Urswick Parish from Skelmore Head
Last Updated: 12 January 2014

Looking north from Birkrigg Common

Looking north to the Lake District mountains from Birkrigg Common

Urswick Parish is distinctly rural in character and is located on the Furness Peninsular to the south of the English Lake District. The parish covers 1691 hectares and has a population of around 1500 people who predominantly live in one of its four villages: Bardsea, Great Urswick, Little Urswick, and Stainton with Adgarley. The rural character of the parish is further enhanced by the tiny hamlets of Beckside, Edgehill, Far Mountbarrow, Hallier How, Hawkfield, Holme Bank, Mascalles, Skeldon Moor, Skells Lodge and Woodhead.

East from Birkrigg Common

Crake and Leven Estuaries at the west of Morecambe Bay
The on-land perimeter of the parish is 14.6 miles in length, 1.6 miles of which is pristine shoreline on to Morecambe Bay, along the entire length of which runs the classic footpath of the Cumbria Coastal Way.  The highest point in Urswick Parish is the summit of Birkrigg Common from where a wonderfully scenic panorama presents itself in all directions.  Ever popular with walkers, the grass pathways which criss-cross the gentle inclines of this elevated ground provide an ideal location for taking exercise.
Lake District & Furness Fells

Lake District mountains and Furness Fells
The peninsular provides the transition between the rugged Lakeland mountains to the north and the coastal terrain with which it is surrounded.  The smooth contours of the Furness Fells, which form the spine of the peninsular, further add to this sense of harmonious transition, the entire spectacle of which can be seen from several elevated vantage points throughout the parish.  On the western side of the peninsular is the estuary of the River Duddon, whilst on the eastern side the estuaries of the rivers Crake and Leven combine to form the western half of Morecambe Bay.  Urswick Parish extends into the 310 km2 bay which is noted both for the beauty of its huge expanse of exposed sand between tides, and for the treachery of its rapid currents during tidal flows.

Great Urswick crags

Limestone crags, Great Urswick
Whilst the Lake District mountains derive their character from volcanic rocks, and the intermediate ground from mudstones, sandstones and siltstones; the character of Urswick Parish is distinctly identifiable by Carboniferous Limestone.   It is limestone that was used to construct all of the formative settlements in the parish as well as many of the field boundaries which sprang up as a result of enclosure during the 18th Century.  Multiple glaciations produced ice sheets which radiated out from the Lake District sculpting the landscape on their journey south, where, at the tip of the Furness peninsular, they merged with Scottish ice moving down the Irish Sea.  As the ice retreated between those glaciations they released the till which they had carried from the valleys around Coniston and thus provided the parish with its excellent agricultural land. Meltwater flowing beneath the glaciers acted as yet another sculptor worthy of credit for the resulting beauty and distinct character which the parish enjoys.

Old powder house

Derelict powder house, a remnant of haematite mining
Limestone is a necessary host to the formation of haematite, and this mineral was found to the west of Urswick Parish and mined on a huge industrial scale throughout the 19th Century.  Smaller veins were also located within the parish, and they too were mined, but their relatively small scale has left the parish without industrial scars on its magnificent landscape other than at its extreme western boundary.  At Stainton with Adgarley, however, industrial scale quarrying of limestone has been a feature of the village for many years.  Current extraction is from the Park Limestone Formation which is noted for its high purity and has been the basis for significant export trade over the years.

Midtown House

Quality modern stonework
The attractive character of the built environment in the parish’s settlements is attributable to the use of local materials, namely, limestone from within the parish, 350 million years in the making and, even older by 50 million years, Burlington slate from England’s largest source of quality slate on nearby Kirkby Moor.  In the last century, however, integrity with these materials diminished as development control progressively slipped from the age-old traditions of the former indigenous community.  Whilst the villages remain an attractive feature of the parish, there can be little doubt that the 20th Century was less than caring towards them. This fact was underlined, at least in the case of Great Urswick, by an assessment by South Lakeland District Council in response to the Parish Council's application for conservation area status for the village.

Silage gathering

Gathering the silage crop
Agriculture is evident throughout the parish, as it has been for many centuries, during which it significantly shaped the landscape.   The agricultural land is of high quality and the majority is grazed by cattle or sheep.  Economic pressures on the farming industry have brought about major changes and the many small farms of the past have, to a great extent, merged to larger land holdings.  Concurrently there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of people employed on the land as ever larger and more sophisticated machinery displaced them.  Milk production, beef and sheep are the predominant sectors of agriculture found across the parish.

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