Arnside Estuary

A History of Arnside

Arnside sits on the estuary of the Kent River, where it meets Morecambe Bay near the Lancashire border. Low limestone hills, marshy plains, and deciduous woodlands characterize the surrounding land, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Copses, hedgerows, and pasture add to the mix. The mild climate provides the right habitat for rare butterflies, flowers, and alpine plants. Arnside estuary By Graeme DougalClear views of distant Lakeland mountains are a treat, as are the many flowers of springtime. Large numbers of wading birds and wildfowl frequent the estuary, and much of the area is owned by the RSPB, including the Leighton Moss Nature Reserve, a reed-swamp that is home to marshland birds.

Arnside was a small hamlet of only a few farms, fishermen’s cottages and inns until around 1845. Arnside has a long history of sailing and regattas were held here in Victorian times. It was the arrival of the Crossfield families and their boat/house building businesses who were primarily responsible for the early growth of the village. They built ‘Nobbies’ here – fast shallow-drafted fishing boats and yachts, many of which are still in existence. Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallow’  is thought to have been built in Arnside and was sailed on the estuary in the 1930’s by a local teenager. The need for dwellings resulted in the first development along the estuary frontage – what is now the parade of shops along the promenade.

However, it was the arrival of the railway in 1857, along with the ‘compensation’ (Sandside) road built in 1870 that provided greater access to and from the village. It also boosted its growth as holiday makers took advantage of Arnside’s seaside position. Well-to-do Victorians, with their fascination for the sea, further swelled the numbers. Arnside began to develop a reputation for being an idyllic spot with the Kent estuary being Westmorland’s only access to the seaside. A well earned reputation that’s still valid today!

Arnside’s port eventually lost its trade to other more accessible harbours. It still retains a pier, built by the railway in 1860, destroyed by a storm in 1984, then rebuilt. Its Promenade is a choice spot for walking. What is now ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ hotel (once The Crown) was built in 1660 and still retains the cock-pit under the floor.

Arnside Tower is one of a number (and the only one open to the public) of 15th century Pele towers built in a ring around the Bay. This type of dwelling was constructed for safety during the border raids by the Scots. Arnside didn’t have a church until 1866. Before then, villagers were carried along the Coffin Route for burial in the village of Beetham.

At Morecambe Bay, tides turn quickly as the “tidal bore”, a dangerous and swift high tide, comes racing up the River Kent. Low tide uncovers miles of sand, and guided walks across the Bay are possible. It was the monks who first guided people over the sands. Guides carried poles to check on the water’s depth, and, when walkiArnside clock tower By Graeme Dougalng the sands was possible, they would blow a horn to inform travellers. When tides made the Bay unsafe to cross, the guides again blew on a horn to signal that the crossing was closed. Horses were often a means of transport for those wealthy enough to afford them. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, used a horse to make his way across the sands. Other famous people have crossed the sands of Morecambe Bay – among them were Robert the Bruce’s soldiers when they invaded Lancashire in 1322. The Lanercost Chronicle said, “. . . . so they crossed the sands of Kent as far as the town of Lancaster which they burnt, except for the Priory of the Black Monks and the homes of the preaching Friars.” The supporters of Lambert Simnel (pretender to Henry VII’s throne) crossed the sands in 1487. George Fox, the unpopular founder of the Quakers, was escorted by soldiers across the sands for trial and imprisonment in Lancaster. Today, a siren is sounded 1/2 an hour before the tide comes in, as a warning to people to get off the sand. It is then sounded again just as the tide comes in.

In some parts of Morecambe Bay, low tide is a time for the fishermen to gather whitefish and shrimp from previously set traps. Called flook fishing, vehicles drive onto the sands to collect the sea’s bounty. Hand fishing is also possible as the tide goes out. As the tide rises, fisherman with their rods are a common sight along the estuary at Sandside.

The Barrow to Lancaster railway – ‘The Furness Line’ – crosses the river Kent at Arnside over a very impressive viaduct. Built in 1857, the viaduct is 522 yards long and has 50 piers. The piers were the first to use water jets in the construction of the footings for the piers. It was rebuilt in 1915 to support the extra weight of the munition trains from Barrow. Additional brickwork was added to the piers around the lattice steel work of the original build. The original sArnside viaduct By Graeme Dougalteelwork remains to this day within the brick surrounds. The deck and upper portion of the viaduct was completely replaced in 2011 making trains notably quieter as they cross the estuary.

The building of the viaduct meant that ships could no longer reach Milnthorpe – which until then had been known as Kendal’s port. Because of this, a pier was built at Arnside. The remains of this original pier can still be seen on the foreshore adjacent to the current pier. The pier was destroyed by a storm and subsequently rebuilt by public subscription. It’s very hard to imagine ships sailing up the estuary today, but the pier acts as a reminder of a time gone by.

The census from 1841 showed the population of the village to be 140 people in just 25 dwellings. By 1891 – just 50 years later – the population had risen to about 600 people in 105 dwellings. Today, some 125 years later, the population is around 2,500 with more than 1,100 dwellings and businesses!

The Arnside Archive Group have a wealth of information on Arnside, Past and Present. Details of the group can be found on the Clubs, Groups and Societies page