A small corner of West Cumbria is a secret wilderness. At a guess, it's no more than about ten square acres of woodland lying between the villages of Broughton Moor in the north and Flimby in the south. Despite being bounded on two sides by villages from which there is easy access, very few people seem to use it and you can go there most times of day and never meet a soul, except, maybe, the odd dog-walker. The woodland belongs to the Lowther Estate, based in Penrith, and until a couple of years ago little notice appeared to have been taken of it for years. What remained of the old paths were wildly overgrown and the plantings of conifers had become dense and impenetrable. A recent programme of clearing and felling has left tracts of open land, encouraging the growth of many plants which appreciate a little more light.
An early morning walk in Flimby Woods on a fine early summer morning is a glimpse of all that is most wonderful - and threatened - in the English countryside. The wood is a haven to many woodland plants, to red squirrels and deer. But this idyllic scene has a secret: here be ghosts. For hundreds of years, this woodland was part of the great mining area of the West Cumbria coast, with big centres at Maryport, Workington and Maryport. The relics and ruins of its undustrial past are all around:the great blackened walls of the engine house which once pulled rail trucks up and down to the coastal depot; the mine-shafts, only recently fenced in; the little gravel quarries which provided the gravel for the rail tracks.
Flimby Woods hold twenty years-worth of memories for me: Bruno the yellow labrador flinging himself into every muddy pond and pool, including the big one still known as 'Bruie's Pool'; the Springer spaniels racing through the undergrowth in pursuit of rabbits - or anything that moved; Charlie, the elder Springer, wagging frantically as he proudly 'retrieved' a duck's egg, carried so gently in his mouth - then dropping it; the German pointer, Hunter, pointing out to me, very quietly and discreetly, the baby owl trapped by a wing in some undergrowth and needing rescue; Hunter pulling me over on an icy Christmas morning when I broke my wrist and was lucky to be rescued by a fellow-dog-walker; looking for primroses every spring in remote places.