Last week I needed a day of relaxation to switch off from the intensity of running the kickstarter campaign, packing boxes, all the politics of the general election and my volunteer work so we decided a beach day was in order. The sea air could blow away the cobwebs from what has felt like a week in front of a screen, J could dig away in the sand whilst I listened to… what was that? Oh yeah, the breeze, the waves and the birds. Bliss. I packed his little Minions lunchbox with cheese spread sandwiches, an apple and some juice and we walked down to the station with a rucksack filled with monster trucks, shovels and a rake. Askam here we come!
The train ride was lovely. We were heading south and west around the Furness Peninsular, past the rolling fields of Pennington, the ruins of Furness Abbey inland and Piel Castle out to sea. One of our favourite past times when traveling on public transport is noticing how the walls and buildings change, from slate to limestone to sandstone to brick as we travel further down the peninsular and closer to the sea. Askam has had a fully operating brickworks since 1845 (Furness Brickworks) but the some of the older buildings are sandstone.
When we arrived at Askam everywhere was in full May bloom. Wildflowers all the way out to sea. We’re moving to Askam in the next couple of weeks after falling in love with its wildness and sense of community. It’s a village steeped in local history and since the end of the Industrial Revolution parts of the town have been largely left to return to a glorious natural state and the pace of life is something both Pete and I have been craving.
Great piles of slag remain from the days of iron smelting are now havens for wildlife, the beach is littered with old boats and coastal birds feed on the extensive cockle and winkle beds of the estuary. Allotments and communal green areas form a labyrinth between the houses and everyone we meet is friendly, there’s a real sense of community cohesion and inclusion; something I’ve been missing for some time. And the views are breathtakingly spectacular; all the way up to the mountains of the Lake District, then to the South there are swathes of wind turbines stretching across the horizon and across the Duddon estuary is the town-scape of Millom set against the formidable fell of Black Combe. There’s a longstanding history of sport in Askam too and on weekends you can hear the cheers of the Rugby, cricket and football fields’ crowds. To me it’s the perfect place to bring up children.
But back to noticing…
Last time we visited Pete’s youngest daughter had begun collecting shells, ‘sea unicorn horns’ to be precise. Also know as Auger shells (Turritella communis), these little shells resemble tiny spiraled horns which inspired stories of underwater unicorns (another project for another book?). As J dug in the wet sand to make ‘concrete’ and watch the holes he’d dug fill with water I began filling my pockets with purple, pink and cream shells for L’s jar. J is a fan of periwinkles (Littorina littorea), he love snails and he brought me more shells for L’s collection; Common Otter Shell (Lutraria lutraria), Banded Wedge Shell (Donax vittatus), Common Cockle Shell (Cerastoderma edule)and Common Pelican Foot Shell (Aporrhais pespelecani). We walked along the tideline, J dragging his rake (his plough) making long marks in the sand as we combed the beach for crab shells, seaweed, eroded pieces of slag, and mermaid’s purses (the egg cases of the Lesser Spotted Dogfish).
May is a time of abundance in the U.K. and there are so many things to notice outside, so whilst you’re out this weekend, zoom in. Of course the expansive views up here in Cumbria are spectacular but when you focus on the little things a whole new world opens up in front of you. Arm yourself with a treasure hunting list (like this one from the Scottish National Heritage’s website) or an I-Spy guide and shift your experience from one of not just simply admiration but of learning.
Meanwhile back at the den…