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Furness: The most hidden of Cumbria’s gems?

Walney Sunset


When somebody says they’re taking their next holiday in Cumbria, the inevitable response is invariably along the lines of “the Lake District?”. Until recently, that may well have been the answer more-often than not, but over the last two years, a shift in trends has become increasingly evident as more people choose to explore areas of Cumbria outside the national park boundary.

The historic city of Carlisle and parts of Cumbria’s west coast are becoming more and more popular – and indeed, have enjoyed faster growth in visitor numbers than any other part of the county over the last three years.

Now, next on our list of lesser-visited parts of Cumbria that deserve investigating is Furness, a peninsula isolated by the sea on three sides with a single main road linking it to the rest of England – the good old A590.

So why is it worth a visit, when the beauty of the lakes is just a matter of miles away? Well, there’s more to see than many people realise – as you’re about to find out in this taster-blog. Be warned though – to cram everything in during your next visit, you’ll need to set aside at least three days to experience everything we’ve highlighted here. We tried – and failed, to do it all in a day.

So, to get you in the zone and for the purposes of educating you about what you’re missing, let’s say you’ve just entered Ulverston’s outskirts and turned left off the A590 before hitting the town centre (more on Ulverston’s delights later) and are now heading towards Bardsea on the A5087, which will lead you to the coast.

Coast Road


The Coast Road: The A5087 hugs the south-east coast of the Furness peninsula just five minutes after leaving the A590, thus avoiding the more well-used route down the peninsula towards Barrow. Instead, this route gives the driver a rarely interrupted view of Morecambe Bay, from the moment Bardsea beach comes into view on the left-hand side.

With plenty of places to pull over to enjoy an icecream, the views across the bay and pebble-covered beach, visitors can also head up to the top of Birkrigg Common for a rewarding view of the Lake District to the north and Morecambe Bay to the south. The best way to get up to this extensive open space is by turning right when you get to Sea Wood, just past Bardsea's coastline at the end of the beach. From rocky outcrops to endless bracken and even a stone circle, it’s a family favourite and ideal for giving your dog a good stretch of the legs. 

Piel Castle 1


Roa Island: Returning to The Coast Road and continuing towards Barrow, visitors can enjoy more stunning coastal views while passing by villages including Baycliff, before reaching Roa Island at Rampside. Here, at the end of a causeway you can find Barrow’s RNLI lifeboat crew station. There’s also an opportunity to enjoy a boat ride of another kind – as from here, a car-free experience awaits explorers…

Piel Island & Castle: Thanks to a free car park next to the Roa Island Boat Club, visitors can ditch the car and catch a small ferry across to Piel Island for £5 adults, £3 children (at the time of this blog going live), which enjoys complete isolation from road vehicles.

Once on the island, The Ship Inn offers the chance for a refreshing pint and a friendly chat with the landlord (The King of Piel), before heading towards to Piel Castle for a little exploration. Built in the 14th century the castle's main purpose was to protect against Scottish raids and is now looked-after by English Heritage. It’s open to explore and even offers little hideaways, perfect for picnics and for youngsters to imagine being a real-life knight.

Piel Castle 2


Visitors can also walk the entire circumference of this 50-acre island, while scouting for shells and check out other reminders of the watery world which surrounds it. Between April and September, the small ferry runs both ways every day between 11am and 4.30pm, weather permitting.


If you miss the last boat back to the mainland, the tide is in and you happen to have a tent in your back pocket, you can pitch-up for the night by slipping the pub landlord a fiver. Dogs are welcome but must always be kept on a lead.

Walney Island & Nature Reserve: So, as you’ve seen Roa Island and Piel Island, make it a hattrick and pay a visit to Walney Island too. It’s not only the home of around 10,000 people, but also to an abundance of wildlife thanks to its two nature reserves, with plenty to satisfy birdwatchers – particularly on the south reserve.

Walney Island


Much bigger than the other two islands, Walney is 11 miles long with a sandy beach at Earnsie Bay – so, it’s a day out in itself for those with a good pair of walking boots and a bag full of snacks. It even has a lighthouse and an airfield, for those of you with private jets...



Barrow town: The Capital of the Furness peninsula, the historic town of Barrow is best known for its shipbuilding heritage.

The crown jewel for visitors is the Dock Museum, helping visitors to delve deeper in its seafaring history. Why not stop off for a hearty meal at The Custom House pub, before catching a show at The Forum opposite the impressive Town Hall building? Plus, it’s a good chance to support town centre businesses by indulging in a bit of shopping.

The summer of 2019 will also see the Barrow Super Soapbox Challenge take place in the town centre, where inventors of wacky free-wheeling vehicles will speed down a ramp, led by none other than a certain Eddie the Eagle, who will be the first soapboxer to take on the track.



Furness Abbey: Just a ten-minute drive from the town centre is Furness Abbey – where impressive remains are still standing, as a reminder of the events of 1537 under King Henry VIII’s reign. Hidden down Manor Road, accessible from Rating Lane, just off the A590 (Abbey Road), the abbey is completely hidden from view from all nearby routes.

Convenient parking is right next to the abbey, along with a large Amphitheatre type hillside, making it ideal for a picnic on a sunny day. Beyond the Abbey also lies the Abbotts Wood Nature Trail.

Furness Abbey Barrow


Roanhead & Sandscale Haws: From Furness Abbey, head to the north-western peninsula coast to find Roanhead beach & and sand dunes, alongside the Sandscale Haws Nature Reserve. A small car park maintained by the National Trust provides you with the perfect place to park to enjoy both sites. A sun-trap on a bright day, the whole family will love exploring the natural world and playing hide and seek among the dunes.

Sandscale Haws


South Lakes Safari Zoo: Call in at the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton, where you can hand-feed animals including Giraffes, Lemurs and Penguins. The zoo has recently undergone a major transformation, with its impressive entrance making an impression from the second you step inside. Rhinos, Tigers, Lions and Wolves are also residents; and coffee and souvenirs are the order of the day, so don’t forget your wallets and purses!



Ulverston: Back in Ulverston following your Furness adventure, it’s a great opportunity to explore this pretty market town and learn more about its association with Stan Laurel, of Laurel & Hardy fame. You can read more about the town’s association with Stan in “another fine” blog, right here.



Canal & Coastal Walk: Ulverston is also the home of England’s deepest, widest and shortest canal. Linking the edge of the town centre with the northern Morecambe Bay coastline, the now disused stretch is the perfect place to enjoy a peaceful stroll, culminating in stunning views across the Ulverston Channel and picturesque railway viaduct linking the town with Cark & Cartmel.

Coastal Walk


Hoad Hill & the Sir John Barrow monument: Enjoy stunning views of both the Morecambe Bay coastline and the town of Ulverston itself, by taking a walk up Hoad Hill. Easily accessible from the town centre or Ford Park at the foot of the hill, looming large above the town is the Sir John Barrow monument – referred to by many locally as ‘Hoad Monument’.



Built in memory of Sir John Barrow – who served in the Admiralty, in 1850 and fully restored in 2011, its design is based on the Eddystone Lighthouse in Devon, close to the border with Cornwall. On selected days of the week, visitors can also climb to the top.

The staircase is narrow, tight and twisty and spirals up the inner walls of the structure. Make sure you’ve got a head for heights and use the passing-place provided!

Need more information? Find further inspiration about Ulverston here and Barrow here.


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