Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

Grange is on the mysterious Cartmel Peninsula, its low-lying edges often wreathed in mist. I came on a train from Carnforth beside the vast expanse of Morecambe Bay, and crossed the treacherous sands of the Kent estuary on a stalwart Victorian viaduct of fifty spans. Grange Station is beautiful. Its elaborate wrought ironwork, supporting the glass platform canopies, is painted red and apple-green, colours echoed in the gardens of nearby villas.

Grange-over-SandsGrange is a luxuriantly verdant place set among the foothills of Hampsfell and Yewbarrow Woods, and faces out over salt marshes and the high-tide water to Silverdale. The town’s sheltered position makes it warmer in spring than anywhere else in the north of England. Semi-tropical plants and shrubs thrive in the Ornamental Gardens around a lake; and for over a mile the gently snaking promenade is edged with constantly changing planting schemes, from alpine rockeries to voluptuous herbaceous borders, all tended by volunteers from the town.

Grange used to be virtually inaccessible – the roads were famously bad, and in the early 1800s only a handful of adventurous visitors came, attracted by the mild climate and the new cult of sea bathing. They stayed in the inn or rented cottages from locals. The coming of the railways in 1857 changed everything and saw this once remote hamlet transformed into a discreet and rarefied Victorian resort – with gabled and barge-boarded houses and hotels, all built of the local limestone. A raised promenade was constructed along the sea’s edge, but in the last century the sea changed its course and today only covers the mosses and sheep-grazed salt marshes at spring tides.

The way the tides twist and turn in the shifting sands makes even the shortest crossings highly dangerous; there is quicksand which can suck you down. The graves at nearby Cartmel Priory tell of countless lives lost and the tragic drowning of twenty-three Chinese cockle pickers in 2004 will not be quickly forgotten. Since the 1500s there has been an official Queen’s Guide to the Sands to escort travellers. Cedric Robinson, who as a boy fished the bay with a horse and cart, dragging a net to catch cockles, shrimps, mussels and flukes, is the current title holder and lives in Grange. Carrying a stout stick to test the depths, he takes parties of intrepid walkers across the bay, and once guided Prince Philip in his carriage and four from Kents Bank to Arnside.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Andrew Hill
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