My Monday walk this week was done just five days ago – June 24th – on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year so far. I don’t usually watch weather forecasts but I’d heard that the weekend was probably going to be very wet so I decided to take advantage of the midweek sunshine and explore a couple of places I hadn’t been to before.
Driving up the M6 I took the turn-off for Lancaster and headed along the A683 which bypassed the city itself and led straight to Heysham port, though on the spur of the moment I took a minor road down to the River Lune to check out a particular spot which – I’d been told by someone ages ago – was quite nice and had good views over the river. I didn’t have to go far before I came to a pleasant looking static caravan site and next to it The Golden Ball Hotel set several feet higher than the road.
According to local history there’s been an inn on that site since the mid 1600s; the main part of the existing inn, known locally as Snatchems, was built in 1710 and an extension was added in 1790. Fast forward to the early 20th century and in 1910 William Mitchell bought the inn and it became a tenanted pub with Mitchells of Lancaster being the landlords. In early 2010 the last tenants left and with no-one to run it the pub was closed and put up for sale by Mitchells, eventually being bought in 2011 by the current owner and further extended.
There are a few stories of how the pub’s nickname Snatchems originated though the most interesting and widely accepted explanation stems from when the River Lune was used as a shipping channel. When any tall ship was about to sail out on the high tide the captain would check how many men were on board and if the numbers were short a boat would be sent over to the inn, where the crew would ‘snatch’ any men who were intoxicated – and by the time they sobered up they would be well on the way to a foreign country!
Parking at the roadside near the pub I had a very short walk in each direction and other than a handful of passing cars I had the place to myself. Round a bend just west of the pub the road went over a deep drainage ditch while a hundred yards or so to the east the grass riverbank widened out to quite a pleasant area. The Golden Ball itself was temporarily closed up, with its entrances at road level surrounded by high steel barriers, and coupled with obviously overgrown gardens the place had a distinct air of abandonment about it.
With my curiosity satisfied I drove back to the main road and headed to my first ‘official’ destination, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Heysham Nature Reserve. At the point where the road led into the docks and the power station a lane on the left took me to the track leading to the reserve; unfortunately there was a barrier across the track with a ‘car park closed’ notice on it but I was able to squeeze the van into a suitable space just off the lane and I set off to see what I could find. The first disappointment came when I got to the far side of the car park and found a notice on the gate saying dogs weren’t allowed in that part of the reserve, however there was no way I could leave Poppie in the van on such a hot day and there was no-one around anyway so I took a chance and went through.
The second disappointment came just a few yards farther on when I found a large part of the reserve completely closed off by a high steel fence and a locked gate with a ‘No Entry’ sign attached to it. That was one area I definitely couldn’t get into so I followed the path down a series of steps and found myself on the road to the power station – this couldn’t be right, there had to be more to the reserve than that. Across the road was a grassy area at the entrance to the large EDF Energy place and at the far side I spotted a rabbit so I snatched a quick long distance photo before it moved then went back up the steps into the reserve.
Not far from the top of the steps I found another path which meandered between hedgerows alive with birdsong, and past a quiet little tree shaded pond I came to a large meadow which, ignoring the constant hum and crackle from the power lines above, was quite a pleasant place in the sunshine. The path eventually brought me out not far from where I’d left the van and across the track was another path with a notice on the gate saying this area was where dogs could be walked and could also be allowed off lead, not that Poppie ever is.
In the shade just inside the gate was a metal box with a lid and a dog bowl at the side – a notice on the fence said ‘Dog water – please refill’ and in the box were several 2-litre milk containers full of fresh water, with a couple of empty ones left at the side. Quite a handy provision for thirsty dogs, presumably supplied by a local member of the Trust, and once Poppie had a quick drink we set off on some further exploration. The path was long and straight, bordered by trees on one side and open grassy areas on the other, and a distance along was a pond with hundreds of fish, possibly chub, swarming about close to the edge.
Eventually the path crossed an access lane to part of the power station and I came to an open picnic area with benches here and there; it was overlooked by the huge Heysham 2 nuclear reactor but plenty of surrounding trees did help to screen the building from view. Heysham 2 seems to dominate the horizon from miles away and from a distance looks quite ugly but close up, with its red, blue and green colours, I thought it looked strangely attractive. At the end of the picnic area the path ran for a short distance past the power station’s perimeter fence with its ‘keep out’ notices at intervals; with the continuous loops of razor wire on top of the fence I felt almost like I was passing the grounds of a prison and I certainly couldn’t imagine anyone trying to get in there.
