The scientists will tell you that Morecambe Bay in Northwest England is the largest area of intertidal mudflats in the UK. But the romantics will tell you that the huge, ever-changing skies and shifting sands here have inspired poets, painters and adventurers for centuries.
Whatever is on your holiday checklist, you’ll probably find it here, from quiet sandy coves to history, hiking and bird-watching – not to mention the perfect gin and tonic. Read on for a thorough insider guide to Morecambe Bay.
Start by going across and around Morecambe Bay by foot, bike, bus and train
Historically, the best way to navigate the bay was by crossing the treacherous sands, but quicksand and speedy incoming tides have always made this risky. These days, the safest way to explore the bay itself is with a properly organized and fully guided group walk from one side to the other. Several such carefully planned walks occur during the summer months, most set up by the Guide Over Sands Trust. Each excursion will involve plenty of splashing around – so come prepared to roll up your trouser legs and wear light, easily removable footwear (definitely no wellies).
If you prefer two wheels to four, pedal along the Bay Cycle Way, created with the ethos of offering “a brew, a loo and a view” at regular intervals. It has excellent signposts throughout, plenty of cafes (and cakes) along the way, and only a few hills (which average cyclists will likely walk their bikes up).
Among plenty of other cycling routes in the area, a ride along the namesake canal offers a great way to explore Lancaster. A visit to the elegantly sweeping arches of John Rennie’s Lune Aqueduct should be on every cyclist’s must-do list in the area.
When it comes to public transport, Lancaster is your main hub, with train service on to Morecambe and around the coast to Barrow-in-Furness. Additionally, the town has a good network of bus routes. If you prefer to drive, tune into Lake District Radio for the latest traffic conditions and other great local info.
Watch ospreys and seals frolic
Morecambe Bay’s unique ecosystem hosts an amazing range of wildlife. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve at Leighton Moss offers insights into the local fauna at any time of the year (the on-site cafe is also renowned for its legendary carrot cake). Bird lovers will find that the best time to visit is between late autumn and early spring, when tens of thousands of starlings gather for their mesmerizing murmuration – a sight to stop anyone in their tracks.
At Foulshaw Moss you can explore all things boggy – and in the summer months watch the resident ospreys. A pair of these migratory raptors has been breeding here since 2014, every year making the grueling journey of thousands of miles (probably from West Africa) to their nest in Cumbria from March until September. If you’re lucky, you might see these majestic birds of prey soaring above or returning to their nest with fish for their chicks. And if you just can’t wait to see them, the Osprey Cam will let you observe them all day.
If you prefer mammals, check out Cumbria’s only breeding seal colony at South Walney Nature Reserve. At high tide, you can spot the seals in the water around the nature reserve; at low tide, they haul out in large numbers on “the spit,” a sandbar at the end of the island. There’s great excitement every autumn when pupping season starts (it lasts from October to December). While there’s no access to the reserve’s beaches, Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s live-streaming Seal cam lets you watch them up close up.
Sip artisanal gin by the canal in Ulverston
Start your visit to the town of Ulverston at Canal Foot by the coast, where views across Morecambe Bay showcase ever-changing skies above and shifting sands below. Half a mile from shore is Chapel Island, once a resting place for those crossing the bay and now the site of the remains of a Victorian folly. There are regular guided walks across the sands to the island, with wild samphire to pick along the way.
Tucked away alongside the small canal – and its unique rolling bridge – is multi-award-winning Shed 1 Gin, which in addition to impeccably green credentials offers a superb afternoon “G&Tea” service. All the cakes are made by owner Zoe Arnold-Bennett, often with ingredients also used in the gin-making process, all grown in window boxes made from upcycled pallets. You can also customize your own bottle of gin to take home – and even arrange a wedding, if the mood strikes.
If you’re after the perfect gin glass then head to the parking lot of the nearby Booths, where on the far side in an unassuming industrial unit you’ll find Cumbria Crystal, a firm that’s produced handmade crystal for James Bond films, Downton Abbey and countless royal households around the world. Allow time to browse their seconds shop, where you can pick up gorgeous pieces that have flaws only visible to the expert eye. And don’t miss the viewing area, where you can see the superb crystal being made.
Promenade along the waterfront in Morecambe
At the heart of Morecambe Bay is the town Morecambe, with 5 miles of seafront promenade (or “prom”) to explore between Hest Bank and Heysham. (Your best bet for a free parking spot is toward Hest Bank, just a short walk into town, past a couple of cafes on the way.) The town is rightly proud of local comedy legend and proud son Eric Morecambe (real name: John Eric Bartholemew), who took his stage surname from his hometown. The statue of his likeness always attracts a happy crowd. Be sure to take the time to read the stone carvings in the garden around the statue if you really want a giggle.
Morecambe Bay potted shrimps are a local delicacy. Fresh shrimps from the bay are boiled in butter, then coated in a secret recipe before being sealed into small white pots. The best place to find them is Edmondson’s – but don’t get there too late, or you could be disappointed.
And if you like things on the higher end, splurge on a visit to the iconic, art deco Midland Hotel. The fine (and pricey) cuisine here comes with impressive views, and sipping a G&T in their bar as the sun sets over the bay is the perfect end to any day.
Take the plunge into the bay
Morecambe rose to fame thanks to its beach – and you can still enjoy a swim here. Plenty of local coves and beaches still beckon, though because of the constantly changing sands and often unpredictable tides, it’s safest to check in with local swimming groups like M.A.L.L.O.W.S. first to find exactly out where and when to swim safely each day. Swimming across the bay was once a popular pastime, and there’s a lovely marble statue on the prom saluting world record–breaker Commander Gerald Forsberg, the first man to make a two-way crossing of the bay.
If you prefer to explore the bay from on the water rather than in it, then hoist the mainsail and set your compass for Bay Sea School, which offers yachting courses for all skill levels. If you’ve never done it before and have nerves, try the “Taster Fun Sail,” a great way to test out your sea legs.
Explore Heysham’s hidden corners
Beyond the huge nuclear power station known throughout England, Heysham has a pretty little village well worth exploring. Don’t be fooled by its chocolate-box exterior: every year the town hosts a Viking festival to celebrate its colorful history. Stone-carved Norman graves at St Patrick’s Chapel also hint at its long past.
After you’re done building sandcastles and splashing around on the perfect sandy cove at Half Moon Bay, enjoy a cup of tea and a tea cake at the Half Moon Bay Cafe, which is perennially popular with those in the know.
And if you want to see something that even most of the local folks miss, then track down the Near Naze Towers next to the ferry port. Hardly anyone ever visits these mysterious structures, and even historians can’t agree on what order they were built in or what precisely they were for. (One was certainly a lighthouse at some point; the other may have been a weather station.)
As you gaze beyond the towers and out at the bay on a nice sunny afternoon, you’ll understand why the views from here inspired renowned artist JMW Turner himself.