“Get up here! Quick!” There was fear in the elderly woman’s voice.
“Don’t get worked up,” the man muttered to his wife. “I’ll make it, although these steps are a little slippery.” I could see he was struggling.
It was Arnside, a Cumbrian village of barely 2000 people, in the north-eastern corner of Morecambe Bay. A siren had just blared, rhythmic, pulsating, and threatening. The elderly couple had been walking hand-in-hand on the sands that lined the southern shores of this, the River Kent estuary. The woman had jumped, as if electrocuted, the moment the siren had sounded. The man had jumped too, but he was larger than his wife, and less nimble. Both were now making their way to the riverside wall, and the ill-defined steps that would allow them safe height above the sand.
I sat on a rock beneath the wall, which was perfectly constructed of Lakeland stone, wondering if I should also dash for safety. The siren had been the second I had heard that day, this one warning that the Arnside Bore – essentially a mini-tidal wave – had just reached Morecambe Bay’s Blackstone Point, barely two kilometres away. It was approaching at the speed of a galloping horse.
The bay, into which the River Kent runs, has the largest expanse of mudflats and sand in the United Kingdom, and the country’s second-largest field of natural gas. It also has a number of tidal bores. These happen when the leading edge of an incoming tide forms a wave that travels up a river, when water would normally be travelling down. There are not many bores in the land, tidal ones that is, but Arnside’s is simple to reach and see.
For some reason I stayed put, not to challenge the power of the incoming ocean, but because the day seemed so peaceful and non-threatening. Above me was clear blue sky, before me was a perfectly flat low-tide River Kent estuary, while somewhere in the distance I could hear the giggles of children playing football. There was no sound of traffic. I had already seen oystercatchers, curlews and black-tailed godwits, for the area is known as one of the finest bird-watching locations in the country. Moving to higher ground seemed unnecessary, even if the elderly couple had reacted with a start and were now both atop the high wall behind me.
But then I had not seen a tidal bore before. I was in unfamiliar territory, camera in hand, waiting for I knew-not-what. I now know that you hear tidal bores before you see them, a low-pitched rumble in the far distance that comes towards you speedily. Then the rush of white water as the intense turbulence begins and the very slight vibration that can make it hard to hold a camera steady. There were canoeists, too, waiting for the white water, as they allowed themselves to be thrust forward by the leading edge of the bore.
The wave was disappointing, but the effect was not, as incoming waters met descending waters and then rapidly began to dissipate. There is a 522-yard, 51-span viaduct in Arnside, built in 1857, rebuilt in 1915, and upgraded very recently. Only rarely does the tidal bore reach it. It never made it for me. Yet the tide rises fast. What was once sand soon becomes water. Within ten minutes of the first rush of distant turbulence, my rock was submerged, and I had joined the elderly couple on the wall.
The woman looked me up and down, her gaze penetrating. I am uncertain she liked what she saw. “Comes in fast, doesn’t it?” she asked knowingly.
I nodded, said nothing, and headed for my lunch, a takeaway from the Arnside Chip Shop. No visit to Arnside would be complete without grub from the village’s chippy. But there is a problem. The food is so tasty that Arnside’s seagulls adore it. They remained closely overhead, silently circling, with me unaware of their existence until I opened an Arnside Lite Bite, a boxed helping of battered haddock and perfectly cooked chips. Down two seagulls plummeted, one left, one right, and both flew away with a stolen chip before I had reacted.
“What the…!” I shouted, waving a free fist. I swear both gulls looked back and smiled, even if each was carrying a chip. I was left with a quandary, which I have yet to resolve, as until that moment I had thought gulls liked fish, not potato.
Yet with the Arnside Bore I had seen something different and had once again learned the power of Nature. The Bore is a true, twice-daily, tidal wave, where incoming tide meets outgoing water. Eddies, turbulence, noise and chaos are the result and, for me, two happy seagulls feasting on my chips.
If you go
Coronavirus – be sure to check each of these suggestions before you go, in light of any pandemic restrictions in place on the day. These change frequently.
When to see the Bore
The Bore happens 1.5-2 hours before high tide. The higher the tide, the better. It is likely there will be the highest tides around the equinoxes (approximately 20 March & 23 September), so aim for those. Look for a difference of at least 9 metres between low and high tides. Do check the tide tables at www.tidetimes.org.uk/arnside-tide-times.
Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
The nearest railway station is Arnside.
Hourly trains from Euston, changing at Preston or Lancaster. Journey time approximately 3 hours.
Hourly trains, most changing at Lancaster, but some direct. Journey time approximately 1.5 hours.
Hourly trains changing at Lancaster. Journey time approximately 2.5 hours.
Up to 21 trains daily. Journey time approximately 6 minutes.
Exit the M6 motorway at junction 35.
Turn onto the A601(M).
At the island, turn right onto the A6 towards Milnthorpe.
At the traffic lights in Milnthorpe, turn left onto the B5282 and carry on for approximately 3-4 miles.
At the T-junction, turn right, pass the railway station and carry on to Arnside waterfront.
London (270 miles)
Manchester (72 miles)
Edinburgh (158 miles)
Bristol (226 miles)
Kendal (12 miles)
Parking is free in Arnside, but time limited on the Promenade between the Albion and Gallery H. The car parking area near the viaduct, opposite the chip shop, can flood at high tide. You have been warned! Please also see website.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
A family run establishment with a beer garden, outside seating for 125 people and free on-site parking.
Address: The Promenade, Arnside, Cumbria, LA5 0HD
Telephone: 01524 761176
Kentwood Guest House
A renovated Victorian family home 100 yards from the Promenade.
Address: Kentwood, Church Hill, Arnside, Cumbria, LA5 0DB
Telephone: 01524 761344
Bed and breakfast accommodation on the sea front.
Address: Number 43, The Promenade, Arnside, Cumbria, LA5 0AA
Telephone: 01524 762 119 or 07772 102 176
Arnside Chip Shop
Takeaway service available as well as an indoor café; quick bites, seafood.
Address: 1 The Promenade, Arnside, Cumbria, LA5 0HF
Email: 01524 761874
Moochin’ About Espresso Bar
Coffee and tea, Persian food.
Address: Station Road Cumbria, Arnside, Cumbria, LA5 0HG
Telephone: 01524 760030
Do not miss
Walk up Arnside Knott
Arnside Knott is renowned for its wildlife. Take this circular walk to see views of the surrounding countryside and enjoy the many sights and sounds along the way.
Visit Arnside Pier
Built to provide a wharf for sea-borne traffic after the construction of the viaduct across the estuary that prevented ships from reaching Milnthorpe.
Address: Pier Lane, Arnside, Cumbria, LA5 0HA
Go fishing for flounder
Arnside has been a popular ‘flatty’ bashing venue for years. Despite earlier overfishing, there can still be some big catches when the weather, tide and fish are right.