sea and sky meet between Maryport and Carlisle, is an Area of Outstanding
Natural Beauty where wildlife and seashore birds greatly outnumber humans.
Yet the intriguing Solway coast makes a superb area for families to sample.
But before setting off to explore, a quick (free) visit to the new Wild
Solway information centre at the Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport
is in order. As well as a taster to our coastal tour the centre is this
summer hosting two exhibitions. One is by the Eden River Trust on the
threat to our native crayfish from the imported American signal crayfish.
And the second show is on shark and whale spotting. Cumbria Wildlife Trust
are behind this exhibition showing 'The Hammonds. What Lies Beneath' An
account of the life's work of two Cumbrians in recording marine life of
the Solway Firth from the routine to the amazing world of sharks and whales
that occasionally visit the Solway.
Soon after leaving Maryport the sunny 18 hole links of the Maryport golf
club start the coastal scene. The club, which used to be private, is now
open to the public, not only for golf but also for light refreshments.
If you fancy a round of golf 2009 charges are £24 weekdays and £29
The quiet coastal road then calls in on Allonby, a gem of a village. Villagers
tell me that one of the biggest attractions for those with young families
is the large free seashore adventure playground, which is handily placed
by free car parking and public toilets that were in tiptop cleanliness
when our mystery shopper called.
Across from the seashore greens, mine host at the busy Jack's Sports Bar
is former Silloth lad, Peter Blake. When asked why Peter is manning Jack's
Bar Peter admitted: "I am afraid I got to be called Jackanory because
of all the tales I told the ladies!" Anyway the nickname stuck and
for 15 years Peter has been serving meals and drinks to the holidaymakers
calling in at Allonby.
The eight caravan sites in the Allonby area, including the Spring Lea
leisure centre mean that the village gets a real summer buzz. Peter says
that the seashore weather rules life along the Solway. "When the
sun is out it is a must for families, but a windy winter's day send everyone
back indoors! But we stay open come rain or shine."
The nearby Ship Inn boasts a blue plaque recording the visit in 1857of
the two of the Victorian era's most famous storytellers, Charles Dickens
and Wilkie Collins. Maybe Dickens left some notes in his room that might
solve the great mystery of literature...how did he intend to end his thriller
The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The book was unfinished at Dicken's sudden
death in 1870.
We can answer one present mystery in Allonby. What happened to the large
three storey brick building overlooking the Solway. Apparently the building
was the former Reading Rooms and a couple from the USA decided it could
be renovated to rival a Dubai apartment they also owned. But sadly the
project has for the moment been halted.
The coastal winds along the Solway make the area increasingly popular
with young kite surfers. At low tide clear expanses of sand mean the lightweight
trolleys pulled by giant kite wings can zip along at great speed.
Heading further north we pass through a string of hamlets and also take
the opportunity to visit the butterfly and reptiles house that features
at Bank Mill Nurseries at Beckfoot. Nearby the Lowther Arms in Mawbray
is hosting its first Real Ales Beer Fest on May 2-3 and 4th. With live
music promised and session tickets costing £5.
Silloth is the largest town along the Solway and its broad streets hark
back to the days when it aspired to be a quality Victorian resort. It
mixes caravan parks, including the giant leisure pool facilities of Stanwix
Park, with the more gentile charms that make the town popular as an up
market retirement destination. Silloth is a gem of a resort that fortunately
didn't become as popular as Blackpool or Morecambe. The newly refurbished
Golf Hotel on the main frontage has now reopened providing two star accommodation.
The town has a small amusement arcade and its own golf course. Sadly when
I called on a sunny Monday in April not a single fish and chip shop appeared
open...very disappointing for our roving explorer. Still the Solway Coast
Discovery Centre was open and very friendly staff give information on
the best things to see when exploring the coastal sand dunes and beaches.
For instance out at Bowness Common keep your eyes open for sight of the
rare Natterjack Toads in among the Marran grass.
Just inland from Silloth is Abbeytown and the red sandstone Holme Cultram
Abbey. With a history stretching back to just after the Norman Conquest
the abbey has always had its share of woes. Attacked several times by
Scottish raiders the Abbey, which was double its present size, fell foul
of Henry the VIII's monastery land grab. To make matter worse in 1536
Holme Cultram's abbot joined the Pilgrimage of Grace (a rebellion against
Henry's VIII's seizure of church properties) with severe consequences
to the abbey. Its monks were ordered to leave, and its land came to the
crown. All that was left was what we see today as a parish church for
But even in this century the Cistercian abbey has had its woes. In 2006
a Silloth youth set the church alight and terrible damage was caused.
Now in 2009 the church roof has been restored and stonemasons are hard
at work restoring much of the beauty of the historic building.
