Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:31 am
This walk round Silverdale began as a bimble, but in the interest of alliteration became a saunter. Silverdale, for those not in the know, is a small, almost modest, parish nestling close to the Kent estuary on Morecambe Bay in the northern English county of Lancashire. As you would expect, it possesses a little natural loveliness (there’d be no point walking there otherwise), and some intriguing history too. Indeed, Silverdale is proudly placed in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, aside for the fact that the late, great, Victoria Wood used to live there, is probably best-known for the Silverdale Hoard. Doubtless, I will be told firmly that Silverdale is known for Other Things as well; and, while we’re about it, I’m sure more people than Victoria Wood have lived there too. Actually, it was a favourite holiday destination for the celebrated Mrs Gaskell, but we’ll get to her later.
The Silverdale Hoard is a collection of around 200, mostly silver, objects discovered by a metal detectorist in a nearby field in 2011. The items were inside a lead pouch, or casket, buried at a depth of about 16” (400mm) and have been dated to the early 10th century. The hoard includes arm and finger rings – the kind of trinkets prized and worn by warriors – as well as coins, fine silver braid, jewellery, small ingots and pieces of hacksilver – from which slices were cut and used for payment, in lieu of coins. The coins include Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Frankish and Arabic loose change, indicating the extent of trade at the time. Some of the pieces are fairly crude, others are exquisite. The experts have identified the treasure as Viking – though I don’t know whether this means Danish or Norse, because ‘Viking’ is a loose term applied to both. Clearly, the interment was intended to be temporary; someone meant to come back for his (or her) treasure and never did. More than a thousand years ago, there must have been some kind of landmark nearby, like a tree or a building, used by the keeper to locate the booty. Was it a warrior’s plunder, left for safekeeping while he went off to do battle? Did it belong to a local, who spotted dragon-prowed longships in the bay and hid the family belongings as a precaution? Had someone stolen it from someone else? Was it part of a gift or dowry? Perhaps some chap was moving hut and, not wishing to trust everything to dodgy white wagon man, buried his valuables to be retrieved later. He then went to the Old Berserker’s Head in Lancaster for a few horns of ale, got beaten up by some sassy Saxons, sold into slavery and didn’t make it home.
Given the material of the Silverdale Hoard, it is faintly disappointing to discover that ‘Silverdale’ apparently means ‘silver coloured valley’, from the shade of the local grey limestone. That in itself is misleading, because in some lights the limestone has a distinctly golden hue to it. So it was when we ambled north out of the village across an area of humpy grassland called ‘the Lots’ (no, I don’t) to Silverdale Cove which, when viewed from the path above, positively glowed in the sunshine. This was an initial linear diversion from a planned circular walk starting at the centre of Silverdale, the purpose of which was to see the sea-formed cave, an easily accessed and therefore popular local attraction. As a matter of fact, the cave is so popular that countless feet have worn the limestone below the cave entrance to a slippery marble finish quite beyond the ability of my old boots to get a grip on. Fortunately, the memsahib had remembered her suction-pad attachments and was able to scramble up and in like an SAS Trooper, snap the view that everyone takes from the cave mouth south to Know End Point, and hop out again. Quick as a flash. In the middle distance, across the cove, are the remains of Red Rake Iron Mine, where haematite (iron ore) and copper ore were once mined.
Heading south from Silverdale village, past comfortable, well-tended villas, is effortless and pleasant. Our destination, Jenny Brown’s Point, was signposted. No one knows who Jenny Brown was, though a mother and daughter, both called Jenny Brown, lived at a local farm, Dykehouse, in the 1660s. In more tabloid vein, a bereft Jenny stood hopelessly scanning the distant horizon for the return of her lover, or was a nanny, cut off and drowned by the rapidly incoming tide whilst attempting to rescue the two children in her care.
But before Jenny Brown, you reach Wolf House. Wolf House is a picturesque 17th century farmstead once called Lindeth Lodge. Lindeth was possibly an ancient settlement, but the house has long been known as ‘The Wolf House’ – probably because beneath a coat of arms over the front door is the Latin inscription homo homini lupus (‘man is wolf to man’). The coat of arms is that of the Fleetwoods and incorporates a wolf’s head. Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh was the 19th century founder of the port town of Fleetwood. Another, less probable, local theory is that in view some 4 miles distant across the Kent estuary is Humphrey Head, one of several places alleged to be where the last native wolf in England was slain in the 14th century. These days, Wolf House is a flourishing art gallery and holiday business.
Opposite Wolf House is the fantastically named Gibraltar farm and, beyond that, emerging from the trees like something from a fairy-tale, and behind a protective high wall, is the intriguing Lindeth Tower. The reality is somewhat dreary; Lindeth Tower was built as a summer house by the Fleetwoods in or around 1842. It is now a luxury holiday home and is claimed to have been used as a writing retreat by Elizabeth Gaskell (see, we got to her eventually). Mrs Gaskell frequently holidayed in Silverdale with her family, sometimes staying at Gibraltar Farm, sometimes at Lindeth Lodge. The first occasion was in July 1843. In 1852, she wrote, “You don’t know how beautiful Silverdale is, and a tower of our own, think of that!” In 1858, “Lindeth Tower sounds very grand but it is a queer ugly square tower in our garden – the latter is full of weeds.” Elizabeth Gaskell visited so often that Silverdale village hall is named after her.
