Lake District Walks - Haverigg
PUBLISHED: 15:36 14 February 2011 | UPDATED: 16:42 19 January 2016
Keith Carter enjoys the poetic beauty of the under-explored scenery from Haverigg and the Whicham Valley
The Whicham Valley is an area that tourists don't visit much even though it has fells (Black Combe), coastline (the Duddon Estuary) and picturesque villages (Broughton-in-Furness) to match anywhere you would care to name in Lakeland.
The main town in the area is Millom, not the most beautiful of places but full of character and rich in its industrial heritage. I wonder what Millom would have looked like if iron ore had not been discovered there, turning this corner of West Cumbria into an industrial wilderness.
The poet Norman Nicholson, born in the town in 1914 refers to ‘a conifer copse of chimneys criss-crossed the West with spikes and laterals and landslides of limestone’, a graphic description of what the onlooker could see when the iron works was in its heyday.
The fortunes of the nearby coastal port of Haverigg have also waned from the days when shipping tied up here to take on cargoes of iron for the factories and shipyards of the world. The mine workings were always in danger of encroachment by the sea and a barrier was built, later reinforced by an outer barrier to do the office of Canute in keeping back the tides.
Within the sea wall, the old workings collapsed and were gradually flooded to form Hodbarrow Lake, now an RSPB Nature Reserve, where over 270 plant species have been recorded.
Our walk starts at Haverigg and follows an anticlockwise route round the lake, passing the red and white Hodbarrow Lighthouse, built in 1904, its paraffin-fuelled light maintained until 1949 when it finally went out. The ironworks continued in operation until 1969 when it too closed, throwing over 500 men out of work and bringing blight to the town of Millom, a blight from which many would say it has never recovered.
As Norman Nicholson wrote
....They cut up the carcase of the old ironworks
Like a fat beast in a slaughterhouse: they shovelled my childhood
On to a rubbish heap.
Haverigg has a quirky appeal; for lovers of windswept beaches and mudflats and the lonely cry of the curlew, this landscape of ‘the grey, unphotographed waste acres of West Cumberland’ is a paradise, watched over by the looming, watchful presence of Black Combe.
We begin this walk at the car park by the shore in Haverigg village. There’s a little café here open most days although when we went in for a coffee we were told they were closed.When asked when they were open, we were surprised to be told seven days a week, just not today.
Cross the bridge over the inlet and follow the rough, tarmac lane that leads to the caravan park known rather grandly as Port Haverigg Holiday Village, keeping right at the sign to the Ski Bar and Club. The lake has hosted international water sports events but all I saw on my visit was some remote controlled aircraft enthusiasts, one of whom brought in a seaplane to land on the surface of the lake.
The path progresses along the broad track of the outer barrier, the limpid waters of the Duddon Estuary to the right. The ground is scattered with a kind of lava, the spoil from the iron-making process, with occasional rusty red chunks of haematite, the ore from which iron is smelted. See how heavy it is when you weigh a piece in your hand.
We soon come up to the 30ft cylindrical tower of Hodbarrow Lighthouse where an information board tells when, how and why it was built, a fascinating story.
Where the barrier curves to a point there is a sandy cove, good for beachcombing and we keep left on a broad track. Up on the point is the old stone windmill, once used as an office in the early days of the ironworks in the way successive generations find new uses for what they find in their way.
The view from here through 180 degrees is superb with clusters of wind turbines on hillsides laid out like a child’s model of the surrounding country with little white Xs for the wind farms.
Stay on the main path and at a sign describing the nature reserve, keep left through an area of willow, alder and gorse until we join a lane leading to the council tip.
The lake reappears, having been hidden from us by the trees and we keep beside it, the path allowing us to stay off the lane along which local householders drive quite fast on their way to dump their unwanted sofas on the municipal waste site.
At the next road junction, a footpath sign points to Steel Green and we take this direction, passing the prominent Commodore Pub. The lane turns right, passing some cottage conversions which a nameplate tells us was the Old Gin Mill where we turn down left to enter the caravan site.
Take the next right and walk along the tarmac access lane beside the caravans which leads us back to the gate of the Holiday Village and thence back to Haverigg.
And Black Combe’s rams-head, butting at the bright
Turfed and brackeny brine,
Gathers its own wool, plucks shadow out of shine.
Area of walk: Haverigg, West Cumbria
Distance: 4 ½ miles
Time to allow: 2-2 ½ hours
Map: OS Explorer OL6 The English Lakes South west area
Refreshments: Café and toilets at Haverigg Car Park
Book: Sea to the West by Norman Nicholson, first published 1981 by Faber and Faber