My Monday walk this week features a second visit to Sunderland Point, undertaken one day last week only nine days after my first visit there. It had been low tide on the first occasion and with glorious weather I got some lovely photos but I wanted to get some shots at high tide, also since my first visit I’d found some information on a few of the buildings in the village which I wanted to check out. High tide on May 21st worked out just right, it was soon after mid-day and with more lovely sunny weather it was an opportunity not to be missed. Of course the high tide also meant that the causeway to Sunderland Point was cut off, so instead of going through Overton village I had to drive round the country lanes to Middleton sands and park in a designated spot above the high water line at a place known as Potts Corner, then walk the mile or so to Sunderland village.
The car park at Potts Corner was certainly in a fairly remote spot with nothing but wet sands stretching northwards, and to the south a vast expanse of salt marsh where a large herd of cattle grazed, although there was a static caravan site close by. A wide roughly-gravelled and pot-holed track led some distance from the car park to a farm up on my left then a rough path took me along the edge of the salt marsh. Not only was this place very remote it was also very windy and annoyingly my hair kept blowing across my face; I needed something to tie it back, and just as the thought crossed my mind I found the very thing – a length of bright pink bailer twine tied round a chunk of tree trunk lying on the ground. The twine was clean so I untied it, doubled it up and used it to fasten my hair into a pony tail – sorted!
The path along the edge of the marsh eventually led to a gate and the recently constructed path to Sambo’s grave, and though it was supposedly over a mile from the car park to there it seemed no time at all before the hideous stone-built Horizon Line Chamber had come into view. Completely unimpressed with it on my previous visit I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and went inside but all I could see was an extremely pale circle of light on one wall, so pale it was hardly there, so yet again I left with the feeling that the time and money spent on this monstrosity could have been better used elsewhere. Having only recently been to Sambo’s grave I didn’t feel the need to go again so soon so I left the dome behind and continued on to the village.
Sunderland village was developed by Robert Lawson, a Quaker, in the early 18th century as an out port for Lancaster a few miles inland, and it’s believed that stonework from the ruined Cockersand Abbey across the river was used in the construction of the quay and various buildings. Following the narrow path between the hawthorn hedges to the top end of The Lane I came to the first house I was looking for. Summer House at one time had, on its steep apex roof, a weather vane which was fixed to a compass rose on the ceiling underneath although neither of these now exist, but back in the 18th century it was where merchants and boat pilots would meet to look out for shipping.
At the bottom end of The Lane was Upsteps Cottage, presumably named because its front door is set high up in the wall with stone steps leading up to it. In the past it had been a bath house but perhaps more significantly it had also been the brew house of the nearby Ship Inn and was the lodging where Sambo died. Round the corner from The Lane, and on First Terrace, was No. 11 which had originally been the Ship Inn itself – in fairly recent times it was used as a pub in the 2006 filming of Ruby In The Smoke by the BBC. Further along First Terrace and set on its own was No. 2 which had been the Anchor Smithy and set quite a way back from the quayside was No. 3a which had been the Customs House.
On this side of the peninsula and away from the open expanse of salt marsh the wind had dropped to just a light breeze, making it very pleasant to wander along in the warm sunshine. Just beyond No. 2 was the shingle parking area where I’d left the van on my first visit, except this time there was hardly any parking area left as most of it was covered by water. Obviously I’d been aware that the causeway to Sunderland was impassable at high tide but I was still surprised by just how far in the tide had come. The causeway had completely disappeared, the warning sign at the beginning of it, which was several feet above the ground, had its bottom edge in water and the boats which I’d seen beached on grass nine days before were completely surrounded – compared to my previous visit it was certainly a different sight to see.
The next thing I wanted to find was the Cotton Tree which information had told me was on Second Terrace, and when I did find it I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it on my previous visit as I must have walked close by it. According to popular belief the Cotton Tree grew from a seed imported from America in a bale of cotton and though it may very well have come from the USA, probably brought here by a returning sea captain, it was actually a female black poplar which is very uncommon in England.
Appearing to grow from the foot of a building the Cotton Tree was a well-known and much-loved feature of Sunderland Point, familiar to generations of villagers and visitors. The victim of old age and the fierce gales which had hit the area on Christmas Eve 1997 it finally toppled over a week later at 8.15pm on New Year’s Day 1998; it was estimated to have been between 200 and 250 years old when it fell. The stump of the tree is now decayed but is still part of the wall which surrounds it, and the tree itself lives on in the form of two young trees which have sprung from its roots a few yards either side of the stump.
