- Maryport struck us as a great place to station our boat to take a foray across to the Solway Firth to Scotland, and around to the Clyde …
- Maryport is a very convenient and nicely equipped marina, with very helpful staff.
- It is a friendly place, and if you like peace and quiet, well, you have found it.
- On a hot summer’s day it is delightfully benign, and almost sleepy.
- We were not surprised that since our visit in summer 2017, the marina has been awarded yet another Gold Anchor. That makes four!
Ports of Call – Maryport Minimalism
Alex Whittaker visits this compact revitalised English port on the Solway Firth …
Look at a map of the UK, find the top left-hand corner of England and you should be around the Solway Firth. Often overlooked, Maryport harbour lies on the Solway Firth and is one of the closest ports to Scotland. This part of Cumbria is one of the most remote districts of England, but offers surprisingly attractive cruising. Maryport is situated at the mouth of the River Ellen, and you can easily see the Scottish hills of Dumfries and Galloway from its fishing quay. Scotland feels so close you can almost smell the heather. Looking across, it all feels extremely clean and fresh. If this alone is not enough cruising incentive for you, the Isle of Man lies only 39 nautical miles across the Irish Sea.
Access from the sea
The Solway Firth is noted for its shifting sandbanks and strong tidal streams. Whether arriving at Maryport from the north or south, most authorities suggest giving the coast a good offing of 1.5 miles. This avoids sandy shoals and rocky outcrops. Along this coast most havens dry out, so your passage planning has to be spot on. Harbours and dock gates have to be open to you or your craft will have to take the ground. In the case of Maryport, due care is needed to also time your arrival when the marina is accessible – drying out in the muddy outer harbour would not be fun. Having said that, the immediate harbour approach on a rising tide is straightforward. Just note that the whole sandy foreshore of Maryport dries out to well past the south pier. Access into Maryport marina is restricted to two and a half hours either side of high water. The prudent approach is to come in directly between the two piers, and only turn to starboard when the marina entrance is immediately abeam. It is important not to cut the corner at the dock entrance – this is to avoid the large mudbank projecting west of the Senhouse basin.
Maryport has two sensitively restored docks harking back to her industrial past. These are Elizabeth and Senhouse. The latter encloses the new and very accommodating Maryport marina. The whole dock area has been freshened up since its industrial past; however, the refurbishments are unobtrusive. All updating has deliberately been pared down to the essentials. This brings its own charm. All you need is your imagination to visualise the port in its heyday. Then you can return to the comfortable and supportive present, on your own boat, in the cosy new marina.
Maryport’s first lighthouse was built in 1796, and by 1946 it had been converted to acetylene gas. For a time it was Britain’s oldest lighthouse. In 1996, the fine new octagonal tower was built, which was connected to mains electricity. This 11-metre-high tower is built mainly of cast iron on a stone buttress. Although it is modern, it represents a sympathetic updating of the original. The light only has a modest output of 120 candelas. Despite this, it can be seen out to sea from 6 nautical miles. The lighthouse is maintained by Maryport Harbour Authority, and not Trinity House.
The marina lies a little way short of Maryport town centre. This gives the whole reappointed harbour precinct a peaceful feeling of detachment. The sympathetic updating has not involved any silly municipal ‘airbrushing’. This is still (just) a working port; however, it all feels a bit undiscovered. When the message gets out and UK boaters find out about the charms of this area, Maryport will become very popular.
The port authority has done well with its inheritance. Maryport harbour does not feel like an ersatz heritage theme park, mainly because Maryport still houses a small fishing fleet. The fishing boats, their casually disposed paraphernalia on the quay and their workaday support businesses keep the harbour authentic. However, the movements of the local fisherfolk follow the rhythm of the tides. This means that, depending on the tide, you may see no fishing activity at all. Then the tide will change and the quays will come back alive.
