AS A pupil of Ulverston Grammar School in September 1953 I remember meeting up with a friend in Kendal and we set off by train to Heysham. We got off at Morecambe and walked to Heysham where we thought we were being very mature as we drank beer - it was, however, nettle beer which is non-alcoholic and no visitor should leave the village without sampling a bottle.

Heysham is one of the most unspoiled villages in the whole of England. Its single street is lined with restaurants, cafes, 17th Century cottages and a pub. The street leads down to the rocks on the shore and close by there are two ancient christian sites. Then it leads to Heysham Head once the site of pleasure gardens and a carting circuit that witnessed the early triumphs of a very young Nigel Mansell. The sounds of carting have now been replaced by the quieter nature area looked after by the National Trust.

How to get there:

From the Kendal area it is best, and more scenic, to follow the A6 towards Lancaster. Turn off on the A5105 through Hest Bank to Morecambe and then on the B5274 to Heysham where there is plenty of parking (some pay and display).

Distance: 2.5 miles

Map: OS Landranger 97 - Kendal and Morecambe

Grid ref: 410 625


1 From the car park and toilets, follow the main street and look out for the Heritage Centre on the right. This was formerly a barn associated with the 17th Century farm. This is the place to discover the history and nature history of Heysham and is open free of charge by friendly local volunteers. Continue along the main street and look out for the Royal Hotel on the left. This dates to the 16th Century and formerly functioned as a corn store. Close to this is a cottage which was famous in the early 1900s for the nettle beer brewed here by Granny Hutchinson. Nettle beer has been described as a tonic made from herbal extracts, sugar, yeast, lemons and of course nettles. It is said to stimulate the blood, help those who suffer from rheumatism and also to be an ‘unconfirmed’ hair-restorer.

Just before the road forks, look out for St Patrick's Well, also called the Church Well, which is on the left. It is set in an alcove and is reached by a set of steps.

The water is quite salty. Because of this it was once regarded as a cure, and pilgrims travelled for long distances to drink it. Modern day visitors, however, are advised not to drink it and should stick to nettle beer or sample the brews in the Royal Hotel.

2 Rejoin the main street and fork left. On the right is St Peter’s Church, overlooking Morecambe Bay and is one of the most attractive churches in the north of England. It dates back to Saxon times and this church and the ruined St Patrick’s Chapel nearby were both in existence by the 8th Century. There is an Anglo-Saxon cross in the churchyard and inside the church, near the south door is a hog-back tombstone. Until 1961 this was in the churchyard but it was then brought indoors to prevent erosion. Viking in origin, it dates to the 10th Century. It is not unique but is the best preserved example to be found anywhere in Britain. There are christian symbols on one site and pagan symbols on the other. Could this mark the last resting place of a converted christian who felt like hedging his bets just in case the old religion was right?

If the view of the bay from the church is a joy, then the panorama gets even better as a set of steps and a steep path lead onto Heysham Head. Here is St Patrick’s Chapel built in the 8th Century and extended in the 10th Century. By the site of the chapel are some grooves cut out of the solid rock. It is thought that both the church and the chapel were part of a religious community which sailed over from Ireland.

3 Beyond the chapel, follow the track as it heads slightly left towards Thrubshan Point. When the pleasure grounds closed in the 1960s it looked as if Heysham Head would become a housing estate. The National Trust, however, bought the site and access is now freely available. This is a stroll for all seasons because whatever the time of the year or the weather there is plenty for the naturalist to enjoy.

4 Follow the obvious path as it loops around to the left, away from the seaward site and round to Barrows Field. From there the route climbs steeply to reach Vicarage Wood. Follow the winding footpath through the wood and on old orchard. According to church records of 1753 here grew in profusion, apples, pears and plums. From the old orchard a set of stone steps leads back to the car park and the starting point.

NB: Restrictions on space mean that this article provides a general summary of the route. It is advisable for anyone who plans to follow the walk to take a copy of the relevant Ordnance Survey map.