Feel the sand between your toes: Eskmeals Dunes

© John Morrison

The stunning Eskmeals Dunes can be found along the beautiful Cumbrian coastline about half way between Barrow and Whitehaven.

The stunning Eskmeals Dunes can be found along the beautiful Cumbrian coastline about half way between Barrow and Whitehaven. As a coastal site access to it can be tide dependent with the main road access from Newbiggin, and footpath into the site, underwater for around an hour either side of high tide. Also, as the land is still used by the MOD as a firing range (usually from Mon-Fri) it’s important to call ahead and check before you set out (01229 712200), and if you turn up on spec DO NOT enter the reserve if the red flags are flying.

Eskmeal Dunes 2013

Eskmeal Dunes 2013. Steve Pipe

We parked up in the layby near the viaduct a couple of hours before high tide on a stunningly sunny spring day. Access to the site is across rather boggy land but once you’re onto the dunes there are easy paths the whole way around. The first things we saw when we entered the dunes were a whole host of wild pansies peeking out from the sand; perhaps it’s because we’ve had such a long winter that the colours of the spring flowers are more welcomed than usual this year.

The views from the site are spectacular in every direction, especially from the higher dunes. Away out to sea you can just about make out the Isle of Man, across the estuary is the lovely Ravenglass and rising up behind you are the gorgeous Lakeland fells. But don’t get too distracted by the long views, there’s still plenty to see up close.

Pansy. Eskmeal Dunes 2013

Pansy. Eskmeal Dunes 2013. Steve Pipe

We spotted a variety of plants, though sadly we’re not familiar with all of them – perhaps you could take a look at the photos and help us out a little? As it was still early in the season there were no butterflies but we saw a good assortment of birds. There were a few Common Ringed Plover scurrying in and out of the sea around the water’s edge and one of the stood still and posed beautifully for us!


Ringed plover. Eskmeal Dunes 2013

Ringed plover. Eskmeal Dunes 2013. Steve Pipe

As we ate lunch we watched several Terns (I’m guessing Common Terns, they were a bit far away for a positive ID) patrolling the channel in front of us, diving regularly to pick up fish. We watched as they systematically worked their way along the channel and back, swooping in an instant when they spotted a potential snack.


Eskmeal Dunes 2013

Eskmeal Dunes 2013. Steve Pipe

Further around the dunes we saw flocks of Oystercatchers and a Redshank or two poking around in the shallows and away out on the sandbank opposite were groups or Cormorants/ Shags drying out in the sun. I know there are ways to tell them apart when you get a closer look but is there a way to spot the difference when they’re several hundred yards away across open water?

We were serenaded on our entire journey by Skylarks darting around in the skies above us and singing away to their heart’s content making the long cold snowy winter months seem a long way away indeed. We plan to return to the dunes in over the summer months to see more of the flowers and butterflies, and that’s something I’m really looking forward to.