If you love commercial boats of any type, watching the fishing craft movements has a buzz all of its own. It is always gratifying to see commercial boating activity from the back deck of your own cruising vessel. As well as this, the whole town, which possesses all the shops, restaurants and watering holes that a visiting crew might require, lies almost on the doorstep, but just over a bridge. You could disembark at the marina, walk into town with just your credit card and revictual your vessel to any standard. Mind you, you would need to take a short taxi ride back with your haul. However, this short walk to town acts as a buffer. It means that around the harbour you are pleasantly unaware of the municipal bustle. We found the harbour area surprisingly tranquil, with its own easy pace. It feels very calm. On a hot summer’s day it is delightfully benign, and almost sleepy. There is the Lake District Coast Aquarium on the River Ellen quayside by Elizabeth Dock. It has both fresh- and seawater displays, and daily feeding of the fish. There is also a shark and ray pool, a shipwreck and a crashing wave exhibit. All very creative and different. Next door is the handy and welcoming Harbourside Café by the lifting bridge, which boasts great views and even better scones. Between the harbour and the town is the Wave Leisure Centre, which would be a boon for boat families held over in port by a storm. However, in Elizabeth Dock we could not help but notice that there is no run of trendy restaurants, bars and visitor-facing businesses. Oddly enough, this does not feel a drawback. Minimalist Maryport remains pure.
Mrs Whittaker and I noticed a venerable Microplus gently traversing Elizabeth Dock. It may have been a 501 and not an Explorer. I have always loved Microplus boats and have long admired their form, simplicity and affordability. Mind you, when they first came out, I can also remember not having enough dosh to actually own one. This example was fitted with a chirpy Mercury Blue Band outboard of parallel provenance. The Microplus tied up in the corner of the dock next to a GRP double-ender of similar vintage. Neither hardy skipper was wearing a life jacket, which surprised us given the depth of the dock and the proximity of the Irish Sea. I spoke to these cheery elderly chaps just messing about in the dock in their 16-footers. Apparently locals can keep a boat here, with zero facilities compared to the marina, for just £100 per annum. Even at these superlow prices, we couldn’t help noticing that there were only one or two such boats in the dock. Clearly the marina provides a better offer to most local boat owners. However, I applauded the open-handed and democratic nature of the harbour authority’s £100 concession. It shames the rapacity of some other providers that could be mentioned.
Maryport inshore rescue
Wandering around the harbour we noticed a purpose-built compound for Maryport Inshore Rescue (independent). This intrigued us since in our part of the world such rescue services are something of an RNLI monopoly. There was no one about to ask, but we wondered what the story was regarding this locally funded, totally independent rescue body. Their website clearly states that they work closely with the RNLI, and they were certainly well equipped. Their latest inshore lifeboat (ILB) is a 9m RIB that packs twin 175hp outboards.
As powerboaters, we have to stand back and admire such selfless service to the maritime community. Online we discovered that these fine people also work inland! In fact, they assisted with search and rescue operations in the traumatic Cockermouth floods. It was similarly impressive to see that they cooperate with other rescue services across the border too.
Sign of the times
We noticed that Cumbria police have put a police control notice on the fishing quay wall. It struck us as a common-sense anti-terrorism measure. Essentially, it spells out to all persons embarking and disembarking from boats that they are liable to be stopped and questioned about their activities. The notice lists the offences that might ensue from non-compliance. This prompted two thoughts: firstly, the need for watchfulness and compliance from all us leisure boating folk; and secondly, just how much terrorism has now set the tone for modern life and leisure in the UK. The clear message is that we have to be vigilant even when our guard is down when we are pleasure boating.
This modern, compact town was founded by the Senhouse family in 1749. Humphrey Senhouse named the town after his wife Mary and the dock after himself. This came as a surprise to me since we had always thought Maryport was a medieval port named after St Mary. In Victorian times there was much grimy local industry, including a foundry, many coal mines and several coke ovens. Ships were built by Wood’s yard and Ritson’s yard on the River Ellen. Famously, and rather precariously, these vessels had to be launched broadside due to the river’s narrowness.
Two of Maryport’s famous sons have strong connections with the sea. Thomas Henry Ismay, born at Maryport in 1837, was the founder of the mighty Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, better known as the White Star Line. Maryport’s other notable maritime son was none other than noble Fletcher Christian, the most illustrious mutineer in history. It is a little known fact that, before leading the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, Fletcher Christian went to the same school as a certain local poet named William Wordsworth.
