Rachel Capovila: Jaunt to Piel

The side of Piel Castle looking out towards the sea with boats.

JAUNT TO PIEL Sun 18th July 2021

The morning of the walk was glorious. We could not have asked for better! The meet up was at 10am at Snab Point, South End of Walney Island. John Murphy, the local guide, was primed and very welcoming and keen for me to get him on camera as this was probably to be his last public walk. People just kept turning up, I estimated there must have been maybe 60 people on the walk! I was pleased to recognize some faces in the crowd and be able to share the day with them.  

John explained to everyone what would happen on the walk and gave some safety information, also pointing out the restrictions due the area being a protected SSSI site. He announced who I was and that I would be filming. I took the opportunity to meet each group to hand out the zine I had created, which promotes the Artful Ways project and Piel Island itself. I asked people to collect objects along the way and photograph them in ‘The Cabinet of Curiosities’, upload and hashtag on social media. My husband Nicos came along with his drone to capture the day too. See his footage here.

Piel seems so very far off in the distance at this point! The beginning of the walk onto the sands is tricky, and those who have been before know that you either just go for it barefoot or wear sturdy boots. It is very slippy and still wet, so there can be accidents, luckily not on this Sunday. Once you are past the first 100 metres it becomes firmer and the path is more obvious, although unnervingly there was sinking sand all around us! At this point there is an abundance of tender Samphire which as John points out costs a fortune in the supermarkets!  John points out areas of interest on the sand or upon the horizon, relating some wisdom or tale. Did you know you can age a cockle by the rings on the shell? Families laugh with him and have a go at tasting or looking. Kids splash in the pools of water the tide left behind and the sun just sizzled! I had factor 50 and yet somehow, I still burnt!   

Along the way I filmed John’s lively presentation but also had conversations with different groups about how they came to be doing the walk and kept the Artful Ways three words in my mind: Creativity, Connectivity and Place. Explaining the zine and what my project was about, many were happy to talk, it meant a great deal to them since the start of the pandemic to be out with people once again. Some were not strangers to Piel, but were pleased to re-visit a favourite place and some were from away and this was a totally new experience. In fact, one gentleman from Nottingham told me that he was unsure whether to visit Barrow, as he had heard the bad press describing Barrow as ‘an ugly industrialised town’, but since coming to stay he was blown away with the local landscape and the people.  

With the stops it probably took us nearly an hour to get to the island. Due to the sunny hot weather it was a welcome relief for many to get in the shade and have a cool drink at The Ship Inn. As I walked past the cottages I immediately recognized a friend working on one of the roofs and invited him along for a drink too. Inside the pub in the back room you can see the permanent Seldom Seen exhibition by Art Gene, which was the inspiration for my zine cabinet of curiosities. It is an amazing unique collection of many different objects from stuffed birds, photographs and local memorabilia. It is worth a look and to take time exploring the different elements. I was very pleased to see some families add their collected objects to the zine cabinet and taking photographs.

Photo by Joanne Chapman

After a pitstop John calls everyone back to go around the 14th century castle ruins for a guided tour. Along the way we learn more about the local flora and fauna of the island as we cross the shingle and golden sand beach. In the distance we can the Grey Seal colony on the South end of Walney. The sea sparkles and glistens that lovely aqua blue you see when on holiday and you really could be on one of those famous locations people pay a lot of money to go and visit. The castle is made of local red sand stone, flint and cobbles and in places the structure is still impressive, with large gateways, windows and stairs which are waiting to be explored. The history of the castle and its association with the local 13th Century Cistercian Furness Abbey ruins, which rose to be the second most powerful order after Fountains in England, is little known. John gave some great points of history and some lovely stories. I could see how much everyone was enjoying the tour and being in the surroundings.  

We had time for another pitstop before the walk back which would be quicker with no stops. I had interviewed John and managed to chat with people and talk about their cabinet collections. Relaxing on the grass, watching the ferry go back and forth on the turquoise sea was such a treat and I felt very guilty that I should be enjoying myself so much! Many already on the island were camping, fishing, having lunch and just enjoying being there too.  There was a distinct buzz of excitement and joyfulness. Watching the young children’s faces as they saw the castle was a lovely thing to share, I knew exactly what they were thinking. I was in my happy place on my very own Treasure Island on such a beautiful day and there is nowhere else I would want to be but Piel. If only I could live there….

Rachel Capovila

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