An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Distance: 36 km
Difficulty: Easy
Method: Walk
Wow Factor: 8 out of 10

Key Facts

  • Location: Cumbria
  • Size: 1300 ha
  • Terrain: Coastal path
  • Access: Road bridge
  • Height gain: 249 metres
  • Map: OS Explorer OL6
  • Starting point: Earnse Point (GR SD 171, 699)
  • Accommodation/food:

    Walney Island Camping – Southend Caravan Park makes for a great location for motorhomes and campervans (no tents). Close to the beach and within cycling distance of Biggar, there is plenty to do on site and off.

    Pub – the Queens Arms, Biggar is a CAMRA award-winning traditional and wonderfully rustic pub with a varied selection of real ales, including their own. The Biggar Brewing Cooperative occupy one of the inn’s stable buildings. Very good homemade food is served, there’s locally made treats at the bar and it’s a great place to meet the friendly locals. We love it!

  • Island Summary:

    Walney Island is a low-lying, narrow island off the west coast of England, at the western end of Morecambe Bay in the Irish Sea. It is part of Barrow-in-Furness but separated from the mainland by Walney Channel, which is spanned by the Jubilee Bridge.

    The main town is Vickerstown, which grew out of the shipbuilding industry of nearby Barrow-in-Furness when Vickers built submarines and other shipping during the early parts of World War I. Barrow remains an important site for submarine building.

    Walney is 18 kilometres long from north to south, but never more than 2 km wide, with spits at either end. In the north the Duddon Estuary is narrow and shallow and, at low tide, it is passable on foot, with stepping stones known locally as ‘Widow’s Crossing’. From here there are amazing views of the mountains of the Lake District.

    The southern end of the island opens into Morecambe Bay, with great views, and includes a number of small islands, including Barrow Island, Roa and Piel. The rural village of Biggar is situated on the east coast of the island, with farms extending south of the village as far as the South Walney Nature Reserve.

    The island’s northern and southern ends are both nature reserves, consisting of salt-marsh, shingle, sand dunes and brackish ponds. South Walney is especially important to a wide number of migrating birds and is home to the Walney Bird Observatory – as well as a large colony of seals. The reserve in the north is home for natterjack toads as well as the Walney geranium, found only on the island. Breeding eider ducks can be readily spotted in both reserves.

    The island’s west coast is a 18 km strip of wide sandy beaches, dunes and impressive views across the Irish Sea  whilst the east coast faces Walney Channel and vast stretches of precious saltmarsh .

    Walney, particularly Earnse Bay,  is a great location for kitesurfing and annually hosts one of the rounds of the British Kitesurfing Championship. Windsurfing is popular around the whole coastline here.

    Walney Island is thought to be the fictional island of Sodor which appears in The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry, and was adapted into the television series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.

  • Look out for:
    • Eider ducks, natterjack toads, Walney geranium
    • Views of the Lake District fells
    • vast, unspoiled beaches
  • Route description:

    Some of Cumbria’s most spectacular coastline on England Coast Path can be found on Walney Island. The circular coastal walk is full of glorious beaches, dunes and saltmarshes, wonderful wildlife and dramatic views.

    Starting at Earnse Point on the west coast, the coastal walk heads north to round the north tip of the island and then continues south along the east coast. During the sensitive bird breeding the England Coast Path that skirts the island’s airfield can be followed instead. The route then passes through Vickerstown on streets and lanes before heading alongside the road south to Biggar (and it’s great pub).

    There is an optional loop to visit the saltmarsh just south of Biggar, before reaching the South End Campsite and then the South Walney Nature Reserve beyond. Here, there are great views of the other Furness Islands. The route then follows the entire west coast back to Earnse Point where the sense of wildnerness is complete.

  • Getting there:

    From Barrow-in-Furness follow signs for Walney Island. Cross Jubilee Bridge onto the island. A number of buses travel between Barrow-in-Furnace to Vickerstown.

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