Discovery Centre

The Discovery Centre houses the Local Links, Silloth Library and the Discovery Centre Exhibition.

The exhibition showcases the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and describes its wildlife, heritage, landscape, communities and a time line outlining historic to present and future perspectives. Entry to the exhibition is free.

The Tourist Information Point is also to be found inside and includes exhibitions about the history of Silloth Airfield and the Carlisle to Silloth railway, as well as a wide selection of local tourism leaflets.

Tourist Information Opening Hours

Autumn/Winter (Oct 1 - March 31)
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 
12.45pm – 4pm 
11am – 1pm

Spring/Summer (Apr 1 - Sept 30)
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
9.30am - 12.30pm
1pm - 4.30pm
10am - 12.30pm

Closed Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday

A celebration of the special qualities that exist along the Solway Coast is contained within the permanent exhibition. Upon entering the exhibition you are transported back in time to the last ice age where you will learn about woolly mammoths, gigantic ice sheets and massive freshwater lakes. The ice age period is followed by the spread of stunning forests that almost covered the whole of northern Cumbria; they were home to wolves and giant deer.

Man colonised the Solway and began clearing the forests for farming, the Romans built Hadrian's Wall and later the Vikings settled and left us their ancient fishing technique called Haaf netting.

The journey through time then moves forward to the Norman Conquest and the establishment of the monasteries. This is where things really take off! Things we take for granted like place names, field sizes, drainage ditches and saltmarsh ponds all combined to make the landscape prosperous. The monks caught salmon, made salt from sea water and made barrels from local trees, this meant that fish could be preserved and sold at market as far away as London. The industrial revolution follows and describes ports, canals and railways until we reach the present day.

The final part of the exhibition celebrates our wealth of natural and cultural heritage describing bird migrations, habitats and life within the inter-tidal zone.

The idea of a Solway Coast Discovery Centre (SCDC) was born following the publication of the first Management Plan for the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1998.

Within the document it was recognised that the area, which was little known, needed a flagship/gateway site to reveal many of the hidden secrets that the landscape of the Solway Coast has to offer both visitors and locals. The project was completed in three phases.

Identifying the building

The first problem was to identify an existing building that could house such a scheme and, more importantly, do it in a sustainable way. The sustainable criteria used were that it should not damage the beauty of the area, it should not create visitor pressure within the area and that it should use an existing building.

After looking at farm buildings, derelict large houses and other similar buildings, the old St Paul's School in Silloth-on-Solway was brought to the attention of Solway Rural Initiative (SRI) by the Save St Paul's Group, a group of individuals who did not want to see part of their heritage disappear. St Paul's School was the first public building in Silloth and had been around since 1857. The building had been condemned and was due for demolition; it was at this point that the SRI Solway Coast AONB Department went into action.

Design and refurbishment

The building had lost part of its roof, the walls were bowing outward, the windows were rotten and the whole building needed a full refurbishment. An architect was secured and a bill of works was presented to the Department as a standard set of works to make the building weatherproof. It was at this point that the decision was taken to create the most energy efficient public building in Cumbria. At the same time other pieces of homework were done, including a survey of other public buildings used as visitor attractions and especially those that had gone bust. We soon realised that the main factor in running an enterprise of this sort successfully is lowering your overheads and more importantly fuel bills. It was decided that thermal insulation in walls, roof and floor were important, as well as windows and doors. We looked at a wood-chip boiler but found that it was impossible to source local fuel, so we decided to go for a condensing gas boiler, which is the least polluting and most efficient gas-fuelled installation for heating.

We also went for under-floor heating which is also very efficient.

Finally, we built a glass atrium as the main doorway - this acts as a solar collector and heats the building passively. All lighting is low voltage and the toilets minimise water use.

The building was fully restored and handed over in April, 2002, at a cost of approximately £400,000. This ended Phase 2 of the project.

The old headmaster's house, which is attached to the school, was also refurbished to the same high standard, except this project was initiated and completed using 18-24 year-olds on a New Deal Scheme called Environmental Task Force (ETF) run by the Employment Service. This scheme trained 33 young individuals from rural areas in basic building techniques and, more importantly, provided them with real work and skills. The offices were completed at the same time as the SCDC and now house the Solway Coast AONB Management Unit.


The funders of the project were:

  • European Regional Development Fund
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • North West Development Agency
  • Allerdale Borough Council
  • Silloth Town Council
  • Cumbria County Council
  • British Nuclear Fuels
  • The Countryside Agency
  • West Cumbria Tourism Initiative
  • Solway Rural Initiative Limited
  • The Hadfield Trust
  • Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust
  • Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust

The Solway Coast Discovery Centre was opened in August 2002, by SRI Chairman Ian Fleming and local Councillor Margaret Snaith, following the final implementation phase consisting of the permanent exhibition, provision of a café and a retail shop.

The Discovery Centre is the first all-weather attraction and a showcase for the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The opening of the centre was a proud moment; it is a credit to all concerned and demonstrates the possibilities of working in partnership with local people, agencies and organisations.

The Discovery Centre was refurbished in 2005, which included a new exhibition, art gallery, refurbished TIC and an Education Resource Area. It is the "Gateway" to the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and England’s Solway Coast, providing the ideal place to start your visit to this unique area.

The five themed circular walks all radiate from the Hadrian’s Wall Path Trail and are a celebration of the natural and cultural heritage of the Solway Coast. The book is available from the AONB Office and is free.

This is an easy guide to some of the wildflowers found in the Solway Coast AONB. It is available from the AONB Office and is free.

You may also download Exploring Wildflowers in pdf format.

5 do-in-a-day rides on easy to follow routes from Silloth, Kirkbride and Carlisle.

Cycling around the Solway Coast Is free of Charge and available from the Silloth Discovery Centre and the AONB Office.

The booklet provides a photographic record of some of the birds to be seen in and around the AONB, and where to find them. Using his own photographs to illustrate it, it is an ideal accompaniment for anyone interested in finding out where best to see the birdlife of the Solway.

Birdwatching in the Solway Coast AONB can be extremely rewarding both for the novice and the experienced. Estuaries are driven by the twice daily force of the tide and this alone creates a dynamic backcloth where birds are moved from their feeding grounds onto their roosting areas. The wintering birds are generally arctic breeders that winter in the milder conditions of the Solway although some move further south, even as far as the African continent. These passage migrants use the Solway Coast as a staging point where they take the opportunity to feed before moving to higher latitudes in spring and lower latitudes in the autumn. Summer breeding birds on the Solway are also noteworthy.

The range of bird species that visit the Solway is dominated by the thousands of migratory waders and wildfowl that over-winter. The total population of the Svalbard breeding barnacle goose winter on the saltmarshes surrounding the estuary. Pink footed geese, whooper swans and various dabbling ducks such as pintail, wigeon, shoveller and teal can be found throughout the inner estuary in large numbers. Wading birds like dunlin, oystercatcher, golden and grey plover, turnstone and curlew add to the spectacle.

Birds of prey are common and outside of the breeding season include peregrine, merlin, short eared owl and hen harrier.

Breeding birds like shelduck, snipe, lapwing, redshank and many others provide a constant backdrop of birdlife throughout the spring and summer. Behind the coastal areas lies the agricultural land and the lowland raised mires where many birds breed.

The Solway CoastAONB has something to offer the birdwatcher all year round and through using our new book 'Birdwatching on the Solway Coast AONB' we hope that your excursions will be enhanced and made all the more enjoyable. (Brian Irving)

The book is free and is available from the AONB Office or download here.

Contact Details

The Discovery Centre,
Liddell Street,
Silloth on Solway,
Tel: 01697 331944