Barrow-in-Furness is an industrial town and seaport in Cumbria, at the tip of the Furness peninsula. Many visitors come to Barrow for the Dock Museum, which tells the history of steelworks, the shipyard and the Barrow Blitz. Walney Island has two world-renowned nature reserves, both of which have Site of Special Scientific Interest designation. Barrow also has a number of beaches which are popular in the summer with sunbathers, kitesurfers and caravanners.
Until 1974 Barrow was an exclave of the county of Lancashire, separated by Morecambe Bay. Historically that came about because stagecoaches going north couldn't climb the Lakeland hills, so they crossed the sands of the bay and wound around via Ulverston to Furness then on up the Cumbria coast. Then in the 19th century iron ore was discovered in the area. This led to mining, steel-making and shipbuilding, the railway was built, and Barrow became forged economically to the metal-bashing cities of Lancashire. It was an important base for navy ship-building, especially submarines. Those shipyards are still there, but much of the other industry has departed.
Joined to the town by a causeway is Walney Island. (Barrow itself was an island until Norse times, then the channel filled up.) When the Rev W Awdry needed a railway network for Thomas the Tank Engine to chuff around, he thought of Walney Island and expanded it into the fictional "Sodor".
Trains run hourly from Preston to Barrow via Lancaster, Carnforth, Arnside, Grange-over-Sands and Ulverston; some stop at other halts in the Cartmel and Furness peninsulas. The journey is scenic, sweeping round Morecambe Bay and crossing the Kent and Leven estuaries on viaducts. Change at Preston or Lancaster for fast trains to London, the Midlands and Scotland; these never stop at Carnforth.
An hourly train winds north from Barrow along the Cumbrian coast to Carlisle, via some two dozen small places such as Ravenglass, Sellafield, St Bees, Whitehaven, Workington and Wigton. For Carlisle it's quicker to go to Lancaster and change.
1 Barrow railway station is central, on Abbey Road.
By bus: Stagecoach Bus X6 runs between Barrow and Kendal (M-Sat hourly, Sun every 2 hours, taking 2 hours) via Dalton, Ulverston, Haverthwaite, Grange-over-Sands and Levens.
National Express and Megabus don't serve Barrow.
By car leave M6 at junction 36 and follow A590 all the way west into town.
By plane: Walney Island Airport has lots of private and business aviation but no commercial flights. The nearest airport with these is Manchester (MAN IATA), with direct trains to Barrow every couple of hours.
The town centre is easily accessible on foot from the railway station. Stagecoach Cumbria Bus 1 runs west to Walney Island and north to Furness Hospital every 15 min.
- 1 Dock Museum, North Road, LA14 2PW, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. W-Su 11AM-4PM. Local history from Roman to industrial times. Free.
- Walney Island is urban in its centre. Further out are salt marshes on the east side facing Barrow and sandy beaches on the west side. At the southern end is a bird sanctuary with a large herring and black-backed gull colony, and a lighthouse. The north end has another nature reserve, home to the endangered natterjack toad, and sandhills.
- 2 Piel Island has a ruined medieval castle, beaches and birdlife. The pretender Lambert Simnel (1477-1530?) landed here in his campaign to supplant Henry VII; his rebellion was crushed but he was spared and given a menial court job. The other Man Who Would Be King (while keeping his head) is the publican of the Ship Inn here - the town traditionally dubs him the King of Piel Island. The island is reached by summer ferry from Roa Island (itself connected by causeway to the mainland); or at low tide you can walk across from Walney Island but seek local advice before attempting this.
- 3 Roanhead has Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve, and a good beach on its north flank.
- 4 Furness Abbey, Manor Road LA13 0PJ (Bus 6 past hospital), ☏ . Apr-Oct: daily, Nov-Mar: Sa Su, 10AM-4PM. Founded in 1127 under the Savigniac order but later became one of the grandest of Cistercian abbeys. Like others, it was ruined in 1536 during the dissolution of the monasteries. It's now in the care of English Heritage. Adult £6, child £3.60, concs £5.40.
