Places To Go...barrow In Furness

Issue 100

Northern Railway had a special offer in February, if you collected two tokens from a range of local newspapers. If you then downloaded a form from their website and attached the newspaper tokens, you could have a Northern one day dayrover for £10 or a two day (Saturday and Sunday dayrover) for £17.

So, where to go? South is difficult because there is no Northern service between Darlington and York. I decided to go west, through the Lake District, to the end of what is termed the longest cul-desac in England and visit Barrow in Furness, and beyond that, the wild landscape of Walney Island.

I set off on Saturday morning and discovered that the Cumbrian coast line was closed between Carlisle and Workington owing to a bridge which needed emergency repairs. Accordingly my supposedly Northern only day Rover was valid on the faster and more direct Avanti route via Lancaster. There, I picked up the Northern service via Ulverston to Barrow, arriving on time at 1504. My principle objective was to visit the Dock Museum run by the local council. However since this closed at 1600 I thought it better to check into my hotel, the well-appointed Duke of Edinburgh Hotel and leave the museum for tomorrow. I don’t know of any other DofE hotels in the UK, but this one is trying to upgrade from 3* to 4* and is also close to the railway station.

Barrow was a small village of 153 people in 1841 but grew rapidly as a result of the ambitions of the Furness Railway and its enigmatic General Manager Sir James Ramsden who arrived in Barrow at the age of 24. For thirty years, during which time the population grew to 18,911, the affairs of the town were effectively directed from his office.

Parts of Barrow are run down, but there are towering examples of Victorian architecture too, not least the Town Hall, pictured. There are plenty of fine brick buildings and the town is largely laid out in the American gridiron plan, with a few necessary nods to geography. Towering above are six adjacent covered shipbuilding hangars in which submarines are still built by BAE Systems, formerly Vickers Armstrong. I found out that Barrow’s growth to 70,000 people was so explosive that in the late nineteenth century four identical churches were consecrated on the same day, dedicated to SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only St Mark’s remains, and very welcoming the congregation were too.

The Dock Museum has some amazing model ships, many built in Barrow, and tells the story of shipbuilding which replaced steel making in the 1890s. The whole range of history, archaeology, industrial development etc is told with plenty of activities for children. Free admission, with helpful staff and a nice cafe, it is Barrow’s top attraction. A bus ride on Stagecoach bus 1 got me out to Walney Island and a bracing and, yes, damp walk along the coast from Biggar Bank to West Shore, devoid of any welcoming hostelries and only a bare shelter to wait for the bus 2 back.

Return was by Avanti West Coast again to Carlisle and East to Newcastle. I made a point of finding the subway (with lifts) between the tracks, at Carlisle station. Since buses home are sparse on Sunday night I took a taxi from Gateshead to Pelton, which cost more than the whole return trip from Newcastle to Barrow. Another one off the bucket list!

alexnelson@nationalrail.com, www.nationalrail.com

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