village, but it’s a delight to explore it’s leafy lanes by foot or by bike (although prepare your thighs for a couple of hills if you’re on two wheels). It’s worth taking your time to seek out the hidden corners - cut a path through acres of wild garlic at Bottoms Wood, follow an undulating lane down to Jenny Brown’s Point, seek out green winged orchids at The Lots (wild flower rich grassland in the middle of the village, leading down to a cove with views over Morecambe Bay) and take a book to sit on the Giant’s Seat at Jack Scout. This is one of only two cliffs in the area, so listen out for song-birds and watch for migrant birds taking a pit stop.
The Yealands (pronounced yell-ands) are a string of historic villages on the eastern side of Arnside and Silverdale AONB, including Redmayne, Conyers and Storrs. The area is associated with the Quaker movement. It’s here that leader George Fox preached secret meetings in the 17th century and established the Friends Meeting House in 1692. There’s plenty to explore in “1652 country,” both here and further afield, such as the Brigflatts, Firbank Fell and Quaker Tapestry in Kendal. The area is peppered with ruined lime kilns – a reminder of the trade that once fuelled the area. Nearby you’ll find Leighton Hall, home to the furniture making Gillow family. You can join informal guided tours of the hall 2-5pm, Tues-Fri, May-Sept, followed by a falconry display and afternoon tea in the tea rooms.
An historic village, nestling at the southern edge of the AONB just above Carnforth, which has strong connections with the Washington family and first president of the USA, George Washington. His ancestor, Lawrence Washington, was said to have built St Oswald’s Church. The church is well worth a visit – its exact origins are unknown, but it’s thought to date back to before the Norman Conquest in 1066 – you can explore the oldest still-standing part of the building at the Old Rectory. The village makes a great base from which to explore the southern Warton Crag and for longer walks over to Leighton Moss. At 163m, Warton Crag is the highest point in the AONB with far reaching views over the intertidal expanse of Morecambe Bay. The landscape consists of limestone cliffs, scars and outcrops and many birds make the crag their home: peregrine falcons nest on the quarried crag face, while kestrels hover in search of small prey. In the woodlands, you can hear green warblers, willow warblers, blackcaps, bullfinch and marsh tit. Between spring and autumn, wildflowers add colour to the grassland and woodland floor. The reserve is an important breeding group for moths and butterflies. Seek out the sunny corners for a chance of seeing the nationally threatened high brown fritillary.
For ideas on nearby places to stay, local food and drink and outdoor adventure activities: Green Traveller's Guide to Arnside & Silverdale