A greater part of Second Terrace would originally have been warehouses, though some of the buildings have also been used as an inn and a farm, all of which are now private residences. One rather quirky feature is the narrow cottage named Multum in Parvo (meaning Much in Little) which is thought to have been built at some time to fill a gap between two rows of properties. In a nod to more modern times there’s a Royal Mail post box set in a wall and outside the Reading Room is a card-operated BT phone box (which also contains items of fresh produce for sale) and an emergency defibrillator, other than that the Terrace looks much the same as it did all those years ago.
Set back off the path and in its own pretty garden was Sunderland Hall, built by Robert and Elizabeth Pearson and with the inscription REP 1683 on one of its walls. The Hall and its two adjoining houses are now the last properties on Second Terrace, although it’s thought that in the past there may have been two or three small cottages in the adjacent field which reaches to the end of the peninsula.
Although I could probably have walked all the way round the peninsula I didn’t know how far the tide would be in round the end so I decided not to try it and instead walked back along the sea wall path and up The Lane. Stopping to photograph a carved wooden owl on top of a gatepost I saw something which made me smile; on the side wall of the house was a hand painted board and though I couldn’t get close enough to see properly I assumed there was a bowl of water on the ground just down below it.
Walking back past the salt marshes a movement in the grass some distance away caught my attention; it was a bird scurrying along and though I couldn’t immediately tell what it was I zoomed in with the camera, and with its long bright orange beak I assumed it was a young oyster catcher. Further along I saw that the herd of cows which had been peacefully grazing some distance away earlier on had made their way inland and were congregating close to the path.
Now in spite of having read various stories of people being trampled by marauding cattle I’m not scared of cows and under normal circumstances I would have walked right past them, but there were some youngsters in among this lot so as I had the dogs with me I decided not to risk it and made a short detour over the grass instead. Back at the van the three of us had a welcome cool drink then with one last shot I set off for home.
Driving back down the M6 I thought about my time spent at Sunderland Point. It was a very attractive place with a lot of history behind it, and though I hadn’t yet managed to paint my stone to put on Sambo’s grave the uniqueness of the village and the photo opportunities it offers almost certainly guarantees a third visit before too long.
This post was supposed to feature as a Monday walk but being without a computer of my own for almost two weeks, and having to rely on a borrowed laptop, has meant that I’ve been unable to deal with the many photos I’ve taken during that time. However things have finally been sorted out and I’m back in the blogging world although this pc operating system is vastly different to what I’ve been used to for the last x number of years. Though I’m still using the same photo editing programme things now look (to me at least) different to before – so I’m just hoping the shots in this post look okay although the spacing may be slightly different.
The recent gloriously sunny warm weather has been too good to miss so one day last week I took the reasonably short drive from home to Sunnyhurst Woods, a place I’ve been to several times before. My previous walk round there had been before Easter on a rather dull day with very few leaves on the trees, which didn’t make for particularly good photos, however since then everything has burst into life and completely changed the whole place.
Approaching what’s known as the paddling pool I could hear a lot of barking and when I got there I could see a Labrador dog in the water having fun with a large stick. A young woman with three other dogs was walking along the path continually calling him but he was having too much fun to take any notice – I watched for a while as she walked right round the pool and went out of sight a couple of times in the hope that he would get out of the water and follow her but he stayed put. I’d gone past the pool and reached the bandstand and though the pool was out of sight by then I could still hear the dog barking and it crossed my mind that the only way he would come out of the water was if the young woman went in there to get him.
A distance past the bandstand I came to where two paths met and at the junction was a stone pillar with a simple figure of an owl carved on one side. I took the right hand path which followed the river for a short distance before taking me uphill in the direction of Earnsdale Reservoir. Away from civilisation it was so peaceful walking along with nothing to hear but birdsong ; at one point a robin flew across in front of me and landed on a tree branch above, staying there long enough for me to snatch a couple of photos of him.
At the top of the hill the path opened out and a gate took me onto the road across the reservoir dam. On the right was a field with two lovely chestnut horses grazing from hay nets hung on the field gate ; I’ve seen these horses before, in the distance way up on top of the hill but this was the first time I’ve seen them close up. They were a beautiful colour and if the dogs hadn’t been with me I would have gone to say hello to them.