The next stop on our Silverdale stroll is Jack Scout, a prominent lump of limestone famous for its views over Morecambe Bay to Heysham, north to the Lake District fells – and for its wildlife. Birds wheel overhead, butterflies flutter haphazardly in the warm air across scrub and grassland, settling briefly on flowers, yellow, purple and blue, before taking off again on their restless missions. There’s a partially restored 18th century lime kiln, whose product was used to ‘sweeten’ the soil. One of Jack Scout’s best features, however, is the Giant’s Seat, an enormous limestone bench. I’d like to suggest this was fashioned in days of yore by a mighty giant called Jacques who, after a splendid day eating people (or maybe snozzcumbers), would relax there and watch the sun go down. Sadly, I have found no tale remotely like that. But I can tell you that every would-be picnicker makes a beeline for the Giant’s Seat; so the trick is to get there first and try not to look too smug when they walk by, crestfallen and muttering darkly. The name Jack Scout is actually thought to come from old English or Norse meaning a high point with oak trees on it. From it, you can (carefully) scrabble down the low cliffs to the seashore and, at low tide, venture out into the bay. However, for the benefit of anyone that does not already know, extreme caution is necessary; the sands and tides of Morecambe Bay can be deadly. We remember the tragedy of 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowning in 2004, trapped by a sweeping tide. Even close to shore, it is easy to get cut off by rapidly rising water. Of course, people have been walking right over Morecambe Bay for centuries; it used to be an accepted route and is still marked on maps as a byway. Once upon a time, the monks of Cartmel Priory provided a pathfinder service, but since the 16th century until 2012, guides were appointed by the Duchy of Lancaster. These days, official appointment of the Monarch’s Guide to the Sands is made by the Guide Over Sands Trust. I would be disappointed to learn that the story of Barnum and Bailey’s circus making the crossing, complete with elephants, is an urban myth, wouldn’t you? But I do know that HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, rode a horse and carriage across Morecambe Bay from Silverdale to Kents Bank at Grange-over-Sands in 1985.
This is an appropriate moment to mention the tidal bore. This is not, as you might imagine, some anorak endlessly reciting high and low water times in a monotonous, nasal, voice, but a wave caused by the surge of the fast incoming tide. The spectacle can be seen from Jack Scout and Jenny Brown’s Point as well as at Arnside, up the coast and round the corner a bit.
Jenny Brown’s Point is an interesting viewpoint, projecting out into the Bay, the last piece of firm ground before Warton Marsh to the south. Extending like a finger out to sea is the remains of Walduck’s Wall. Herbert J Walduck was a Manchester metal broker who had a grandiose proposal to claim land from the sea , thereby making a tidy profit, by constructing a series of walls. He was forced to trim back his plans in the face of local opposition, but in 1877 began building a wall from Jenny Brown’s Point. However, the sea proved hard to control, even with the help of a small railway to speed construction along. A fatal accident buried the site manager, Captain Mutter, under tons of limestone. The scheme was not going to succeed, money ran out and work was finally abandoned in 1879. Shifting sands often cover this memorial to Walduck, who died in 1892 and was buried in Silverdale churchyard just three plots along from Captain Mutter.
More dramatic is the tragic tale of the Matchless, a fishing boat converted for pleasure taking Victorian millworkers on a daytrip from Morecambe to Grange. It was a sunny, calm, October day in 1894. Matchless skipper and sole crew member Samuel Houghton had sailed as far as Jenny Brown’s Point and was waiting about 100 feet off Walduck’s Wall for the turn of the tide to cross the Bay. Aboard he had 33 men, women and children, working class folk on precious holiday, half of them cotton workers from Bolton. Some passengers are happy, singing; others are uneasy. Perhaps the boat is overloaded; perhaps under-manned. Then, an unexpected squall caught the sails. In seconds the boat capsized, trapping people underwater where many became fatally ensnared in sails and ropes. Other pleasure craft came to their aid, but 25 holiday-makers perished. The last body was recovered in January, tangled under the pier at Grange. Houghton was one of the 9 survivors. The swiftly convened and conducted inquest concluded that the Matchless victims had accidentally drowned; but there is a whiff of official whitewash, the suggestion that town and local reputations took precedence over people’s lives.
The shore winds round from Jenny Brown’s Point. Indolent individuals, like me, take the narrow tarmac road rather than risking an unnecessarily energetic route over rocks or sucking sand and mud. Through the trees, the views are lovely, captivating. Timbers poking through the sands apparently mark the remains of a World War Two bombing range. The road peters out at the 18th century Brown’s Cottages, where the absence of path forces walkers onto the shoreline and limestone emerges from a skirt of what looks like neatly-cropped turf. Here there used to be a small quay and there is an old chimney, believed to once form part of an iron and copper roasting works, probably constructed sometime in the 1780s. Roasting made the ore lighter and easier to ship. Nearby is a broken bridge across a little waterway with the encouraging name of Quicksand Pool.
Walking upstream, with marshland to the south, woodland to the north, brings you to a crossroads of paths. A sign points to the delightfully named Quaker’s Stang, an earth and stone embankment with a path across the marsh to Warton Crag. (The adjacent village of Warton has a surprising association with the United States of America.) It is often thought that Quaker’s Stang is named for the many Quakers – members of the Society of Friends – that lived hereabouts. ‘Stang’ could be an archaic word for a land measurement (a pole, rod or perch – 5½ yards), or a word for stone. Then again, a map of 1829 shows Quaker’s Stang as a bridge over Quicksand Pool. Quaker’s stone? Who knows?!
Our route home takes us to the left, though, west up through woodland onto Heald Brow with a little lung-heaving, and back across lush fields to Silverdale village. There; that wasn’t too bad, was it?
Anyone wanting to follow this walk can work it out easily enough, but be sure to check the tides before setting out. As always, the best maps are produced by Ordnance Survey – see below for a link to purchase the right one, which also covers the south-eastern area of the English Lakes.