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.