Across the dam a gate led to a narrow path through the trees at the far side of the reservoir and as I’d never been along there before I decided to check it out, though not knowing just where it would take me I only went so far before retracing my steps. It certainly gave me a different view of the reservoir, which I thought was a much nicer view than looking at it from the other side, and it was worth taking a few shots.
The road across the dam turned into a country lane leading past fields with views over the reservoir and the countryside beyond and with the peace and quiet it was hard to believe that I wasn’t really all that far from civilisation. Approaching one field I saw what I thought at first was a sheep lying in the grass but then looking at its face it definitely wasn’t a sheep. It was very woolly though, and when I saw its companion grazing nearby I came to the conclusion they were alpacas. Not far from the field was a house set in its own garden so presumably they belonged there.
Just past the alpacas’ house the lane turned a corner and a distance along brought me to the Sunnyhurst pub. There was a path directly opposite which I knew would take me up to Darwen Tower but that was a walk I would do another time. Past the pub was an entrance back into Sunnyhurst Wood but I decided to stay on the road and follow it round to where I’d left the van, and my last shot of the day was part of the very pretty garden belonging to a big detached house.
That was the first time I’d walked across the reservoir dam and discovered what was over the other side and I’d found it to be a very pleasant walk, certainly one I’ll do another time. And now I know that the Sunnyhurst pub has a car park next to it I’ll be able to leave the van there when I eventually decide to do the walk up to Darwen tower.
My Monday walk this week has been beset by ongoing computer problems meaning I was initially unable to download or edit any of the photos I took on my afternoon out last weekend, however with a borrowed laptop I’ve finally been able to write the post although as it’s a couple of days late it’s now a Wednesday walk. It features somewhere I’ve been meaning to go to for a couple of years after discovering it by accident on the internet but haven’t managed to get there until now. I can’t even remember what I was originally searching for but one link led to another and another etc, eventually ending up at some information about a place called Sunderland Point, and when I read about Sambo’s grave it all sounded intriguing enough for me to want to go there.
The hamlet of Sunderland is in a unique and isolated location on a peninsula at the northern side of the River Lune estuary in Lancashire. It consists of 40 or so houses, a couple of farms and a small mission chapel, and though Sunderland Point itself reaches out into the Irish sea about half a mile away from the village the hamlet is also commonly known by the same name. The only road access to the village is from Overton via a winding one-and-a-half-mile long single-track tidal causeway, and that and most of the parking area are covered by the sea twice a day – anyone thinking of visiting needs to check the tide times first or being stranded for several hours is a distinct possibility.
Sunderland village was a thriving port in the early 18th century, the main one for Lancashire and second only to London and Bristol. Trade was undertaken with the West Indies involving sugar, rum, cotton, and to a lesser degree, slaves, and it’s reputed to be the landing place of the very first bale of cotton to arrive in Britain. Unfortunately trade gradually declined over the years and the 1787 opening of Glasson Dock across the estuary took ocean-going ships further inland, completely bypassing Sunderland village. With the death of the village as a shipping port it became a popular seaside resort during the 19th century and was known as Little Brighton on the Lune; now in more modern times it’s become a peaceful and unique home to those who still work from the village in farming and fishing and others who commute to Lancaster, Preston and other places in Lancashire.
Driving through Overton village the road took me over a cattle grid to the beginning of the causeway, and not far along I came to my first warning sign. Fortunately I’d checked the tide times before leaving home and knew it was low tide so I was able to drive across the causeway without any risk, although the road was so narrow I was rather hoping that I wouldn’t meet something coming the other way. At the far end of the causeway was a sloping shingle parking area so I left the van there while I went to explore, and right from the start I was really taken with this little place.
The main part of the village consisted of two rows of houses facing the estuary and simply called ‘First Terrace’ and ‘Second Terrace’. Some properties were detached and set in their own gardens while others were terraced cottages fronting the narrow access road along the old quay; many of these cottages dated back to the early 18th century, and though there was what I assumed to be a village hall of sorts there was no shop or pub. The two rows of houses were separated by the extensive gardens of a large house and a narrow lane, appropriately called The Lane, and my quest to find Sambo’s grave took me along this lane.
