A Day Out in Furness?
From the southern Lake District or from the Kendal area, the Furness peninsula makes for a different kind of day out.
Away from the fells and lakes there is the second largest ruined abbey in the country, a fascinating Elizabethan historic house with a tale to tell about the Quakers, and Ulverston – a quirky town to browse around. Then there is Walney Island’s nature reserve and Barrow’s Dock Museum.
A day or two days?
1. Furness Abbey
Set in a valley close to Ulverston and Dalton-in-Furness, the abbey was at one time the second most important of medieval abbeys in England. Their lands, properties and churches spread well beyond Lakeland into Scotland, the Midlands, Yorkshire, the Isle of Man and even Ireland.
As a result, Furness Abbey, tucked away in southern Cumbria, was enormous. Although a ruin since Henry VIII’s time, you can still envisage the scale of the place.
Recent archaeological digs have also shown the abbey’s wealth and influence. An abbot’s skeleton has been discovered buried with his gold crozier (the head of his staff) and his large ring. Fascinatingly, his arms are spread wide from his chest, suggesting a rather large stomach!
2. Swarthmoor Hall
Swarthmoor Hall is a surprise. It is an Elizabethan house which played a huge role in the early days of the Quakers at the time of the English Civil War.
A century ago it was virtually a ruin, but it has been brought back to life with 17th century furnishings.
Listen to the audio tour – it is quite fascinating about the role that the hall had in the foundation of the Quakers.
There is also a café and a small but gorgeous garden.
Swarthmoor Hall can be a little hard to find. It is just outside Ulverston, but not well signposted. LA12 0JQ is the postcode for Satnav.
The hall is quite unlike most of the other historic houses surrounding the Lake District, and is well worth a visit.
3. Walney Island nature reserve
Walney Island is an interesting place. You drive past Barrow-in-Furness to get there, and on the island the first part is very much a feeder to the giant dock buildings of Barrow. Inside, presumably, are part-built submarines.
But turn left and you are soon on a single-track road for five miles heading towards the nature reserve at the south end of the island, with views across to Piel Island (with its castle and pub).
The island here is quite unlike the fells of the Lake District you can see across the estuary and beyond Barrow. It is flat, with sand dunes and mud flats, so look out for wading birds such as greenshanks and redshanks. At the Nature Reserve itself, there is a large colony of seals.
Click below for the Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Seal-Cam!
The reserve is run by Cumbria Wildlife Trust, with opening times shown on their South Walney Nature Reserve web page.
4. Barrow-in-Furness Dock Museum
This is somewhere else very different from the Lake District, and ideal if you are in South Lakeland, maybe with family, and the weather is doing what it sometimes does in the Lake District.
There are galleries and exhibitions covering the area’s archaeology and geology, Viking times and social history, bringing Barrow’s story up to the industrial era, with the town’s great steelworks and ship-building.
There is also a playground, picnic benches and café.
Pretty good for a rainy day with kids.
Check out the opening times at the Barrow Dock Museum’s website.
The museum also runs special exhibitions.
More details at their What’s On web page.
Not quite part of the Lake District National Park, Ulverston has its own atmosphere: a market town with a good sprinkling of quirky shops. Oh and the occasional cheery Buddhist monk doing his or her shopping (there is a Buddhist monastery nearyby!).
A traditional indoors market sells almost anything you could want, and there are the more usual shops and services you will find in towns of Ulverston’s size.
The cafés and pubs are welcoming, including Gillam’s Tea Room featured in The Times list of “UK’s top ten tearooms”!
So, one day out in Furness, or two?