Barrow-in-Furness

Barrow-in-Furness is an industrial town and seaport in Cumbria, at the tip of the Furness peninsula.

Until 1974 Barrow was an exclave of the county of Lancashire, separated by Morecambe Bay. Historically that came about because stagecoaches going north couldn’t climb the Lakeland hills, so they crossed the sands of the bay and wound around via Ulverston to Furness then on up the Cumbria coast. Then in the 19th century iron ore was discovered in the area. This led to mining, steel-making and shipbuilding industries, the railway was built, and Barrow became forged economically to the metal-bashing cities of Lancashire. It was an important base for navy ship-building, especially submarines. Those shipyards are still there, but much of the other industry has departed.

Joined to the town by a causeway is Walney Island (Barrow itself was an island until Norse times, then the channel filled up.) When the Rev W Awdry needed a railway network for Thomas the Tank Engine to chuff around, he thought of Walney Island and expanded it into the fictional “Sodor”.

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Trains run hourly from Preston to Barrow via Lancaster, Carnforth, Arnside, Grange-over-Sands and Ulverston; some stop at other halts in the Cartmel and Furness peninsulas. The journey is scenic, sweeping round Morecambe Bay and crossing the Kent and Leven estuaries on viaducts. Change at Preston or Lancaster for fast trains to London, the Midlands and Scotland; these never stop at Carnforth.

An hourly train winds north from Barrow along the Cumbrian coast to Carlisle, via some two dozen small places such as Ravenglass, Sellafield, St Bees, Whitehaven, Workington and Wigton. For Carlisle it’s quicker to go to Lancaster and change.

54.119-3.2291 Barrow railway station is central, on Abbey Road.

By bus: Stagecoach Bus X6 runs between Barrow and Kendal (M-Sat hourly, Sun every 2 hours, taking 2 hours) via Dalton, Ulverston, Haverthwaite, Grange-over-Sands and Levens.

National Express and Megabus don’t serve Barrow.

By car leave M6 at junction 36 and follow A590 all the way west into town.

Map of Barrow-in-Furness

The town centre is easily accessible on foot from the railway station. Buses run to all areas of town.

  • 54.064-3.1741 Piel Island has a ruined medieval castle, beaches and birdlife. The pretender Lambert Simnel (1477-1530?) landed here in his campaign to supplant Henry VII; his rebellion was crushed but he was spared and given a menial court job. The other Man Who Would Be King (yet still keep his head) is the publican of the Ship Inn here – the town traditionally dubs him the King of Piel Island. The island is reached by summer ferry from Roa Island (itself connected by causeway to the mainland); or at low tide you can walk across from Walney Island but seek local advice before attempting this.
  • 54.13513-3.1983581 Furness Abbey, Manor Road LA13 0PJ (Bus 6 past hospital), +44 1229 823420. April-Oct daily, Nov-Mar Sa Su, 10:00-16:00. Founded in 1127 under the Savigniac order but later became one of the grandest of Cistercian abbeys. Like others, it was ruined in 1536 during the dissolution of the monasteries. It’s now in the care of English Heritage. Adult £6, child £3.60, concs £5.40. (updated Mar 2019)
  • 54.157-3.1781 Dalton is a village five miles north of Barrow. It has a small castle, a 14th century peel tower managed by the National Trust. There are eating and lodging places in the village, which is on the railway line between Barrow and Lancaster and bus route to Kendal. But the main reason to come to this area is the zoo.
  • 54.1666-3.16861 South Lakes Safari Zoo, Melton Terrace, Lindal-in-Furness, Ulverston, LA12 0LU (bus X6 to Melton Top), +44 1229 466086, fax: +44 1229 461310. Daily Apr-Oct 10:00-17:00, Nov-March 10:30-16:00. The previous owners managed their staff as badly as their animals: keeper being eaten by tiger is in neither party’s interests. In 2017 the place was taken over by Cumbria Zoo Company and the standard of welfare has much improved. It’s a walk through park past various enclosures, you pay an extra £3 for feeding sessions. They also organise children’s parties here. My, those big cats look hungry. Adult £17, child £12, cheaper online. (updated Mar 2019)

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