30 05 2012
You may think that a trip to a small, flat, sandy island doesn’t offer much in the way of adventure, but you’d be wrong. Walney Island is much overlooked and ignored sitting as it does on the far end of the Barrow-in-Furness peninsula. It’s pretty much as flat as a pancake but on a clear day it offers spectacular views down to Blackpool, across to the Isle of Man and, of course, the magnificent fells. Our mission was to visit the southernmost tip, which is owned and managed by those lovely folk at Cumbria Wildlfe Trust.
If you’re a member then it’s free to park and wander around if not then a modest £2 per person is all that’s required. Having parked up and flashed our membership card we were given a couple of information leaflets and a bird scarer. A bird scarer? Surely being many times their size is scary enough? Apparently not for the Herring Gull and certainly not during nesting season. The only things we could have done to make ourselves a more desirable target would have been to try and eat a bag of chips in the open.
Chastened and a little bit concerned we headed for the nearest hide where we hid and had lunch. The hide offered stunning views of Black Combe in the distance whilst a little closer in Eider Ducks were pottering around on the water. Odd calls Eider Ducks; a sort of clucking noise followed by a surprised “oooohh”. Apparently Walney Island is home to the most southerly colony on the west coast and there certainly were plenty of them around.
Right, time to take our life in our hands and make our way down to the southern tip of the island and directly through the Herring Gull’s nesting ground. This is not the time to start having flashbacks to Hitchcock films. Herring Gulls are ground nesters and the nests were scattered across the grass, each one with a female sat tight on the eggs while the male lurked nearby , his beady eyes never leaving you and ready to pounce should you stray too close. I tightened my grip on my bird scarer, it may only have been a 3ft bamboo pole with a feather in the top, but it was all we had. One of the nests was built right next to the footpath and the resident female was clearly not impressed and was very vocally making her feelings on the issue known. If I spoke bird I would have probably been quite shocked.
Having run the gauntlet of the real life Angry Birds and survived we continued on our route south. I’ll be honest; from this point things became more cloyingly idyllic with each step. To our left was a long spit with a large colony of Eiders settling down for a snooze in the late afternoon sun and above them flocks of oyster catchers ducked and swooped as they made their way around to their feeding/ nesting spot. The back drop to all of this was Morecambe Bay; a combination of golden sand and bright blue sea as the tide raced in.
Beyond the lighthouse the footpath is closed to protect the nesting sea birds so we retraced our steps back to the Beach Hide as we’d been told that if we were very lucky we might spot grey seals in the bay as the tide came in. After forcing ourselves to sit in the cool shade of the hide for half an hour, admiring the stunning views and scoffing tea and cake, we were rewarded with the sight of 5 or 6 grey seals bobbing around at the edge of the bay. We could happily have stayed there for a few hours watching them but, unfortunately, the nature reserve closed at 5pm so we had to head back to the car. This involved taking our chances with the Herring Gulls again; one or two swooped in our general direction but a quick wave of my scary stick soon showed them I wasn’t to be messed with. Or that I was slightly loopy. Either way they left me alone.
I don’t suppose Walney Island is everyone’s idea of a great adventure, but those people have probably never been dive bombed by Herring Gulls; the feathery, malevolent equivalent of the Messerschmitt. I was less scared descending Lord’s Rake in the mist than I was walking through their nesting ground on a warm spring day. Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes, and this adventure was large, gull shaped and not to be messed with.
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