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" Workington Slag Heaps "

Date & start time:      31st March 2024.  1.45 pm start.

Location of Start :     The harbour light, Workington, Cumbria, Uk. ( NX 984 296).

Places visited :          The Howe, Workington.

Walk details :              2.6 miles, 215 ft of ascent, 1 hour 30 mins.

Highest point :           The Howe, 100 ft approx above sea level.

Walked with :              Loes and the dogs, Dylan and Dougal.

Weather :                     Sunshine and blue skies, great visibility.



© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. Licence number PU 100034184.


When Loes suggested this walk, my first thoughts were the same as yours probably, a slag heap ?

But I had heard of others that had walked here before and thought why not, it's a fine day and probably the best time to visit this less than salubrious place.

Workington foreshore on a nice sunny day . . . how different it all turned out to be !

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One minute we are walking below one of Cumbria's highest mountains.


The following day we've driven twenty minutes west

and are driving past harbour markers

and all the paraphernalia of a modern working harbour.

Nothing like a varied life to keep you on your toes.


This was an inner light and harbour mark

for shipping entering the old harbour at Workington.


We're not on a boat . . . it's close to the road !


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The river and old harbour area, home to more leisure craft than commercial vessels nowadays.

This is where the River Derwent, that has it's source at Sprinkling Tarn and which flows through Keswick, finally meets the sea.

The blue land sheds are next to the modern wet dock for the port, which can handle up to 12,000 ton vessels.

Not as busy as years back but the port is still active, with the main imports / exports from Workington Harbour

being as varied as steel, timber, petrolatum products, perlite, equipment for Sellafield and general cargo.

The building nearest to the yellow boat is the RNLI Lifeboat House.

We parked at the end of road, close to the harbour beacon, along with quite a lot of other people.

After a quick look around (and a photo on a rock) we set off up the grassy slope next to the car park.

The view back down to the docks, with wind farms and in the distance, the Cumbrian Fells.

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It turns out  that the rumours are true, the whole of the high ground close to the coast at this point is artificial,

a waste tip from 100 years of heavy industry which built and grew the town from early in the industrial revolution.

Recent work by Wildlife and environmental organisations has started to make the bare grassland that covers it a little more productive.

The "rolling downs" of Workington with St Bees Head in the distance.

Behind the harbour are the wind farms and the Iggesund Paper Factory, which makes paper and card for the packaging trade.

You may have used their products which they transform from wood pulp into paper and boxes, for perfumes to whisky and sweets to grocery products.

In recent years they have converted their power station, capable of producing enough power to supply Carlisle, to burning wood chip in a biomass plant.

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The world is full of surprises (for me)

as we reach the summit of the hill

and find a crucifix on top of a wall and seat.


It is the location for local pilgrimage

on special occasions in the year.


The cross is also partially adorned at its base

by a number of 'forever' locks

left, presumably, by local romantic couples.


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There's a fine view from up here today, stretching across the trading estate and houses all the way to the high fells.

The long buildings here housed some of the old steel works factories that supported the town for so many years.

Dylan and Dougal seem to attract people wherever they go.

These guys were out on a walk from town and wanted their pictures with the dogs.

Over the fence, marked dangerous cliffs, was not the sea but a huge quarry.

At some point in time the waste slag that makes up the headland has been quarried and re-purposed, carried away for use in road building or landscaping.

Click here or on the photo above for a slightly larger version of this picture.

It was easy enough to climb to this point and too early to return to the car, so we headed down the other side of the slope.

The area of town below is known as Moss Bay and a company, Moss Bay Metals still exists to this day.

Looking back at the headland and you can begin to appreciate just how much material was dumped here over the centuries.

A second and lower hill gave us a view south to Harrington Harbour

and of the coast railway that joins Carlisle, the Cumbrian west coast town and Sellafield, to the main line at Lancaster.

We've turned now and started our way back.

I walked closer to the edge this time and you could start to appreciate that the headland geology is certainly not natural.

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When I got home I spent an enjoyable evening finding out

a little more about where we have been.

Further up the coast there are other examples of eroded slag heaps,

this one coal rather than iron, again protected from sea

by dumped boulders.

Photo: The Black Cliffs of Workington.

(courtesy of Bob Jenkins at


- - - o o o - - -

An interesting article by R W Barnes, 1950's slag tipping in operation

. . . and another by Solway Shore-walker  The Volcanoes of Workington

On the section of coast where we are standing it was molten slag that had been tipped over the centuries, and what I saw earlier

and thought at first to be a circular sea anchor for shipping, could well have been a ladle for carrying slag as in the photo above.

If you are at all technically minded do come back to both of the above links, as they tell of the history and reasons behind the headlands.

In there too are tales of how trains dumped the molten slag and of the rail disaster when one man lost his life working on the tip.

Back to today's sunny walk and we are at the Crucifix once again.

On the west coast of Cumbria Scotland is never far away and today Criffel stands out well, its outline and fields seen with quite a lot of detail.

A slight diversion on the way back as we head down the old fence line to the shore.

The poor nature of the soil can be seen . . . as could an old jetty.

Could it be this was an old harbour wall before the tip was extended . . . its origins are a mystery at this point in time.

Out on the end of the present harbour wall is the light house and harbour lookout.

It is also a Workington start point for the cycle coast-to-coast route.
Loes climbs the tower and looks out to sea.

She descended first and re-joined the dogs on the ground floor which gave this unusual perspective.

Looking down I noticed an observation  marker on the floor, an observation post without a post !

It gave viewpoint directions and landmarks that may or may not be seen from here.

Unusually there's a second twenty feet away on the northern side, with subtley different headers.

The end of the walk and so time for the dogs to get on board.

Despite his poorly front leg, Dylan is still quite capable of jumping up . . . just a little help jumping down is sometimes appreciated.

Driving back towards home we pass this domed stone building.
What its historic purpose was is unclear as there's no plaque.

A great walk. . . one that asks as many questions as it offer answers.

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Billy Bumley house, Workington, Cumbria, England

Email from Trish Sandwith . . .
I was born in Workington - grew up to the noise of the steelworks and could see the slag tipping from my bedroom window. The domed building is Billy Bumley’s house.

Thanks Trish . . . that got me thinking . . . Further research has brought up the following:

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On the quay side at Workington. Built in the 1800s and used by a tide watcher. Named after a former workers house, called Billy on a nearby hill.  Courtesy of Tosh123

I seem to remember there were two of those places, one bricked up. I think one was a good bit higher up the shore than the other and that the one there is the lower of the two. It's a very long time ago though and I could be quite wrong.
Courtesy of Edgar Iredale

My research also found that, by the look of this picture, the actual Billy Bumley's House was indeed set higher up on Shore Hills.  The small house I photographed is most likely the white dot in the extreme left of the picture.   The shape of the two similar domed houses certainly hints at the idea of them being Harbour marks for the old port of Workington.  

Thumbnail photo and the larger version available at . . . James Bently Archive

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Technical note: Pictures taken with my iPhone 11pro mobile phone camera.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

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