Maryport has also attracted artists from afar. The celebrated Salford-born painter of matchstick men and northern mill towns L.S. Lowry had a vital connection with Maryport as he visited many times to paint. He depicted the old lighthouse and docks in a number of his paintings. ‘The Harbour (Maryport), 1957’ is probably his best-known version.
Maryport nowadays has perhaps 12,000 inhabitants. Like many settlements on the Cumbrian coast it has seen recession, but it is coming out the other side. For example, long before our visit we had heard of the Maryport Blues Festival, whose headline acts have included Jools Holland, Elkie Brooks, Buddy Guy, Jethro Tull, Chuck Berry and Van Morrison. We thought it would be great fun to attend by boat. We could visit the music festival all day and then sleep aboard our own boat in the marina at night. If you prefer a bed in town, Maryport’s Golden Lion Hotel is still going strong. It is clearly visible from the main harbour and boasts some notable historic visitors. These include famous writers such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, while the famous engineer George Stephenson, the ‘Father of the Railway Age’ and designer of ‘The Rocket’, also stayed here.
The marina lies in Senhouse Dock. In order to retain water in the marina basin when the tide goes out, the marina has a flap gate. This operates when the water level registers 2.4 metres. The cill is 3.1 metres above chart datum. Vessels should call ahead on VHF Channel 12/16 for permission to enter the marina. Duty staff are also available at weekends via telephone on 07422 963278.
The marina has 190 berths, most fully serviced with water and electricity. The berth depth for most of the marina (excluding Pontoon A south side) is 5.6 metres, so your new Sunseeker should fit. Interestingly, in addition there are non-serviced budget berths on Pontoon A south side. These are for craft up to 6.5 metres maximum. It should be noted that this is a relatively shallow area, but suitable for powerboats up to the length specified. In 2017, the normal service berths were rated at £194.99 per metre, per annum. The budget berths on Pontoon A south side (maximum 6.5 metres) were rated at £800 per metre per annum. We immediately felt that the latter would be very attractive to many powerboat owners in the target range. Daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal berthing contracts are available for all berths, so it was all very flexible. As boat owners and marina berth holders, we felt these prices were very attractive. Winter storage up on the hardstanding was similarly cost-effective. Marina fees for 2018 are available online at www.maryportharbour.com, and all in all they looked good deals to us.
Toilets, showers, laundry
The marina has all the necessary facilities for ablutions. We noticed that there was also a coin-operated sweets machine, which children in the crew would find very attractive.
We liked this marina initiative. Essentially it is a pleasant little ‘conservatory’ projecting from the main marina building. It overlooks the pontoons and contains a number of handy items for marina users. These include tables, chairs, a fridge, a TV, a computer and a laptop for Internet searches, cups, cutlery, a kettle, a microwave and a bookshelf for book swaps. It is a cosy retreat and it is hoped that a newly formed berth holders group will extend its social uses. There is no bar as such, but you can bring your own wine.
The existing Maryport marina Wi-Fi system was completely uprated in 2017 – great news for family crews with data-hungry teenagers, and for all budding powerboat vloggers.
Access to the gated pontoons and locked marina facilities is via an electronic fob.
In 2017 there was no commercial chandlery associated with the marina. However, the marina has the basics, such as fenders, available for sale. It can also sell you new ropes spliced to your order at no extra charge. You get the feeling that the staff are accommodating.
Red diesel is available from the marina fuel berth. In late summer 2017, red propulsion diesel cost £1.19 per litre. Sadly there is no alongside petrol berth. As committed petrolheads, initially this was a disappointment; however, the very accommodating marina staff step in. They will arrange for a marina vehicle to take you to a local garage and bring you back with your petrol. You can’t say fairer than that.
This is situated on the fuel berth.
Our current boat is all-electric but most of our boats have used Calor gas, so we are always mindful of convenient bottle swaps. It is a boating disaster if you can’t fry your breakfast bacon, but the very good news is that Maryport marina has Calor gas for sale. The marina also has some sizes of Campinggaz containers on sale, too.
