A Coastal Pub Tour on Bicycles with notes on Topography and Local History on Gretna to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumberland


Coastal Pub Tour Stage 116 : Gretna to Bowness-on-Solway

We pfaffed about a bit at Gretna before heading off towards the border crossing. The sign on the B7076 just across the River Sark near the Old Toll House is a simple affair. Consequently, we made a bit of a detour to the more ornate sign between Springfield and Blackbank for our photograph ....

England & Scotland border crossing between Springfield and Blackbank near Gretna
© Photograph taken by author. DO NOT COPY

I am not sure why the sign near the Old Toll House is so basic. Near Springfield there is an equally impressive sign for those crossing in the opposite direction and entering Scotland. The romance of Gretna and Gretna Green is somewhat diminished by the noise of the motorway that only just by-passes the village. Indeed the six lanes of tarmac sliced through the old lane leading to the former Graham's Arms that traded close to Gretna Junction.

Route Map : Mossband Marsh and Cumberland Gap
© Crown Copyright. Courtesy of OS Maps. DO NOT COPY

The assault on the ears, not to mention the inhalation of brake and tyre particles, is amplified as National Cycle Route 7 uses the old road alongside the M6. One has to remain alert as vehicles still storm along this former trunk road at high speeds. Not too far from Mossband Hall Farm we passed two pedestrians walking in the opposite direction. The couple were donning high-vis vests advertising their journey on foot from Land's End to John O'Groats. We wished them good luck as we rolled towards the River Esk crossing. We stopped on the bridge to view our first English pub of the day, the Metal Bridge Inn.

River Esk with Metal Bridge Inn
© Photograph taken by author. DO NOT COPY

We were over a century late for our crossing of the River Esk. If we had pedalled over the water before the First World War then we would have enjoyed the old iron bridge adapted by Thomas Telford to carry the old turnpike route across the Esk in 1820. We paused to capture our first view of the former Metal Bridge Inn, a hostelry in which some young elopers may have toasted their wedding across the border at Gretna.

After calling at the old hostelry and farm, we headed into the lanes of Rockcliffe, an extensive parish incorporating hamlets and settlements at Metal Bridge, Todhills, Garriestown, Castletown, Floristonrigg and Cargo etc. It was great to be off the beaten track and we saw no cars until the parish church. Mind you, there were some tractors trundling along the lanes. Farm plant and machinery seems to have become very large in recent times and are a bit scary when passing. Empty sheep trailers are particularly frightening as they make such a clattering noise when passing over a bump in the road.

We cycled past Halltown Farm and, just before Gun Cottage [formerly Cross Cottage], turned right on the lane to the Esk Boathouse. This is marked as such on contemporary maps and where there was once a small hostelry known as the Boat House Inn. Here we were on the edge of the marshes looking across the Esk.

Route Map : Esk Boathouse to Rockcliffe
© Crown Copyright. Courtesy of OS Maps. DO NOT COPY

After taking a look across the Esk and reading the ode to Honest Will, we backtracked along the lane and down to Demesne and Castletown in a futile search for the former Spread Eagle. I suspect that the building, along with many old houses near the bank of the River Eden, was demolished years ago.

We rode back around Rockcliffe Cross and along the lane close to the River Eden, passing Old Rockcliffe Hall and down the hill into Rockcliffe Churchtown. What a romantic setting, riding along, past the former Ship Inn where the bollards each have a flowerpot. In days of old there was a ferry service across the river. We rode over the footbridge and up the short ramp to the main gate of the parish church. Sadly, the church was closed - which always gets my goat. What is the point of a church if it is locked? Just lock up the valuables and leave the building for visitors to enjoy, not to mention the local people who may need spiritual refreshment. The building was struck by lightning in a tremendous storm during November 1899. The tower was almost completely destroyed, the falling stonework damaging much of the nave.


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Three Cyclists [c.1912]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

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