Day out: Arnside and Silverdale, Lancashire

Explore a secret paradise of limestone hills that make a magical habitat for some of our rarest butterflies, says Matthew Oates

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En route to the Lake District we bypass paradise. The carboniferous limestone hills on either side of the Kent estuary, downstream of Kendal, form one of the most enchanting and underrated parts of Britain. These hills, and nearby valley woods and mosses (raised bogs), are one of our richest wild areas.

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South of the river lies the small but spectacular Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty of Arnside and Silverdale. These sprawling villages, gently at peace within themselves, are easily explored via the labyrinth of footpaths that run past gardens, through yew groves, twisted coppices, limestone crags, and out on to open hillsides where blue moor grass waves in the breeze.

There is something special about the intensity of light here, for sunlight reflects uniquely off the ever-present limestone walls. Someday a vigorous artist community will develop here, and change the world of art forever, for the light is right. Here, a great poet will write.

Treasure troves

This AONB is deeply intimate, retaining a landscape that is still largely intact, despite intrusions from modern dairy farming and conifer plantation. It contains almost too many magical places, such as the  Fairy Steps at Beetham Fell, Jack Scout point that overlooks the silver estuary of Morecambe Bay, the secret paths in the wooded limestone pavement of Eaves Wood, and the RSPB’s Leighton Moss wetland reserve.

Best of all is Arnside Knott, which offers dreamscape views over the distant Lakeland fells, scotch argus butterflies in high summer, and some of the most spectacular sunsets in Britain. This is a place of pilgrimage that generates deep belonging, and calls you back.

Wild spirit

East of the M6 stands a cluster of rock and scree hills that lead off towards the Yorkshire Dales. There are extensive stretches of limestone pavement, wooded and open, and often bedraggled with huge boulders. This is a world apart. There is separation here, and escape. North of the estuary the landscape is lonelier, and wilder, with an intense feel of spirit of place. 

The limestone massif of Whitbarrow Scar towers above the dank, midge-infested mosses of Foulshaw and Meathop. To the west, the untrodden low hills of Yewbarrow, Strickland and Hampsfell, below which sprawls the retirement town of Grange-over-Sands. So, next time you head up to the Lakes, turn left before Kendal, and enter paradise.

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Matthew Oates is an author and broadcaster and the National Trust’s nature and wildlife specialist.