Distance: 25km (15.5 miles)
Height Gained: 210m
Public Transport: West Cumbrian Line trains roughly every hour between Maryport and Whitehaven (only trains on Sundays at 1447 and 1747). Bus 30/300/301 (Stagecoach, towards Whitehaven) three times an hour (every two hours on Sundays).
Parking: Pay car parks in centre of Whitehaven and Maryport. Free car parks on shorefront in Maryport.
A very surprising day through the industrial heart of West Cumbria, which is dominated by the unreal cliffs scoured from former slag heaps. A far nicer walk than one would imagine, the hills of Lowca Point giving way to the endless Solway shore.
Follow the main road south from the centre of Whitehaven and turn left up Bransty Road after the Tesco petrol station, then fork immediately left again to follow the railway line along the foot of the hill. At Redness Point and on round Tanyard Bay, the sandstone faces of Bransty Cliffs tower above. The cycleway joins the road again in Parton, turning left into the centre of the old village. Turn left at The Square and duck beneath the railway to follow the low shore around Parton Bay, where there was a quay until it was completely washed away in a storm in 1796.
After crossing Lowca Beck, turn right and join the road climbing the hill; to the right stands St Bridget’s church and the site of a Roman fort on the adjacent flat ground, but the onward route doubles back to the left. The path climbs steadily up above the slopes of Lowca Point, formed of molten slag from the iron smelting works in Lowca, to reach the remains of Micklam Brickworks. Drop back down through the bushes to the left and, after crossing Andrew’s Gill, join the vehicle track through the wind farm above Cunning Point. This joins another track heading steadily down the slope along the line of an old light railway towards Harrington. A WW1 pillbox stands on the last crest amid the eerily eroded shapes of Copperas Hill; these can be reached via a stile off the track and provide great views along this section of coast. The name copperas refers to iron sulphate or green vitriol, which was produced in an early 19th century chemical works nearby. Continue down the track and then road to the small enclave of Harrington Harbour, which was once surrounded by terraces and vast ironworks producing 60,000 tons a year. Later the site was used for magnesite works, which extracted magnesia from seawater for use in the brickmaking industry and covered the area in white dust.
Ducking back across the railway, follow a gravel path along its side past Salterbeck Resser and the edge of the steelworks’ site. You eventually emerge at a road and re-cross the railway, before turning left then immediately right on the edge of Derwent Howe Industrial Estate. Head up the steps beyond to climb up onto the whaleback slag heap of The Howe which stands proudly above the town. The spoil of the steel industry is now being mined for aggregate here, while the cliffs beyond are further startling precipices formed out of these waste products. Descend towards the car park on the headland, where you get a great view of this stretch of artificial coastline, white to the south and black to the north.
It is an unglamorous stretch to Flimby, dominated by chemical works, factories and the old workings of St Helen’s Colliery, whose spoil makes up most of the strange rocks on the beach. The paths are sandy and hard-going in places, but eventually the low cliffs of Risehow emerge as a welcome distraction. The path along the soft cliff edge here has worn away in places, so the route stays along the railway, joining the shore beyond. Stay along the low shore through the Maryport Coastal Park until the dock wall forces you inland to the dockside road. The route is not signed through Maryport, but stays along the pleasant marina-side to reach the bridge that leads over the River Ellen and into the town itself. Originally Ellenfoot, Maryport was renamed in 1749 after George Senhouse’s wife when he redeveloped it as a new port; its attractive Georgian marketplace at Fleming Square dates from this time.