Sunderland Point – a revisit and some interesting history

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.
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The car park at Potts Corner
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.
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Summer House, the merchants and pilots look-out
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.
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Upsteps Cottage
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No. 11 First Terrace, originally the Ship Inn
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No. 3a, the Customs House
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No. 2, originally the Anchor Smithy
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.
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The parking area on the left
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The causeway is under there somewhere

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Houses on First Terrace
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View from the end of The Lane
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.
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The stump of the Cotton Tree
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Cotton Tree Barn, once part of a farm but now a private house, with the young trees growing at each 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.
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Multum in Parvo, the cottage built to fill a gap
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.
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Sunderland Hall
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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.
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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.
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Watched from above by some of these guys
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They looked innocent enough but I wasn’t taking any chances
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The final shot from the car park
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.

18 thoughts on “Sunderland Point – a revisit and some interesting history

    1. There’s roughly about 40 houses there, more than you would think as a few of them are tucked away down a couple of little side alleys off the main terraces. Definitely a shame about the cotton tree coming down as it’s a little bit of the village’s history disappeared for ever, but at least the stump is still there and it’s left a legacy in the two young trees growing from its roots ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. It would make a great place for a bit of overnight parking – I don’t know if anyone ever does or even if it’s allowed but I don’t remember seeing any notices saying not to. I don’t know how far the tide comes up but it was nowhere near there last week.

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  1. I find it amazing that such an out-of-the-way village with so much history still exists today. It’s a very unusual and unique place and even without knowing its history it’s still fascinating and well worth a visit ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. It was lovely to read of your return visit and to enjoy more of the fascinating history of this little place. Do you read up about places before you visit or once you’ve been there? X

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  3. A bit of both Jules. I’d never heard of this place but found it by accident on the internet while searching for something else and it was reading about Sambo’s grave which initially made me want to go there. I did a bit of research prior to my first visit, mainly because of the tide times, then more research afterwards to delve deeper into the village’s history and to find out how to get there on foot.

    That seems to be the sequence for most places I visit – find them by accident or just general Googling, go there, do some research afterwards then revisit armed with the info I’ve found between times. That happened at Easter, I went to a little place in Cumbria as I’d been told it was nice, on the face of it just a lovely little village but info gained afterwards shows there’s a lot more to it than one would think, so that’s definitely somewhere to revisit ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. I presume Upsteps Cottage is now an ‘upside down’ house with the bedrooms on the ground floor. It certainly looks unusual with the front door so high up the wall ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. Absolutely fascinating – and so well researched. I’ve been meaning to do a piece after a visit to Sambo’s Grave a year or so back, but I can see I need to return and spend longer there. Nice one!

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  5. Thanks Mike. It’s strange that I’ve been to Morecambe many times over the years, even to Heysham village, but never knew this little place was there until finding it by accident on the internet. It would be well worth you revisiting if you want to write a piece for your own blog, and if you can get there during the week you shouldn’t encounter too many people – apart from a few locals I had the place to myself this time ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. What a fascinating place, and your posts are very informative, Eunice. I wish Iโ€™d spent longer there now. Love the photos taken with the tide in. Itโ€™s quite terrifying how quickly it comes in.
    I found Samboโ€™s grave very moving (and luckily that ugly round building wasnโ€™t there when I visited). I thought of all those young men and women who were removed from their homes and taken to foreign lands to work as servants or slaves, and felt a profound sadness. I hope you do go back and take a pebble to leave as a memorial.

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    1. I certainly will go back Ruth, and soon too, not only because of Sambo’s grave but also there are more photo opportunities waiting. I was really surprised at how far and how deep the tide came in, I knew the causeway would be under water but I really didn’t think it would be by so much.

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  7. Great post. I went to Sunderland Point last summer. As I donโ€™t drive, walking along the causeway was the only option for me. A train to Lancaster, a second to Morecambe and finally a bus from there to Middleton village all had to coincide with low tide and dry weather on a free Saturday. I felt like a bit of a pilgrim when I eventually got to walk the mile and a half down that causeway ๐Ÿ˜. It was absolutely worth the effort, and I look forward to a return visit. What a gorgeous place!

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    1. It’s a lovely little place isn’t it, and so well worth the effort of getting there whether driving or on foot. I hope you get to make a return visit soon ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. I enjoyed your post very much. My wife and I have a caravan near the beach car park at Middleton and we have visited Sunderland point many times without knowing much about its history. We have 2 dogs and are always trying to find new walks around the area and in the past few days (23rd July and 25th July) we have discovered a delightful walk from Overton village. We parked easily opposite The Globe Hotel (now closed) and set off on the first part of the road to Sunderland Point for just a few yards before following the track that branches off to the left and follows the shoreline. Eventually, you come across a raised bench where the public footpath and road takes you back to the village. There is another public footpath on the left, taking you off the road before joining the main street again.
    The views from the shoreline are great. You can see both Sunderland Point and Glasson Dock and on a nice day, there are plenty of large rocks to sit on. The whole walk took under an hour.

    While on the shoreline, we met an older local gentleman who told us of some of the history of Sunderland Point, including the salt bath house at Upsteps Cottage. He also mentioned a tree stump where he said that the old galleons used to have to unload their gunpowder barrels temporarily as they weren’t allowed to take them up the river into Lancaster (I hope I got this part of his story correct).
    The same gentleman also said that he found 3 small cannonballs and some brass plaques while metal detecting at Sunderland Point. He then mentioned a book called ‘On the Lune’ or ‘By the Lune’, (he wasn’t sure which) that I have not had chance to track down yet.

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  9. Thank you so much for your comment Ken and welcome to The Mouse House, I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Sunderland Point is a lovely little place isn’t it, and it has so much history too. I’ve been meaning to go back there this year as I have a painted stone for Sambo’s grave but I’ve been so busy exploring pastures new I’ve not got there yet. A search for the book hasn’t found anything by either title you mention though I did find ‘The Land Of The Lune’ which I think is more about the inland parts of the river though I could be wrong.

    I don’t know how you found me but I hope maybe you’ll read some more of my Monday Walk posts and find them just as enjoyable as this one. Quite coincidentally I’m just in the process of writing up my walk for tomorrow which I did a week ago along Morecambe promenade. The walk you recently did from Overton sounds interesting so it’s now on my list of ‘walks I must do when there’s a nice sunny day’ ๐Ÿ™‚

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