Sheltering by heavy gorse from a brisk onshore wind, the bowed figure was silhouetted against the pale wintry sky on my walk around Grune Point. There is a place along the curving shingle of the Point where, at low tide, the Irish Sea ends and all that remains is sand. This is where I caught up with my mystery co-walker. A beachcomber, moving slowly, head down, hands in pockets, scuffing over anything of interest along the high tide line.
He told me he had found Roman and Medieval coins, amongst the arc of curving shingle. It is a well-known destination for metal detectorists. A home-made sign on a nearby farmers gate warned off any metal detectors that the field beyond was private land.
Extreme tides mean tidal barrages and the Solway is no stranger to talk of harnessing the tidal power of the estuary but the Solway is already harnessed to the green grid. Look south from Grune Point and the watery horizon is dotted with a forest of wind turbines. The sixty Vestas V90 windmills take advantage of the Robin Rigg sandbank that stretches across the Firth. Built for E.on in 2010 at a cost of £390 m, Robin Rigg is Scotland’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm.
Here, the inner Solway Firth is home to one of the highest tidal reaches in the United Kingdom. A neap spring tide rises and falls as much as 8 m along the Solway. The National Tidal & Sea Level Facility is the UK’s center of excellence for sea level monitoring. Their records show the highest mean spring tidal range in the UK occurs at Avonmouth 12.3 m. The highest in the world happens in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia at 11.68m.
Crossing the Solway
Between the bulk of Criffel and the latticework of the Cardurnock transmitters, now obliterated by the tides of time, lay three of the great Wath’s that crossed the sands of the Solway allowing the troops of William Wallace and Edward I to circumvent mainland
Sol is common to Anglo-Saxon and Norse tongues. It means mud. The Anglo-Saxon woeth or Norse vad (or vath) … is ford. The Sulewad or Sulwath is as it was then, a way of mud. From east to west, the Sandwath crossed a broad stretch of the Firth from Drumburgh to Dornock. The Sulwath crossed the mouth of the River Esk, and the Peatwath crossed the River Eden near Rockcliffe.
The Cumbrian Coastal Path
In 2017, The Lake District National Park attracted 19.17 million visitors. A World Heritage Site since 2017, its mountains & lakes act as a beacon to tourists from all over the world. Also in 2017, Cumbria’s second World Heritage Site, Hadrian’s Wall, celebrated its 30th anniversary on achieving UNESCO status. The Roman Wall’s most celebrated attraction, Housesteads Fort, welcomed 108,660 visitors that year. As tourism flourishes in the central and northern reaches of Cumbria, fewer visitors travel west, drawn to the beaches of the Cumbrian coastline.
The seaward curve of Grune Point leads the eye across the expanse of Moricambe Bay. Here the Rivers Waver and Wampool drain the South Solway Mosses Nature Reserve into the Firth. The Reserve, now a Natural England Special Conservation Area, is a riot of rare plants and insects. The milling of its peat for bedding plant compost ended in 2005.
At this point, the one way-marked Trail, The Cumbria Coastal Path, turns sharply inland to circumvent Moricambe Bay. One of the many schemes that try to draw tourism towards west Cumbria, The Cumbrian Coastal Path opened in the early 1990s. It connected 309 Km (192.5 miles) of footpaths and permissive paths from Silverdale in Lancashire to Metal Bridge between Carlisle and Gretna. The route has since lost its way a little. Cumbria County Council stopped recognizing the route and as such, The Ordnance Survey no longer mark it on their maps. According to the County Council: “The Cumbria Coastal Way [has] many permissive links, a large amount of which have now run out so it [was] requested to be removed as sections are un-walkable.”
What will save the Cumbrian coastline from the terminal decline of its permissive paths is the opening of the England Coast Path in 2020. This ambitious project, 4,500 Km (2,795 miles) long received Parliamentary approval in 2013 under the Maritime and Coastal Access Act 2009. The North West section will stretch from Birkenhead to the Scottish borders at Gretna. Stage 4 of this section will run from Allonby to Gretna and is still at the determining consultation phase. New footpaths will be laid and access will be opened up along a ‘Coastal Margin’ yet to be determined.