With its serene beauty, diverse wildlife and hiking options aplenty just a stone’s throw from the Lakes, unspoilt Arnside offers visitors to Cumbria a magical experience, says Lyn Hughes
“Oh, you’re off to the Lake District then?” I was constantly asked when I told people I was off to Cumbria for my first post-lockdown minibreak. Well no, not exactly. I was actually revisiting a special place with a quiet beauty. Where the sky is huge and the sunsets are some of the best you’ll ever see. Where curlews cry and oystercatchers wade the mudflats and shimmering sands.
Down in the south-west corner of Cumbria, Arnside sits on the Kent Estuary where the Kent River flows into Morecambe Bay. The village was a popular resort in Victorian times, but today it is largely bypassed by the tourists heading for the Lakes. However, the promise of a good sunset will draw those in the know to its promenade to gawp at the vivid sky.
The village has a handful of shops and galleries and a couple of pubs, but its visitors come for nature and the land, sky and seascapes. The area around the village has a range of flora and fauna. It forms the Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is a rich mosaic of limestone outcrops, former quarries, sheep pasture, stone walls, wetland and ancient woodland.
But you never have to go very far to reach the rocky shoreline and vast expanses of Morecambe Bay. The sands can be treacherous, with fast-moving tides and quicksand responsible for many tragedies over the years. A siren sounds at Arnside as the tide comes in, and a tidal bore is created at particularly high tides. This is mother nature at her rawest and demanding respect.
The weather wasn’t kind on my recent visit, with periods of horizontal rain punctuating the almost constant drizzle and moody light. The coastal views were dressed in sepia and there were no spectacular sunsets. But it didn’t matter; it still had a magic of its own.
“What is there not to love about living and playing in such a stunning location? I love pottering along the beach with my dog, back through Grubbins Wood and Ashmeadow, then sitting on the terrace at the end of the day watching the wading birds and enjoying our phenomenal sunsets.”
- Lesley Hornsby, Number 43 B&B
Take a hike to the sprawling village of Silverdale. There are a number of ways you can walk there through a combination of following the coast and various inland paths. If feeling energetic go over Arnside Knott, a 159m hill with breathtaking views across Morecambe Bay. Once in Silverdale head to Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve for the largest reedbed in the north-west, and home to otters, bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers. One hide is named after Eric Morecambe who was a keen birdwatcher. For a tasty home-made lunch or coffee and cake head to Wolf House Café, and then peruse the quirky gallery next door. If your legs are tired, take the train back to Arnside (one stop), else there are more walks to try around Silverdale.
Back in Arnside, pop into the Pier Lane Gallery, run by a group of local artists – a treasure trove of paintings, photographs, ceramics and more.
Watch sunset from the terrace of the Albion and have a pub meal there, or join the queue for Arnside’s popular fish and chip shop and eat them as you stroll along the promenade.
You could take the train across the viaduct to Grange-over-Sands (one stop) and then either walk to the lovely medieval village of Cartmel – it takes about an hour – or take a taxi (ten minutes). While its claim to fame was its horse races, started by monks from Cartmel Priory in the 12th century, today it is even better known for its food, including Michelin-starred restaurant L’Enclume. Have lunch at its more casual sister eatery, Rogan & Co, or the Pig & Whistle pub, before shopping for Cartmel sticky toffee puddings as gifts.
Alternatively, there are several grand houses within easy distance of Arnside including Levens Hall and Abbot Hall. But our pick is Leighton Hall historic house and estate – a lived-in and much-loved family home with extensive parkland to explore too.
For something more active there are more walks to be had, or go paddleboarding in the estuary. Have dinner at the Kingfisher in Sandside. Overlooking the Kent River, it is known for its daily fish specials.
Getting there: Arnside is a 15-minute drive west of Junction 35 off the M6, around four hours from London and three hours from Edinburgh. Trains serve Arnside station direct from Manchester Airport (around one hour 15 minutes) and from London Euston via Lancaster (around three hours). Car hire is available from nearby Grange-over-Sands.
Stay at: Number 43 is an award-winning five-star bed and breakfast on Arnside’s promenade with a warm welcome and superb breakfast. Suites 2 and 7 have magnificent views over the estuary, but even if you don’t nab one of those you can enjoy the panorama from the terrace or sitting room.
A butterfly hotspot, 36 different species have been recorded here, with July usually the top month to see them. Birds can be seen year-round, although species can vary with the seasons, and include marsh harriers and bitterns at Leighton Moss, ospreys, egrets and various waders.
The vast expanse of the estuary is tempting to walk over but extremely dangerous unless you know it well. The Guide Over Sands Trust organises several walks each year on dates when the tides are favourable. The usual route is Arnside to Kents Bank, and many charities use the walks as fundraisers.
Arnside Sailing Club offers half-day introductions to paddleboarding, held at low tide when the water is shallow enough to stand up in (and they know where is safe). Lessons in windsurfing are also available as well as sailing courses and taster days.
Arnside is within 40km of Lake Windermere and many of the attractions of the southern Lakes. You’re also within striking distance of activities such as Walking with Wolves and the Lake District Sheepdog Experience.
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