Throughout the Solway Coast AONB you will find many sites of interest ranging from Roman or Monastic history to a fantastic array of wildlife.
Amazing lowland raised mires with yearlong wildfowl, birdlife and species specific to living on this scarce and unique habitat. The new Solway Wetlands Centre at Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve, near Bowness on Solway, provides a wonderful interpretation of the area with educational facilities and an area to relax, have a cuppa, and just take in the atmosphere.
Under constant threat from the ferocity of the sea and the storms which from time to time ravage the Solway Coast, the ancient Salt Pans at Crosscanonby are a lasting monument to a bygone industrial age.
In Anglo-Saxon times, salt production was the third most important industry behind agriculture and fishing. Before the development of refrigeration, salt was used to preserve foods like meat and fish. It was required in large quantities by the local fishing industry and salt production was large-scale throughout West Cumbria with a virtually unbroken chain of salt pans stretching from the head of the Solway to Millom.
A large percentage of the agricultural landscape which can be seen today on the Solway Plain can be attributed to the works of the Cistercian Monks of Holm Cultram Abbey, Abbeytown. They founded their abbey in 1150 when the Solway was primarily in Scottish hands.
The monks began shaping the landscape around them as their agricultural empire grew. Amongst their many commercial activities they began taking salt from the sea at many sites along the stretch of coastline, which would later become The Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Remains of their salt works can be found at Saltcotes (which means a cluster of buildings containing salt pans) and at Newton Marsh where circular pits still gather sea water and hold it until the next high tide.
The Crosscanonby Salt Pans are the best-preserved examples of salt works in West Cumbria and are one of the few salt-making sites which were probably not initiated by the monks of Holm Cultram Abbey in Abbeytown.
Recent studies on these salt works have led to a rethink of their history and use. Originally it was thought that they were owned and run by the influential Senhouse family of Maryport. However, a land survey carried out in 1699, which recently came to light, shows that this is not the case. Two sets of saltpans, the first, entitled 'Netherhall Pans', were shown on the survey a mile south of Crosscanonby. The second set of pans was located just north of the village on the coast and were entitled 'Mr Lamplugh's Salt Pans'. It is now thought that it was the Netherhall Pans that were owned by the Senhouses and not those at Crosscanonby.
The earliest reference to Crosscanonby Salt Pans comes in 1634 when they were let to a Richard Barwis on a 21-year lease. The details of this lease show plans for the construction of saltpans and cottages. Without an indication as to whether there were any salt works there before, 1634 would be a good approximate date for their first construction.
The Pans passed to the Lamplugh family from Ribton in 1662, first to Thomas Lamplugh and then to his son, Richard, in 1670. From then on they were the source of some disquiet within the Lamplugh family, with two half brothers, Richard and Robert (sons of Richard senior), disputing over their ownership in 1710. Robert, who appears to have been quite wealthy, was eventually awarded the lease by the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle Cathedral.
A map of Cumberland dated 1783 does not show the Netherhall Pans, which suggests they were, by this time, long abandoned.
The last lease to directly refer to the Saltpans was given to a Joseph Fell of Crosscanonby in 1821, although it is thought that salt ceased to be produced on the site in the 1760s (a lot later than first thought).
Since that time, although regularly referred to in documentation as the Saltpans, salt was no longer produced at Crosscanonby and the name simply became synonymous with the site. However, the importance of local salt making is indicated by the grave of the local Salt Tax Officer to be found at nearby St John's Church.
After the cessation of salt production, much of the site equipment and workings were probably sold off and materials were scavenged. The cottages, however, remained.
What is now the B5300 coast road was constructed in 1824. This split the site into two halves and by 1845 it featured only the cottages and the kinch (the circular pit visible today). By 1866 the cottages were being used as a Public House (supposedly called The Solway Inn), although the buildings had reverted to cottages by the time they were auctioned off in 1900.
The 20th century has seen significant changes to the Saltpans. Between 1918 and the 1930s, holiday cottages and a caravan site grew around the Pans. The caravan park prospered until it was abandoned in the 1970s due to coastal erosion, which undermined the site. This erosion accounted for the loss of the holiday cottages, the last of which fell into the sea in 1966, captured on film by local resident Eric Ostle.
The last remnants of the salt works, the salters' cottages, were demolished in the 1970s, leaving the Saltpans derelict and forgotten.
The significance of the Saltpans was realised in the mid-1980s and research was carried out which led to the redevelopment of the historic monument.
You can now use the information boards on site to gain an idea of how the original Saltpans worked and were set up. The boards (some of which are now inaccurate as to the history of the Pans) also give a best guess as to the process involved in salt making.
The Cumbrian coast was one of only six areas in Britain where salt was taken from the sea. Enjoy your visit to this nationally important and virtually unique window into our industrial past.
In the latter part of 1997 and early 1998, Solway Rural Initiative carried out major works to protect the Saltpans at Crosscanonby from the threat of coastal erosion, realising that one or two more storm tides could see the Saltpans being lost forever.
The emergency work involved building a wooden palisade around the badly eroded site. This was back-filled with over 2,000 tonnes of material from the nearby Crosscanonby Carr nature reserve project.
The temporary sea defences proved their worth even before completion when they were battered by a vicious storm in January 1998. Thankfully the defences did their job and the Saltpans sustained no damage.
