Memories of the Solway coast

News this week that the UKs national time signal is relocating to Anthorn in Cumbria has made me all nostalgic.

I spent a lot of time cycling, walking and birdwatching around the Solway Firth in my teenage years. It’s a beautiful and to me, rather spiritual and mystical part of Cumbria, isolated and largely ignored in favour of the better-known Lake District. The landscape is visually quite unusual – large expanses of sand and mudflats that change colour all through the day, saltmarsh dissected by numerous small creeks and two larger rivers. To the north are the Southern Uplands, dominated by Criffel and to the south, the Skiddaw range in the Lake District.
Much of the area is designated as having high ecological value – there are many sites of special scientific interest and nature reserves. I have a fond memory of the evening we saw a barn owl and a short-eared owl in the space of a few minutes – there are also many wading birds and raised bogs such as Drumburgh Moss, where you can find rare plants and delights such as the carnivorous sundew plant.
There’s a lot of history in the area which you can feel as you walk around. Hadrian’s Wall ends at Bowness on Solway and there are numerous small villages, abbeys and monasteries all built in the local red sandstone. Edward I died on the Solway at Burgh-by-Sands, within sight of the Scotland he aimed to conquer and Mary Queen of Scots passed through on her way south to imprisonment and execution. The more recent history, from the 1800s, is one of farming, fishing and military installations – which is where Anthorn comes in.
Anthorn is a small settlement on a peninsula overlooking the Firth. It’s dominated by a circular array of tall radio masts which when I was a child, seemed to be the same size no matter how far away you were. These are part of a naval base dating from WWII and are used to transmit VLF high power signal to submarines. I first learned this from my dad and as a child, thought this very mysterious, sinister and perhaps even a little far-fetched.
It’s a lovely part of the world, so if you ever have the chance, go and see it. Here’s a few links:

Anthorn VLF transmitter at Wikipedia
Anthorn in the Cumbria Directory
Photo of the transmitter at Flickr
Some lovely photos of the area
RNAS Anthorn & HMS Nuthatch
Bowness Parish history