- 5 Dalton is a village five miles north of Barrow. It has a small castle, a 14th-century peel tower managed by the National Trust. There are eating and lodging places in the village, which is on the railway line between Barrow and Lancaster and bus route to Kendal. But the main reason to come to this area is the zoo.
- 6 South Lakes Safari Zoo, Melton Terrace, Lindal-in-Furness, Ulverston, LA12 0LU (bus X6 to Melton Top), ☏ , fax: . Daily Apr-Oct 10AM-5PM, Nov-Mar 10:30AM-4PM. The previous owners managed their staff as badly as their animals: keeper being eaten by tiger is in neither party's interests. In 2017 the place was taken over by Cumbria Zoo Company and the standard of welfare has much improved. It's a walk through park past various enclosures, you pay an extra £3 for feeding sessions. They also organise children's parties here. My, those big cats look hungry. Adult £17, child £12, cheaper online.
- Beaches: Earnse Bay, Biggar Bank, Roanhead and Rampside. The first two of these provide views of the Isle of Man and Anglesey on exceptionally clear days.
- Football: Barrow AFC play soccer in League Two, the fourth tier. Their home ground is Holker Street (capacity 5400, 1000 seated) half a mile north of the railway station.
- Rugby League: Barrow Raiders play the 13-a-side game in the Championship, RL's second tier; the playing season is Feb-Sep. Their home ground Craven Park (capacity 3000, aka Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium) is half a mile southwest of the railway station. The women's team play in their top tier, Super League, at the same stadium.
- Hawcoat Park Sports Club, Hawcoat Park LA14 4HF (1 mile north of station), ☏ . M-F 8:30AM-4PM. Community sports club hosting archery, crown bowls, cricket, soccer, rifle & pistol, rugby union and table tennis.
- Cycle the coast road from Barrow to Ulverston. The road hugs the north shore of Morecambe Bay, with grand views, sandy beaches, picnic spots and pubs.
- Portland Walk in town centre has the usual high street chains.
- Edge of the centre are Tesco, Morrison's and ASDA.
- There's a slew of cheap eating places on the retail park off Ironworks Road, with another cluster in the terraces around the railway station.
- Oscar's Restaurant within Abbey House Hotel (see "Sleep") is open M-Sa noon-2:30PM, 5:30-9:30PM, Su noon-9PM
- King Alfred Hotel has ten bedrooms but you mainly come for the food. It's on Ocean Rd, Walney Island LA14 3DX, and open daily for lunch and dinner.
- Ferry Hotel also on Walney Island (just north of bridge) has good pub grub.
Drinking in Barrow is a drouthy but laid-back northern experience, where locals mingle with out-of-town contractors and navy dockyard workers.
- The Furness Railway is a JD Wetherspoon at 76 Abbey Rd, 200 yards from the station.
- Robin Hood is at the corner of School St and Crellin St.
- Brewers Fayre is on North Rd near the Premier Inn and Devonshire Dock.
- Prince of Wales is an excellent pub at Foxfield, 8 miles north of Barrow. It's next to Foxfield railway station, served by the hourly trains along the coast to Carlisle, day-return fare £4.50.
- The clubs in Barrow are along Cornwallis St and usually open 9PM-3AM.
- Travelodge on Walney Rd and Premier Inn off Ironworks Rd are the mid-range chains in town.
- Duke of Edinburgh Hotel, Abbey Rd, Barrow LA14 5QR, ☏ . Comfy hotel next to railway station with good bar and restaurant. B&B double £80.
- There's a string of small B&Bs further along Abbey Road.
- Splurge at 1 Abbey House Hotel, Abbey Rd, Barrow LA13 0PA (2 miles out, near Abbey and hospital), ☏ . Upscale hotel, red sandstone fortress in woodland, often booked for weddings. Gets great reviews for comfort, service, and dining in Oscar's Restaurant. B&B double £125.
- Coniston and Windermere in the Lake District are within 20 min drive north. But from Barrow consider heading to the western part of the Lakes, e.g., Muncaster Castle and Wastwater. They're a bit far for day-trippers from the cities to the south so they'll be quieter.
- Arnside and Silverdale is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the border between Cumbria and Lancashire.