It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a railway walk but with my new diary in hand on New Year’s Eve I scanned the Foscl and Dalesrail and other guided walks websites and pencilled in a few dates including :
Saturday 2nd January 2016 – Heysham to Morecambe via Middleton and the Coastal Route. Travel on the 08.19 Leeds to Morecambe train and book, alight & return Morecambe (bus out to Heysham) 8 miles Easy.
What better way to start the new year than with some fresh sea air. I’d been reading about the chapel at Heysham recently in Country Life and in this recently published compilation of articles (both of which I borrowed from the Library) and hoped we would be visiting.
About 10 of us gathered at Morecambe Station and took the bus on to Middleton, near Heysham. It was not a very auspicious start. It began raining as we descended from the bus at a rather forlorn-looking half-developed industrial estate. Most of the first half of the walk was through the bleak landscape of a deserted second world war explosives development site, possibly still hazardous and contaminated in parts, but some of it now in the process of preservation as wildlife sanctuaries; past the former site of a Pontins Holiday Camp; under huge pylons which emanated from the two towering nuclear power stations and through caravan sites (with such whimsical names at Ocean View) with mobile homes closely packed together.
A desolate Middleton Nature Reserve in the rain
Power Stations and Caravans
After a quick, but wet, lunch at the picnic tables provided by British Energy at Heysham Wildlife Reserve our luck changed. We climbed a small hill and there (just as the clouds parted and the rain stopped) was the port of Heysham and the wide stretch of Morecambe Bay itself. Things could only get better! From the port a car ferry still operates serving the Isle of Man and also huge container ships serving ports (or a port) in Ireland.
Heysham Power Stations
Looking back to Heysham
The remainder of the walk took us northwards up the coast back to Morecambe in good time to catch the 16.16 train back to Leeds.
The National Trust cares for this stretch of coastline
Approaching St Patrick’s Chapel
I was delighted that we took a further break at Heysham church and St Patrick’s Chapel.
The Chapel Ruins
The other two graves
Here’s what John Goodall says in his ‘Parish Church Treasures‘ book :
“The Prospect of Eternity : St Patrick’s Chapel above St Peter’s Church, Heysham, Lancashire
Sheltering the graveyard immediately to the west of Heysham parish church is a high outcrop of rock crowned with a ruined chapel. Together the church and chapel possibly formed part of an Anglo-Saxon monastic settlement. Archaeological excavation of the latter 1970s suggests that the building was in use between the 8ht and 11th centuries. Shown here [his picture much like my own above] are a series of graves cut into the living rock immediately beside the chapel. These are all carved in roughly the shape of a body, though they are in fact just too small to receive one comfortably. This has led to the suggestion that they were receptacles for relics. At the head of each grave is a socket for a headstone. The extraordinary view they enjoy over Morecambe Bay must explain the position of the burials and suggests that important individuals were laid to rest here. In its earliest form the adjacent chapel is also known to have been externally plastered. This would presumably have made t visible from a long distance and created a landmark. Today this is one of the most evocative spots on the Lancashire coastline. It seems to encompass the entire history of the region in a single vista: depending on where you look it is both majestically beautiful and aggressively industrial.“
And here is the National Trust summary which includes the St Patrick connection.
“St Patrick’s Chapel possibly dates back to the mid 8th century, or a little later. The rectangular chapel is constructed of sandstone and measures roughly 7m by 2.2m. One of the best architectural features is the curved Anglo-Saxon style doorway. Local tradition states that St Patrick may well have come ashore here in the 5th century, after being shipwrecked off the coast, and subsequently established a small chapel. The existing chapel is thought to have been built at least two centuries later to encourage the act of pilgrimage.
Around St Patrick’s Chapel are the remains of eight rock-cut graves hewn from the headland, several of which are body shaped and have rock-cut sockets, possibly for wooden crosses. It is thought that the graves were created around the 11th century and were used for burying very high-status individuals.“
St Peter’s, Heysham
St Peter’s Graveyard overlooking Morecambe Bay
After leaving the church we followed the promenade all the way back to Morecambe.
Impressive Sea Defences
Interesting information on the promenade
Finally Back at Morecambe