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Isle of Walney
(See also North and South Walney Nature Reserves)
The Isle of Walney lies west of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria's southwest corner between the Duddon estuary and Morecambe Bay. It is eleven miles long and 5000 feet wide and officially became part of Barrrow-in-Furness borough in 1872. The towns on the island are Vickerstown, North Scale, and Biggar in the south. The island population is approximately 13,000 people.
Vickerstown was originally established as a bedroom community for shipyard workers, and was named after the North Yorkshire steel firm, Vickers Ltd. North Scale and Biggar existed as far back as the 13th century. The Jubilee Bridge, which opened in 1908, provided an impetus for the growth of residences on the island. Before the bridge, a ferry brought passengers the short distance across the water.
It is thought the south end of the island was farmed by monks of Furness abbey due to the large amount of henbane growing there. The herb has medicinal value. Due to high prices for wool, sheep overtook farming as an occupation. Plague and the civil war took their toll on the island residents in the 17th century. In the 19th century salt production began near Biggar. An evaporating plant with six chimneys and 24 pans was built, but the grand plans fell through a dozen years later in 1909 due to intimidation from businessmen with Cheshire salt investments. Sand and gravel extraction are ongoing industries.
St Mary’s Anglican Church in Vickerstown dates from the end of the 16th century, but the current building was completed in 1930. A one room Methodist church and St Columba’s Catholic Church also serve the community. On Haws Point is the Walney Lighthouse, first built of wood in 1790. It burned in 1803 and was rebuilt in stone in 1804.
Walney was formed as the last ice age ended when rock, clay, and sand were deposited with the melting of the ice. The island is home to two nature reserves, North and South Walney, that include important flora and fauna. They are administered by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Wind and water have combined to much erode the island, especially in the south, and were instrumental in creating the western sand dunes. In 1983 the sea breached the island. Salt marshes are another natural feature.
The Doomsday Book calls Walney Island “Hougenai” perhaps referring to the Manor of Hougon. The name underwent many revisions since that time before ending up as Walney. The island has been the site of a large number of shipwrecks.
Walney Island information is available from Barrow-in-Furness Tourist Information Centre, Forum 28, Duke Street Tel. 01229 870156.
Photos courtesy of Graeme Dougal , Aidan Jones
Isle of Walney is located on the A59 from Barrow-In-Furness on the Furness Peninsula.
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