The Furness Peninsula in Cumbria
The Furness Peninsula in south west Cumbria area is divided into Low Furness and High Furness.
Low Furness is the peninsula and juts out into the Irish Sea. It delineates the western edge of Morecambe Bay. The southern end of the peninsula is dominated by the bay’s tidal mudflats. The long thin island of Walney lies off the peninsula’s south-west coast.
High Furness is the northern part of the area, that is not on the peninsula itself. Much of it is within the Lake District National Park, and contains the Furness Fells. It borders England’s largest body of water, Windermere.
Additionally, the Cartmel Peninsula is often included in definitions of Furness, though strictly speaking Cartmel is not part of Furness, forming a separate peninsula between the estuaries of the rivers Leven and Kent.
The town of Barrow-in-Furness dominates the region with about 60% of the population. Other principal settlements of the region are Ulverston, Dalton-in-Furness, Coniston, Broughton-in-Furness, and Askam and Ireleth. The population of Furness stands at around 100,000.
The Low Furness Peninsula has been inhabited by people for at least 3,000 years and the history and archaeology add to the influences left by Druids, Romans, Vikings, and the Victorians.
The area has miles of wild and diverse coastline to explore from the endless sands of Bardsea beach to the atmospheric Roa Island and Piel Island. Inland are the limestone pavements, and the heights of Birkrigg Common with its views of Morecambe Bay and of the nearby Lakeland fells.
There is little evidence of Roman inhabitation unlike the north of the county, but tradition has suggested that the church of St Mary & St Michael dates to this time, and may even have been a monastery. Support for this belief is based on the discovery of a Viking cross in 1909,and in 1911 the Tunwinni Cross was found and dated by W.G. Collingwood as 9th Century. These cross fragments are on view inside the Church.
As the border of William the Conqueror’s kingdom moved northwards, the status of Furness became more settled and the latter Middle Ages saw dominance by the monks of Furness Abbey. Furness Abbey was one of the richest Cistercian monasteries in England, exceeded only by Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. The soaring ruins of red sandstone soak up the grandeur of this 900 year old site. Located in a peaceful valley, the majestic remains of Furness Abbey once housed the flourishing community of a wealthy order.
The Abbey developed a harbour on Walney Island to promote its trade in wool and iron, and built a castle at Piel on a small island off the coast of what is now Barrow for protection. At Dalton in Furness, nearby, is a 14th Century Pele Tower, Dalton Castle, which was used by the Abbey as an administrative centre and court house.
Buildings from this age are in the traditional sandstone of the region, which was later used for the gothic style town hall of Barrow-in-Furness in the Victorian era.
The fortunes of Furness changed dramatically in 1840s and 1850s, when William Schneider found iron ore deposits at Dalton-in-Furness. These deposits were spread throughout the Dalton area in Askam, Lindal & Roose as well as Dalton. The Furness Railway was built to transport this ore with the first line running from Kirkby to Dalton, then extended down to Rampside at Barrow-in-Furness, and later extended to Ulverston, and then Lancaster.
The iron ore and steelworks were, at their time, the biggest in the world. The population of Barrow-in-Furness rose from a few families to 47,000 by 1881. Iron and steel soon gave over to shipbuilding in Low Furness, with Barrow’s docks becoming one of the largest in the United Kingdom and submarine development becoming a speciality of the town. The shipyard in Barrow remains England’s only nuclear submarine facility in the country.
Tourism in High Furness was promoted by the writings of Beatrix Potter in the early part of the 20th century. Potter was one of the largest landowners in the area, eventually donating her many properties to the National Trust.
The highest point of the region is Coniston Old Man at 803 m (2634 ft). Other notable summits include Dow Crag, Wetherlam and Swirl How which, together with “The Old Man”, are known as the Furness Fells. Gummer’s How is a prominent hill in the east of the region, near Fell Foot Park at the foot of Windermere.
Ancient and Historic sites :
- Swinside Stone Circle
- Druids Circle, Birkrigg
- Piel Castle
- Dalton Castle
- Duddon Ironworks
- Bow Bridge
- Gleaston Watermill
- Ulverston Canal
- Furness Abbey
- Swarthmoor Hall
- Conishead Priory
- St Mary & St Michael’s Church – Great Urswick
- St Cuthbert’s Church, Aldingham
- Holy Trinity church, Bardsea
- St Michael church, Rampside, Barrow-in-furness
- St Matthew church, Dendron
See Explore Low Furness Heritage Trail
Tourist Attractions (other than the above) :
- South Lakes Wild Animal Park
- The Lakes Glass Centre
- Laurel & Hardy Museum
- Coronation Hall
- Dock Museum
- Coniston Water
- Coniston Launch
- The Ruskin Museum
- Steam Yacht Gondola
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