From an article by DS published in Themaryportguide 2009
Bigotry on the Solway
ACROSS the Solway from Maryport a cruel and shocking killing took place
in the midst of the Scottish religious conflicts of the 17th century.
It was a time when those who failed to attend the official Church of Scotland
services could be driven from their homes hunted down as outlaws. And
few realise that this era when Scots hunted and killed even their own
friends and family would be the precursor to the bloody English Civil
War just a few years later.
The strict Calvinist
form of Protestantism that had become most popular in Scotland became
known as the Covenanters. They formed an important movement in the religion
and politics of Scotland in the 17th century. In religion the movement
is most associated with the promotion and development of Presbyterianism
as a form of church government favoured by the people, as opposed to Episcopacy,
favoured by the Crown.
The movement as a whole was essentially conservative in tone, but it began
a revolution that engulfed Scotland, England and Ireland, the Wars of
the Three Kingdoms.
The Covenanters were ultimately to be the victors, but not before hundreds
had perished for their form of belief. And one of the most shocking killings
was that of Margaret McLauchlan, an aged widow, and Margaret Wilson, a
young girl, who were drowned in the tide in the Solway. The scene is not
far from where the massive Robin Rigg wind turbines can be seen from Maryport
promenade. The killing was also captured in a dramatic oil painting by
the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais.
In his painting The Martyr of Solway (1871), which hangs in the Walker
Gallery in Liverpool the young victim is seen awaiting her fate. Although
the painting today shows Margaret wearing an open-neck blouse, when conservators
x-rayed the piece, they found that the figure had once been a nude looking
sharply to the right. In fact the head and torso had originally formed
part of Millais' 1870 painting The Knight Errant, which portrayed a naked
rape victim tied to a tree. This work had received negative reviews, leading
Millais to add it to a new canvas for the 1871 Martyr painting which was
repainted with chains and the more modest blouse to hide Margaret's nakedness.
A visit to Liverpool's wonderful Walker Art Gallery (free entry!) allows
a chance to see the Victorian artist's melodramatic portrayal of the young
Iain Mackenzie in his detailed research records the full details of the
sad tale: "The years 1684 and 1685 were years of terrible suffering
to the Covenanters. The history of these years is written in letters of
blood, and they were emphatically called, by the sufferers, 'The Killing
Time.' the savage ruffians, who were scouring the country like incarnate
demons, hunted the poor helpless victims of their cruelty like wild beasts,
over moors and mountains. If they met with a person who refused to answer
their questions, or who did not satisfy them in his answers; or if they
found another reading the Bible; or observed a third apparently alarmed
or attempting to escape, they reckoned all such persons fanatics, and
in many instances shot them dead on the spot.
During these two years, eighty persons were shot in the fields, in cold
"We are now to narrate the history of one of the bloody scenes enacted
during the last of these years-the year 1685-the scene of the judicial
murder of two blameless, inoffensive, and pious females, Margaret McLauchlan,
an aged widow, and Margaret Wilson, a young girl, who were drowned in
the tide at the mouth of the river Bladnoch, which runs into the Solway
about one hundred yards to the south of the town of Wigtown, in Lower
"Margaret Wilson, and her sister Agnes, who was then only about thirteen
years of age, had taken towards the banned Calvinist Covenanters.and to
secure their safety, were obliged to leave for some time their father's
house, and, in company with their brother, a youth of not more than sixteen
years of age, and other persecuted wanderers, to seek shelter in the mosses,
mountains, and caves of Carrick, Nithsdale, and Galloway. On the death
of Charles II, when the persecution was for a brief period relaxed, the
two sisters, leaving their hiding places, ventured to come secretly to
Wigtown to visit some of their fellow sufferers in the same cause.. Here
both of them were discovered and made prisoners, through the treachery
of a man named Patrick Stuart, with whom they were personally acquainted,
and who professed to take a deep and friendly interest in their welfare.
This base fellow, from what motive it is not said, but doubtless either
from pure badness of disposition, or from the love of the paltry wages
given to informers, purposed to betray these friendless and unsuspecting
girls. To find some plausible ground of complaint against them, he, with
much apparent kindness, invited them to go with him and partake of some
refreshment, which being brought, he proposed that they should drink the
king's health. This, as he probably anticipated from what he knew of their
character, they modestly declined to do; upon which he left them, and
immediately proceeded to the authorities of Wigtown, to lodge information
against them. A party of soldiers was forthwith dispatched to apprehend
them. The two girls were cast into that abominable place called ' the
thieves' hole,' and, after lying there for some time, were removed to
the prison in which their beloved friend Margaret McLauchlan, who had
been apprehended about the same time, or very shortly after, was confined.
