A good outing on Birkrigg Common, strewn with ancient remains.
Distance 8 miles (12.9km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 577ft (176m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Paths and tracks, some field paths may be muddy, 10 stiles
Landscape Low-lying, rolling limestone country, with coastal margin, woodlands, open common and enclosed pastures
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OLs 6 The English Lakes (SW); 7 The English Lakes (SE)
Start/finish SD 301742 (on Explorer OL 7)
Dog friendliness Under close control on roads and where livestock grazing
Parking Small car parks between coast road and shore at Bardsea
Public toilets On coast road below village of Bardsea
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1 Follow the shore from Bardsea to Sea Wood. A path runs parallel, turning right on the inside edge of the wood to reach a road. Turn left up the road, then right at a gate into another part of Sea Wood.
2 Turn left to follow a path around the top edge of the wood, then left again to leave the wood at a gate. Cross a road and follow a grassy path through bracken on Birkrigg Common. Turn left to reach a wall corner and then walk a few paces to a stone circle. Follow any grassy path through the bracken to the high skyline. Birkrigg Common bears a trig point at 446ft (136m) and affords fine views.
3 Pass a bench and take a path to the right down to a road. Cross over and walk parallel to another road as the common tapers out to a cattle grid. Continue along the road and make a sharp right turn along a walled track.
4 Cross a stile at the end of the track and bear right past a stone trough and the site of an ancient homestead. Keep left of a wall to cross a stile at a gate. Bear left to find a path down a little valley to a gate. Turn right before the gate and cross a stile, then follow a hedgerow across a slope to a house. Cross a stile leading down to a road, and then turn left to pass farm buildings at Holme Bank.
5 Turn right signposted 'Public Footpath Church Road'. Cross a ladder stile and footbridge, then take a path to a village hall and road. Cross the road and turn right to pass a school. Just after the entrance, the Priapus Stone is incorporated into a wall. Pass the parish church and village store in Great Urswick.
6 Turn right at the Coot on the Tarn to follow another road. Watch for Clint Cottage on the left and Tarn House on the right, then turn left up a steep track. This is flanked by hedgerows and reaches two gates. Go through the gate on the left and walk straight ahead, keeping right of a low hill; the site of an ancient fort.
7 A wall leads to another gate, then straight on again. Cross a stile on the right, and on the other side of a gate, cross a stile on the left. Walk straight on, crossing two more stiles to reach a road junction. Turn right to walk through a crossroads and on to the next farm.
8 Turn right at Far Mount Barrow along a track signposted 'Bardsea Green'. Cross a stile by a gate and keep left to cross a road on Birkrigg Common. Turn left again for Bardsea Green, along an obvious path parallel to the road, then parallel to a wall.
9 At a corner of the wall, go through a gate and follow a track downhill to a road and cross a dip. Keep left at a junction up into Bardsea, then right at the Braddylls Arms and follow a road down to the shore.
Birkrigg Common is a wonderful open expanse of bracken, grass and low limestone scars, rising between the shores of Morecambe Bay and the gentle valley containing Urswick Tarn. Although only a lowly height, it offers splendid views encompassing the whole of Morecambe Bay and most of the Furness Peninsula, with Black Combe and the Coniston fells prominently in view. Other Lakeland fell groups, the Yorkshire Dales and Bowland feature more distantly. A network of paths and tracks allow an intimate exploration of the countryside, which turns out to be remarkably varied and interesting.
The bedrock of Birkrigg Common is Carboniferous limestone. It outcrops only on the margins of the Lake District, most notably around Morecambe Bay and Kendal, but also around Shap and above Pooley Bridge. It was laid down in a shallow sea and once covered the whole of the Lake District, before the area was pushed up into a vast dome by earth movements. Subsequent erosion largely removed the limestone layer, exposing the volcanic core of the Lake District, leaving only a few outcrops of limestone around the fringes.
Birkrigg Common is dry, as most limestone areas are. In the low-lying valley at Urswick, however, water has pooled to form the lovely little reed-fringed Urswick Tarn, which is a haven for waterfowl. Some ground water contained in the limestone layer reaches the surface as freshwater springs out on the sands of Morecambe Bay!
The area around Birkrigg Common was always fairly dry and fertile, compared to the higher Lakeland fells, so it attracted the attention of early settlers. Little remains to be seen, though the most notable feature is an early Bronze-Age small stone circle of limestone boulders on the seaward slopes. A standing stone at Great Urswick, known as the Priapus Stone and thought to be associated with fertility rites, has been forced into a recumbent position at the base of a roadside wall.
A few tumuli are dotted around the countryside and a rumpled series of low, grassy earthworks represent the remains of an ancient homestead site. Above Great Urswick, a low hill encircled by a limestone scar bears a hill fort, probably dating from the Iron Age, in the centuries preceding the Roman conquest. It's interesting to wander around and let your imagination run free at the ancient settlement sites. Very little is known about them, but there has been a continual human presence in the area for over 4,000 years.
The General Burgoyne, Derby Arms and Coot on the Tarn are passed in Urswick; the latter offering a splendid restaurant overlooking Urswick Tarn. In Bardsea you'll find the Ship Inn offering food and accommodation, and the Braddylls Arms.
Wander round the cobbled Market Street in nearby Ulverston. You'll find market stalls on Thursdays and Saturdays, and a world champion Town Crier! Conishead Priory, between Ulverston and Bardsea, is now a Buddhist study centre with a pleasant woodland trail.
Sea Wood belonged to Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for only nine days in 1554. It was held by the Crown until the 1950s and is now managed by the Woodland Trust. Information boards at the access points list the tree species, flora and fauna you'll find here.