Jul 25 2011

Furness Abbey, a circus and urban wilderness

It is pissing down and cold in the way that only an English July can be. I want to look at Furness Abbey but it is so cosy in the car and it costs £3.80 to go out in the rain and look at what we have already seen in-between the swipe of the windscreen wipers. It is a ruin, a very nice ruin but I fail to see what a closer and more expensive viewing can yield. But we have driven an hour, I would quite like to see a ghostly monk who are far more likely to pop up in inclement weather so I begrudgingly pay, run the gauntlet of the nice woman behind the till trying to upsell us Furness Abbey pamphlets and have a free sample of nettle wine which mollifies me somewhat.

And I do not resent my £3.80. We spend an hour there looking up at spiral staircases that stop at vanished floors, drenched sky-clad cloisters, soaring ambitious walls attached to nothing, malevolent gargoyles, 13th century knights graves who look like Darth Vader.

I do not see a ghost. I must have paid enough to see a ghost by now. Anyone would think they don’t exist. I try really hard; peeping through the gloom at arched windows but no sudden flit of black appears. I realize I am wearing my long black frock coat (from Next) and hope at least I have presented a quick glimpse of immortality to the few umbrella-covered stalwarts perusing the site. Until they see me pushing a shouty baby in a nylon pushchair.

Then the circus. Part of the Lakes Alive! events they are cheerily trying to be a brilliant circus despite being in the rain in Barrow on Furness, having no animals and being bellowed at to ‘Fall! Fall!’ when performing acrobatics by small Barrow youth. They are still excellent and so sanguine in the circumstances, could easily get a job for HMP prison services.

Walney Island is nearby and Walney Island is terrifying. It is the worst bits of country and town enmeshed together in a windswept ferocious huddle. There is a big housing estate, some pubs that look like they have never seen a female, a vegetarian option or a hanging basket, a caravan park and then sudden marsh, sudden sucking slooping salt marsh from which pops out the top of a car. I open the car door and am nearly sucked away.

Rare birds and wildlife can be witnessed here against the faint outline of Barrow industry. In the sea can be seen the hulk of Peil Island, another monastic outcrop. I shall go there one day but now, right now, I am scared of both nature and man and wish to go home.