Heysham, near Morecambe, Lancashire, overlooks Morecambe Bay. At first glance it doesn’t appear to be a big place or have much of interest. But explore a little deeper, past the housing and the small village centre. There is the nature reserve where I once learnt about willow weaving. There is the ferry port where Simon and I sailed to the Isle of Man for a holiday. There is the nuclear power station…
But drive on past the ferry port and head to Half Moon Bay (not very well signposted in my opinion). Park opposite the little cafe (operating as a takeaway when we were there because of Covid restrictions), enjoy a hot drink, and then walk towards a modern artwork along the cliff.
Created by artist Anna Gillespie, SHIP is a sculpture of two figures sitting on the bow and stern of a ship. It is a celebration of the landscape and maritime heritage of Morecambe Bay, with one man facing ‘the old’ of St Patrick’s Chapel while the other man looking towards the ‘new’ of Heysham Nuclear Power Station.
But we had no interest in ‘the new ‘ today, so turning our backs away from the power station, we continued along a path towards the ‘old’. This is the fascinating St Patrick’s Chapel, a ruined Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, standing dramatically on the headland. The ruins are believed to date from the 700s or 800s. An excavation dated the site even earlier to the late 500s or early 600s.
Author Karen Lloyd, in The Gathering Tide, writes: “There’s a local story that St Patrick, after whom the chapel is named, landed at Heysham bringing the Christian message from Ireland, founding one of the earliest Christian Oratories and communities on the headland.”
Archaeologists have found graves in the grounds of the Anglo Saxon chapel, these were of a later age and included the remains of a Viking woman, buried in a shroud, along with a decorated bone comb.
It is thought that Vikings travelled to Heysham during the 900s, from Ireland and the Isle of Man.
The rock-cut graves atop the headland are a puzzle. Karen Lloyd says they “exude mystery and enigma.” Unfortunately there are no grave goods left and so impossible to identify a date for them. Karen says: “It’s thought they pre-date the first chapel to be built on the site. The 7th to the 11th century was a time of huge flux and change at Heysham that witnessed a mixing of cultures and belief systems”.
Curiously, while researching about the tombs afterwards, I read that they appeared on the cover of The Best of Black Sabbath CD.
According to Wikipedia, when another excavation was held on land below the rock-hewn graves, more than a thousand ancient artefacts were found. It turned out that people lived here 12,000 years ago.
The church of St Peter, again a Grade I listed building, sits behind the ruined chapel. An Anglo-Saxon church was once located here and even earlier back, in the 600s/700s, it’s thought a church was originally founded here. The church’s architecture dates back to various times – including the medieval ages – but was completed in 1864. Unfortunately we were unable to enter, I expect due to the restrictions at the time. It was a shame as I would have liked to have seen the Viking hogback stone (a grave cover dating back to Viking times) but we did have a wander around the graveyard. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric place to be buried, overlooking Morecambe Bay. At the back of the churchyard was a path taking us back to the ruins.
It would be a very peaceful place to be buried.
We passed through Morecambe on the way back home. I think this sunset encapsulates the spellbinding splendour of the Bay.