By Linzi Buckmaster
The romantically named Half Moon Bay is actually in an industrial area of North West England, with a nuclear power station and working port, where ferries sail passengers and freight west to the Isle of Man and Ireland. But don’t be put off by the modern setting. There is a lot more than meets the eye at this little coastal gem.
My husband, Jools, and daughter, Rhi, together with our dogs (who love the beach), often visit the beach here on the remote coast of Lancashire to look for sea glass and to enjoy the views. A sandy beach stretches from the harbor wall along to the village at Lower Heysham, and features rugged cliffs, grassy hills, and sheltered secluded coves.
Tucked away in the vast expanse of tidal sands and mudflats of Morecambe Bay, in the North West of England, with views across the water to the Lakeland fells on the other side, the bay is notorious for fast-moving tides and shifting sands. The beach at Half Moon bay is sandy, but further along there are rock pools and pebbles, and amongst those, you’ll find the precious sea glass. It is not particularly well known that there is sea glass on the beach here, although that may change once the secret is out. Shhhh! Don’t tell everybody!
A haven for beachcombers and dog walkers, pieces of ambergris have also been found here. Several pieces of this substance, produced in the digestive system of sperm whales and used in the manufacture of perfumes, were discovered on a nearby beach, some worth up to £100,000 British Pounds (around $120,000 US). Definitely worth keeping your eyes open for that!
The area also has archeological sites to visit, including the 8th-century ruins of St. Patrick’s chapel, a Heritage center housed in a 17th-century farmhouse, and mysterious stone coffins hewn in the rock. Nearby St. Peter’s Church, which is still in use, has some very interesting gravestones set against the dramatic backdrop of the sea. The older part of the village of Heysham is charming with narrow lanes and tiny cottages decorated with fishing buoys and other seafaring paraphernalia.
A headland with a prominent cliff and rugged coastline, part of which is National Trust land, is known locally as The Barrows. Here bird spotters will be delighted to witness the seabirds in abundance and botanists will also find many plants of interest.
Recently an art installation called “Ship” by artist Anna Gillespie has been attracting visitors to this seaside area. This striking sculpture of a Viking-style longboat is set on the boundary between land and sea. Two sculpted figures gaze out seaward and beyond the port. The sculpture reflects the importance of the area’s maritime heritage, and its strategic location since Roman times.
Not too far away is Morecambe (below left), a traditional seaside town, famous as the birthplace of Eric Morecambe, the British comedian, and for its seafront and long promenade.
Venture south past Heysham and across a salt marsh via a tidal causeway to Sunderland Point (above right), a remote hamlet, which used to be a thriving shipping port. It is cut off twice a day by the rising tides so consult tide tables before setting off. Ships were built here and there was a great deal of trade between Sunderland Point and Virginia, with shipments of cotton, tobacco, rum, sugar, wood, and, sadly, slaves. Rumor has it that men were regularly recruited from local pubs to be ship crew members, usually under the influence of alcohol and against their will. Nowadays, the point is popular with visitors and artists who follow in the footsteps of renowned painter J. M. W. Turner, who famously painted Heysham and Cumberland Mountains in 1818.
On the other side of Sunderland Point lies Sambo’s grave, which is the resting place of a slave to a ship captain who sailed from the West Indies around 1736. His sad story, which you can read in the memorial over his grave, tells how upon arrival he was left at an inn to wait until the captain’s ship was ready to sail. Fearing he had been abandoned, he refused all sustenance and soon died. His grave is a poignant reminder of how life was for slaves, and is decorated with items left by visitors and local children.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine November/December 2019 issue.