I finally emerged onto a very rocky shore at Red Nab rocks, an area of Permo-triassic rocks of red and white sandstone. A long concrete promenade ran past the power station perimeter towards the port entrance and halfway along was a closed off short pier with the surface of the sea in a turmoil underneath it, which was presumably something to do with the power station; according to the notice on the fence this was the Heysham Sea Bass Nursery Area managed by the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and public fishing wasn’t allowed.
A bit farther along were the remains of an old wooden pier and at the end of the promenade was the old south pier lighthouse at the port entrance. Built from cast iron in 1904 and almost 30ft high the base had originally been red and the lantern gallery white, though it now looks sorely in need of a coat of paint. Information tells me that in spite of its derelict looks it’s still active with a 6-second on/1.5-second off green light, though I’m not sure how correct that information is.
The old light house was the one thing I’d wanted to see so once I’d taken a couple of photos I retraced my steps along the promenade. By then the tide had come in and the turmoil of water under the sea bass nursery pier had levelled out, with dozens of seagulls in the channel – presumably at some point there would be a lot of fish in evidence just there. Walking back along the path through the nature reserve I was momentarily surprised when a bird flew out of a tree and landed right in front of me; it could possibly have been a thrush but without seeing the front of it I couldn’t be sure.
Back at the van I gave Poppie a drink even though she had some from her travel bottle while we were walking, then I drove the short distance to the next place on my itinerary, Half Moon Bay which was just at the other side of the port and another place I’d never been to. There was nothing there really, just a large rough-surfaced car park, a beach and a small café, closed of course; ignoring the ever-present power station building it wasn’t a bad little place but I wasn’t sure about the crooked sign attached to a crooked pole.
On the grass just off the end of the short promenade was a sculpture commissioned by the Morecambe Bay Partnership in 2019. It was just called ‘Ship’ and is supposed to reflect the importance of Morecambe Bay’s maritime heritage, with one figure facing ‘the new’ of Heysham’s nuclear power station and the other facing ‘the old’ of the ancient ruins of St. Patrick’s chapel on the cliffs farther along, and though I quite liked it I failed to see the significance of the holes through the figures’ upper bodies.
With nothing else to see at Half Moon Bay I returned to the van and took the road leading into Heysham village; I hadn’t intended going there but I wanted to find a cold drink from somewhere. Across from the village car park the side window of the Curiosity Corner cafe was open for takeaway drinks and snacks so I went to get something from there and was charged £1.20 for a can of Tango – sheesh, these places certainly know how to charge over the odds for something! I was glad that at least I’d taken my own slab of fruit cake as to buy some cake from there would probably have cost an arm and several legs.
Suitably refreshed I took a walk along to the end of the village’s main street and was delighted to find that the church was open to visitors. I’d wanted to go in there when I visited the village last year but it was closed then so I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity this time as I wanted to photograph the carved Viking hogback tombstone which dates from the 10th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get proper shots of the stained glass windows as much of the church was blocked off but photographing the tombstone was no problem as it was close to the open side door.
Back outside I took a wander round Glebe Garden as due to the palaver of rescuing an injured hedgehog last year I hadn’t seen much of the place at the time. It wasn’t a big garden but it was very pretty and as I walked round I discovered many delightful miniature houses and tiny animals set among the foliage and on cut down tree stumps.
Walking back through the village I shot my last couple of photos and returned to the van; it was still only mid afternoon but I had to go to work later on and it was an hour’s drive back home, plus I wanted to make a brief stop on the way back.
Driving back through Half Moon Bay I reversed the route from there back to the Golden Ball on the River Lune as I wanted to see if the area looked any different now that the tide was in. It certainly did, and far from there being no-one around when I was there earlier there were several cars and trailers parked along the road and a few people out on jet skis, with a couple of families sitting on the grass while their kids and dogs played at the water’s edge.
With my day out finishing exactly where it began I did the journey home with no problems and arrived back with just enough time to get changed before going to work. All in all it had been a good day out, and though I had no wish to return to the nature reserve or Half Moon Bay it had been good to visit them both just to see what they were like – and with the healthy dose of sea air for myself and Poppie we both slept well that night.