The site remains intact, although under constant threat from the tides, a lasting monument to an industry long departed from Solway life.
The word Carr comes from the Norse word Kjarr, meaning wet woodland or marsh where willow and alder thrive. Crosscanoby Carr was a Solway Rural Initiative project, which evolved from a vandalised derelict site; it now provides a wetland, meadow and woodland refuge for numerous animals, birds and plants. The site has a number of water features so consideration must be given to the supervision of young children and vulnerable people.
Unlike other family walks, Crosscanonby Carr is a nature reserve, the first in the Solway AONB. The site is a mosaic of habitats as a wetland oasis which is open for everyone to enjoy, it also has an Access for All Trail provided for people with all disabilities.
Please respect the Country Code.
Just over the brow of Swarthy Hill, overlooking the Saltpans, you will find an excavated Roman Milefortlet.
When Emperor Hadrian visited the boundaries of the Roman Empire in 122AD, he ordered the building of border defences on a massive scale. Hadrian's Wall is his finest achievement and is a testament to the might of the Roman Empire. However, contrary to popular belief, Hadrian's Wall did not solve the Romans' problem of border security. In areas such as West Cumbria they had a particular problem in that the coastline was in close proximity to the Scottish border. It would take little enterprise for their enemies to bypass the Wall and raid the Cumbrian coast. The stretch of coastline north of Maryport, just south of Hadrian's Wall, was particularly open and exposed to an attack.
To combat this weak link in their defences, the Romans built a series of milefortlets, which linked with Hadrian's Wall. These were interspersed with small towers, although, unlike Hadrian's Wall, they were not connected by a continuous stone or turf barrier.
The full extent of Roman defences along the Solway Coast is unknown; there are remains of milefortlets between Port Carlisle in the north and south of Maryport. In addition there were some larger forts and garrisons in the area, most notably the settlement of Maryport, which boasts some of the most exciting archaeological finds in Britain.
Emperor Hadrian reigned between 122AD and 140AD, after which time the West Cumbrian milefortlets appear to have been abandoned.
As you look around the site of the milefortlet, excavated between 1990-1991, you may notice its placement just off the brow of the hill. This could be due to the Romans' insistence on placing the fortlets exactly one Roman mile apart, rather than moving the site 20 yards for the best possible views across the Solway.
Don't be put off by the name; Beckfoot Burial Ground has a long and interesting history. From the peace and tranquillity of it's surroundings, pause a while and enjoy the views over the Solway to Criffel (hill). Take time to listen and watch for the abundance of wildlife and consider the history of the Society of Friends in Cumbria.
In the 1640's there were numerous 'Seekers', and after George Fox came to South Cumbria in 1652, these groups joined with him to form the Society of Friends - Quakers is a shorter name.
In 1653 William Pearson of Tiffenthwaite Farm, Wigton, gave land for a Quaker Meeting House. This was probably the result of the visit by George Fox in July 1652, when he came to Wigton with other friends from Caldbeck. Wigton became the centre for Quakers in the area.
Quakers did not consider a ‘church’ needed to be consecrated, since the whole of the earth was sacred. Therefore, they met for worship in the open air, in barns, or in other’s houses. Usually it was only when a meeting became too big that a Meeting House was built. Some were small but others were big enough to hold the whole of a Monthly Meeting like Maryport and the Wigton Meeting House of 1830 (built on the site of two cottages that had served as a meeting house from 1706).
Graveyards sometimes served as a convenient place for worship; the walls offered protection, and sometimes horizontal stones were set into the walls to provide seats for the elderly or infirm.
Have you ever thought about how places got their names? A significant point in history, 1066 and all that meant that England was under the control of France, 'the Normans'. With the French came new orders of monks, and also, the French and Latin languages.
The Cistercian Monks, who founded the Holm Cultram Abbey in the mid 1100s, were originally French and brought their new language with them. The Abbey gave name to the village, which developed later - Abbeytown.
The land around abbeys was usually owned and developed by the monks or brotherhood. The land was managed in areas encompassing villages and towns, and these were called granges. Within the granges were cotes or places where things were kept. A ville or villa is the Latin term for a large country house.
With the French also came new names for animals like swine for pig.
So let's look at the land around Holm Cultram Abbey for clues about the types of economic activities the monks got up to.
The place where the dog handlers lived.
The dog kennels: dogs were used for hunting game, such as deer, and for the rounding up domestic animals such as sheep, goats and cattle.
Salt Cote: a place where salt was stored.
Evidence can still be found for the shallow brine ponds that were developed on the landward edge of Newton Arlosh salt marsh. Salt was a very important commodity in the mediaeval period and used the preservation of meats and fish.
Swine - a pig sty - a place for pigs
Very few pigs are reared on the Solway today, but in the early Mediaeval period they were a good animal to fatten on rougher ground such as woodlands where they were given pannage (rough forage).
Stank End is probably connected to Swinsty as a wet area smelling of both pigs and general village waste.
Cowper is the name for cooper or barrel maker. Barrels were used as the standard trading container for those commodities spoiled by moisture. Otherwise sacks would be used. Salt would be traded in barrels, as would salt fish and meats such as salted hams known as swines.
Through the establishment of these trades by the monks of Holm Cultram, the economy would have developed and thrived. By trading say hams back to France the monks will have secured wines for the table and, of course, for the Holy Eucharist.