… because “Ships, Trains, and Hiking Boots” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Barrow-In-Furness is not exactly high on the list of UK destinations for most people. A history of iron ore and slate mining in the region, then smelting, and eventually ship making… sounds pretty, doesn’t it? An obvious choice for a couple of nature loving walkers. Ah, but we had been going through a cold snap for a bit (yes, temperatures had been hovering around zero!), so a scenic train trip to nowhere in particular seemed in order.
Barrow, a town of fewer than 60,000 people is at the southern tip of the Furness Peninsula, almost directly across Morcambe Bay from our little home away from home of Heysham. The train journey was beautiful. I was that nerd moving from window to window, trying not to miss any good bits.
One thing I will say for the Brits is that they know parks. We usually hit one up everywhere we go. In addition to the usual sweeping lawns, mixed beds of trees and shrubs, boating lake, and bowling green, Barrow Park featured a great little glass house with the winter display in full bloom. A very welcome shot of colour on a fairly cold, grey day.
Enough of all the pretty greenery, flowers, and the lovely pavillion. It was cold out. Off to the museum. We weren’t really expecting a lot from The Dock Museum. We were wrong. We had about an hour to go through what we thought would be a dinky little collection of plaques and pictures of the docks and shipyard. Oh, man! We should have planned for more time. I’m afraid this was one of those National Lampoon European Vacation tours. We missed an entire floor (shame faced)!
From the hunters and gatherers who first came to Cumbria about 12,000 years ago, the Vikings, the Romans, and on through to modern day, the museum’s displays offer a tremendous amount of information. Artifacts, pictures, and models keep the industrial development section from being the dry, dull stuff I was expecting.
Mining in the area produced iron ore, slate, and lime-stone. Of course, a railway was built to transport those goods to the port. From the port, well you need ships, don’t you? From a settlement of 152 people in 1841, the town grew to a population of over 18,ooo in just 30 years! Not only did shipbuilding take off, but submarines were also built in Barrow.
Fantastic displays portrayed the effect The Blitz had on the area. The shipyard, steelworks, and railways made Barrow an obvious target for the Germans in April and May of 1941. For the most part, it was homes and businesses in the town that were hit. Newspaper clippings and photos brought a real human element to this time in history. One display, in particular, talks about a child who never made it to his auntie’s house; he had been going there because it was thought to be a safe location. That story hit me in the gut.
As much as I wanted to stay longer, we had a train to catch. The morning train to Barrow was almost empty, so we were more than a little surprised when groups of men began filing onto the train. We were even more surprised to see them with carry bags of cans (Canadian translation: plastic shopping bags full of cans of beer). Some even came on with open cans in their hands; other passengers didn’t blink an eye. The ‘blokes’ settled in, cracked into their drinks, and filled the car with friendly chatter and a party atmosphere.
Insert pictures of guys openly consuming alcohol clearly not purchased on the train, brazenly taken by someone other than this polite Canadian who would never dream of being so rude.
As the train took on more revelers at the next few stops, a woman took the one empty seat at our table, and was clearly part of the group. She explained that she and her coworkers were celebrating a colleague’s last day of work. The group all work for the ship building company in Barrow and they were simply heading to the city for a night out. She assured us, when asked, that it is quite common to drink on the train. She was more than a little entertained by our description of Canadian liquor laws. We had to explain that this would never be done in Canada – not so openly, and certainly not legally.
Clearly, we have a new item to add to our list of “When in Rome… British style.”