"When Margaret McLauchlan, Margaret Wilson, and her sister were apprehended,
it was demanded of them, as a test of their loyalty, that they should
swear the abjuration oath.
Margaret McLaughlan, and the two youthful sisters, Margaret and Agnes
Wilson, refused to swear the abjuration oath. They were accordingly brought
to a formal trial. After the mockery of a trial, a jury was found so unprincipled
as to bring in a verdict of guilty against the whole three; and the sentence
pronounced upon them was, that, upon the 11th of May, they should be tied
to stakes fixed within the flood mark in the water of Blednoch, near Wigtown,
where the sea flows at high water, there to be drowned. They were commanded
to receive their sentence on their bended knees; and refusing to kneel,
they were pressed down by force till it was pronounced. But they were
by no means daunted; they heard the cruel sentence with much composure,
and even with cheerful countenances, accounting it their honour that they
were called to suffer in the cause of Christ.
"Notwithstanding an initial alleged reprieve, these two women were,
on the day appointed - the 11th of May - conducted from the tollbooth
of Wigtown to the place of execution, amidst a numerous crowd of spectators,
who had assembled to witness so unusual a sight. They were guarded by
Major Windram with a company of soldiers, and, on arriving at the place,
were fastened to stakes fixed in the sand, between high and low water
mark. Margaret McLauchlan, who is said to have now manifested great fortitude,
though, when in prison, she had offered to make concessions, was tied
to the stake placed nearest the advancing tide, that she might perish
first; for the obvious purpose of terrifying into submission the younger
sufferer, who was bound to a stake nearer the shore. The multitude looked
on, thrilled with horror. The flood gradually made its way to the aged
matron, rising higher and higher at each successive wave, ' mounting up
from knee, waist, breast, neck, chin, lip,' until it choked and overwhelmed
her. Margaret Wilson witnessed the whole scene, and knew that she would
soon share the same fate; but her steadfastness remained unshaken; and
so far from exhibiting any symptoms of terror, she displayed a calm courage,
rivaling that of the most intrepid martyrs. When her fellow sufferer was
struggling in the waters with the agonies of death, a heartless bystander,
perhaps one of the soldiers, asked the youthful Margaret, to whom the
tide had not yet advanced so far, what she thought of the spectacle before
her. ' What do I see,' she answered, ' but Christ, in one of His members,
wrestling there? Think you that we are the sufferers? No, it is Christ
in us; for He sends none a warfare upon their own charges.'
When bound to the stake, Margaret Wilson sang several verses of the 25th
Psalm, beginning at the 7th verse:-
'Let not the errors
of my youth,
nor sins remembered
in mercy for thy goodness'
O Lord remember me.
The Lord is good and
He upright is also
He therefore sinners
In ways that they
She then repeated,
with a calm and even cheerful voice, a portion of the 8th chapter of Paul's
Epistle to the Romans; and, through a steadfast faith in the great and
consoling truths exhibited in that sublime chapter, and in the interesting
verses of the Psalm she had sung, she was enabled to meet death with unshrinking
courage, looking forward with humble hope to that exceeding great and
eternal weight of glory, which would do more than counterbalance all her
sufferings in the cause of Christ. She next engaged in prayer; and while
so employed, the waters had risen upon her so high as to reach her lips,
and she began to struggle with the agonies of death. At this moment, by
the command of her murderers, who pretended to be willing to preserve
her life, provided she would swear the abjuration oath, the cords which
bound her to the stake were loosened, and she was pulled out of the waters.
As soon as she recovered and was able to speak, it was asked her, by Major
Windram's orders, if she would pray for the king. With the Christian meekness
which formed so engaging a feature in her character, she answered, ' I
wish the salvation of all men, and the damnation of none.'' Dear Margaret,'
exclaimed a friend, deeply moved with pity, and anxious to save her life,
'say, God save the king! say, God save the king!' With the greatest composure,
she replied, ' God save him, if He will, for it is his salvation I desire.'
Immediately her friends called out to Windram,' Sir, she has said it!
she has said it!' But with this her murderers were not satisfied. Lagg,
we are told, bellowed out, 'Damned bitch! we do not want such prayers;
tender the oath to her;' and Windram, coming near her, demanded that she
should swear the abjuration oath, else she should be again cast into the
sea. She needed not long to deliberate; in an instant her resolve was
taken; preferring to die rather than do what she believed would be a denial
of Christ and His truth, she firmly replied, ' I will not; I am one of
Christ's children; let me go.' And so, after her sufferings were thus
inhumanly protracted, and after being thus cruelly tantalized with the
hope of life, she was, by Windram's orders, thrust into the waters, which
speedily closed over her for the last time. The bodies of the two martyrs,
on being taken from the waters, were buried in the churchyard of Wigtown.