The story of Sambo, otherwise known as Samboo (no-one knew his real name) is a mixture of fact and hearsay, but what is known is that he was a young Negro servant to the captain of an unnamed ship. On arrival at Sunderland port in 1736, and after the ship had finished unloading its cargo, Sambo’s master arranged for him to have a room at the local inn and he was left there on ship’s wages while his master went to conduct some business in Lancaster over a period of a few days. One version of the story says that Sambo, unable to speak or understand a strange language and thinking his master had abandoned him, became so upset that he stopped eating and after a few days died of a broken heart.
The other version of the story, and the more likely one, says that Sambo contracted a sickness to which he had no immunity and died of that sickness, but whatever the cause of his death he was buried in unconsecrated ground in a corner of a field overlooking the sea, with a simple small wooden cross marking the spot. Sixty years later James Watson, a retired schoolmaster from Lancaster, heard about Sambo and was so touched by the story that he raised enough money from donations to pay for a bronze memorial plaque, engraved with an epitaph, to be placed on the unmarked grave. Over the years many people have visited the spot and these days the grave is well tended, decorated with flowers and colourful painted stones left there by children and other visitors.
Walking along The Lane I passed a handful of detached houses and the mission chapel before the lane itself narrowed into a footpath with high hawthorn hedges on each side giving off the most divine scent. A distance along the path a sign pointed the way through a gate, but any notion I may have had that Sambo’s grave was in a remote spot and still accessed by a rough path along the edge of a field (as shown on Google maps satellite view) was instantly refuted. Just inside the gate and on the right was a new wooden building which looked like it could have been public loos but which I found out later was actually a bird hide, and a wide recently-constructed gravel path and new concrete sea wall ran along what would have been the seaward edge of the field.
Set back off the path, and in an area which had been stripped of all grass, was one of the most hideous things I’ve ever seen – a small newly-built dome-shaped stone building which, to me at least, looked totally out of keeping with the surroundings. There was a door set in one wall with a small window in another, and when I looked through I came face to face with the protruding lens of a large square camera. An engraved stone slab set in front of the door told me that this was the Horizon Line Chamber with the camera relaying an outside image onto the opposite wall, but when I went inside and closed the door I could see nothing but near-darkness. If this thing was working at all it wasn’t doing a very good job.
A few yards beyond the dome was a small grassy area surrounded by three new stone walls with a seat set into one of them, and in this square was Sambo’s grave, now protected from the elements on all four sides. With flowers and many coloured painted stones surrounding the cross it was a very pretty grave but I was saddened to read the words on a small brass plaque fastened above the main one – “Thoughtless and irreverent people having damaged and defaced the plate, this replica was affixed. RESPECT THIS LONELY GRAVE” – it seems that even an out-of-the-way place such as this isn’t free from vandalism.
After spending a few quiet moments by the grave I headed back to the village for some more exploration, turning right at the end of The Lane and going to check out Second Terrace first, though I was rather puzzled to see some cars parked along the access road in front of the houses up ahead. I knew there was no road connecting First Terrace and Second Terrace so how had they got there? All was revealed however when one of the cars drove down a short slipway from Second Terrace, across the top end of the beach and up a second slipway leading to First Terrace – an unusual thing for me to see but probably an everyday occurrence for those who live there.
At the far end of Second Terrace was Sunderland Hall, a large and very attractive looking house with a West Indies style upper floor balcony, though with people sitting out in the garden I couldn’t really take a full photo of it. Some of the houses along Second Terrace had their own small gardens and there was a long grassy area in front of those which didn’t have gardens. At the end of the terrace, instead of walking back along the sea wall path I went down the slipway and walked along the beach for the short distance back to the end of The Lane and First Terrace.
Back at First Terrace, and close to the end of The Lane, was an attractive bronze sculpture with entwined fish at the bottom and sea birds at the top, and a bronze plaque said that this had been created by local artist Ray Schofield. Ray had created many sculptures which were dotted around various North West locations, including the giant sundial in Lancaster’s Williamson Park, and had lived in the house at Sunderland Point just across from where his sculpture was sited.
At the end of First Terrace and back at the parking area I had a quick wander round for a few more photos before returning to the van. I could happily have stayed at Sunderland Point for longer but it was 4pm by then and I’d arranged to meet Michael from work at 6 o’clock, also I didn’t want to get caught out by the next incoming tide.