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WHERE the 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 at weekends.
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 the area.
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

And Religious 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 Covenanter's death.
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 blood.
"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 Galloway.
"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 be

in mercy for thy goodness' sake

O Lord remember me.

The Lord is good and gracious

He upright is also

He therefore sinners will instruct

In ways that they should go.'

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.


Holme Cultram Abbey

Guide to Exploring the Solway Shore



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