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Crook O' Lune (Lancashire)

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Address: Lancashire / LA2 9NB / England / Tel: 01524 32878

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      14.05.2010 16:22
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      A great place for a walk in the countryside.

      The River Lune is one of the purest, most unspoilt rivers in the Northwest of England. Spared the drastic 'canalisation' forced on so many others to improve navigation, the river meanders slowly down from its source in the Cumbrian Fells: a silver ribbon winding through the Lancashire countryside.

      Just north of Lancaster, the meandering becomes extreme and the river forms an almost-loop, the shape of a shepherd's crook. The 'Crook O' Lune' is justifiably one of the most visited and famous sections of the river. Fans of Turner's paintings will recognise the name, he was inspired to paint here, immortalising the Crook O' Lune forever on canvas.

      Many thousands of people follow in Turner's footsteps every year and the Crook O'Lune picnic area has excellent facilities for its visitors. The site is conveniently located, only a few miles from Junction 34 of the M6, just off the A683. There are two large car parks, with toilets and disabled toilets.

      For disabled visitors there are picnic tables with wheelchair access close to the main car park. These offer elevated views over the Lune valley. A wide ramp, suitable for wheelchairs, leads down to the main picnic area on the river bank. A refreshment trailer is on the site, offering simple food and drinks, to enhance your picnic.

      Visitors may choose to simply stay at the picnic tables, eating and enjoying the beautiful views, but the Crook O' Lune has more to offer visitors willing and able to wander through the valley.

      The river bank is on the Lune Valley Ramble walk: a 16.5 mile trail from Lancaster to Kirkby Lonsdale. At the river below the car park, the valley is open, green and lush, with an obvious path upstream. Visitors in summer will be struck immediately by the activity: the area is full of birds. Sand martins nest in holes in the steep banks of the river and rush unconcernedly only inches away from visitors' heads.

      The waters of the Lune are clean and clear and provide plenty of food for fish-eating birds such as the large goosander, many of which will be present on the river, and the dashing, shy kingfisher, possibly the only view of which will be a blue streak as it flashes past upstream.

      At the start of the walk, the river is deep, slow, and tranquil, but do not be deceived. The Lune is a spate river and can turn very quickly into a rushing, boiling torrent. For evidence of this, examine the bank side trees. You will see debris hanging from the branches, left by the last flood. These can be 12 feet above the 'normal' water level, showing the power of this 'peaceful' waterway.

      As one proceeds upstream, the character of the river changes. It becomes shallower and wider, with huge gravel banks. Here, the noise and activity increases as the gravel is the breeding place for several species of wading bird. Delicate little common sandpipers will be seen dashing about. Lapwings, curlews and redshank, noisy birds all, will be seen and heard in the nearby fields. Most obvious of all, however, is the gorgeous, raucous, oystercatcher. These black and white birds will be seen everywhere here, calling and displaying loudly, seeming to compete with each other to be the loudest!

      Visitors in the height of summer should be lucky enough to see the waders' chicks. These are gorgeous, independent fluff-balls that can walk as soon as they're born; following their doting parents on feeding expeditions as soon as they've hatched.

      The pure waters of the Lune are home to salmon and sea trout. These are unfortunately getting rarer across the country. We were fortunate enough to see a large salmon leaping out of the water only yards from us: a wonderful sight.

      The walk now becomes more difficult as the path passes through woodland. The path is angled towards the river in places, meaning that walkers must be sure footed or risk a fall. Accompanying the walkers here will be a host of woodland birds. Many warblers, pied flycatchers, marsh tits, and woodpeckers visit or make their home here and in spring and summer, the air will be full of their song.

      This woodland is rather special. Ancient woodland is now rare in England, and the woods here are a good example of this precious habitat. If you visit in May, you will be treated to one of Britain's best natural wonders: the bluebell wood. Here, carpets of these beautiful flowers glow in sunlight filtering through the greening branches, giving a surreal faerie effect.

      It is not just bluebells that will be in flower, however, white blooms of wild garlic (its garlic sausage smell will hit you before you see it), wood sorrel and wood anemones compete with the butter-yellow lesser celandine for the visitor's attention, a wonderful spectacle that will stay in the memory until the next spring's blooms appear.

      The path now follows the river's crook. This wide loop takes the walker in a large loop, almost doubling back on itself. Once back at this point, there are two choices, follow the path back for a well earned picnic, or continue on a while and follow a path back through the woodland. This route is longer and steeper, but offers more chance to see the ancient woodland that the area is famous for.

      This is a glorious place to visit at any time of the year, but spring and summer must rank as the best times to come. If you're tempted to visit, remember that this is a popular spot and, if like me you don't like crowds, then visit early. This is a walk that will stimulate all the senses: the sounds, smells and sights of this beautiful valley give visitors plenty to do as they wander around. Lovers of beauty and nature will enjoy coming back here again and again.

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