Maryport marina is well set up for trailer boaters like us. There are two slipways – one into the marina basin and one into the drying harbour. The marina slipway lies on the south side of the marina basin and it is free to marina clients, though you should log your intentions with the marina office since the local commercial boat repair company shares access to the slipway.
If you have a very big powerboat to get in the water, the commercial trolley is enormous. The truly vast and gentle harbour slipway in Senhouse basin is over mud, and even I could get my outfit down that huge slip first time. You need to launch within a couple of hours either side of high tide.
The marina has its own 25-ton travel lift.
Most unusually, and most enterprisingly, the marina has caravan and camper pitches. These are right next to, and run by, the marina. These hardstandings interested us greatly, since each one has its own electricity point. If your towing outfit comprised a 16-footer on a trailer towed by a camper, this would be utterly ideal.
Marina contact data
Maryport, CA15 8AY
Telephone: 01900 814431
Duty staff mobile: 07422963278
VHF: 12 or 16
The short answer is: ‘not many’. Consequently, we would treat a trip to Maryport exactly as we would treat a trip to the Med or the Balearics – taking with us all we anticipate that we might need. Mind you, with modern 24-hour chandlery dispatch from the Internet, being stranded without boat spares is probably less likely than ever before. There are two chandleries at Whitehaven, about 12 miles away by road and a bit less by sea.
None in the harbour, but several in the town.
Explore on land
Being on the western edge of the Lake District, Maryport is not short of places to explore by land, or even by tender. The seaside resort of Silloth is situated just 6 miles to the north, and the wicked metropolis of Carlisle lies about 28 miles away. However, most boaters would naturally be attracted to the Lakes. For example, Bassenthwaite, Buttermere and Derwentwater all lie between 30 and 40 minutes away by car. You could even port your inflatable dinghy there!
Since it is only a 7-mile taxi ride away, we decided to visit historic Cockermouth. It has been a market town since the 10th century and is very handsome. Much of the town is of medieval origin with Georgian and Victorian additions. It is a very pleasant place, with many diverting cafés, pubs and restaurants. Mrs Whittaker particularly enjoyed the range of independent shops. It was also interesting to visit William Wordsworth’s house.
One evening we dined at the Honest Lawyer restaurant. Liking being close to water, we chose it for its riverside location, and its adventurous menu. It is situated in a fine Grade II listed building. We began by taking our pre-dinner cocktails on the terrace just above the River Cocker. The fusion of local Cumbrian lamb with a touch of Indian cuisine was exceptional. Mains ranged from £11 to £27 per head, with starters around the £7 mark. Decent wines started at a very reasonable £17 a bottle – a bit dearer than our local Wetherspoons but a heartily recommended dining experience.
Trailing your boat there
This part of Cumbria is not blessed with good road communications. Arriving on tow via the motorway network, we felt it best to aim for Carlisle on the M6, then take the A596 to Maryport. It is just over an hour’s steady towing from the M6, although the distance is only a modest 28 miles.
Finding the marina is a doddle by road. There are no tricky corners, dodgy signage or complex one-way systems to navigate with your trailer on tow. When you arrive it is a delightfully quiet location. There is no pressure on parking spaces or trailer manouevring room, which is a blessing after a long, tiring haul over land. The staff are very helpful. This is definitely a low-hassle marina. Note that there is no charge to marina clients for trailer parking, or indeed car parking, during your stay – a very good deal, we thought.
Maryport struck us as a great place to station our boat to take a foray across to the Solway Firth to Scotland, and around to the Clyde – or perhaps to sally across the Irish Sea to the intriguing Isle of Man. Maryport is a very convenient and nicely equipped marina, with very helpful staff. It is a friendly place, and if you like peace and quiet, well, you have found it. We were not surprised that since our visit in summer 2017, the marina has been awarded yet another Gold Anchor. That makes four!
Paper: Admiralty 1346 and 2013.
Electronic: As usual, we used our Navionics app on our iPhone 4 and iPad 2.
Passages from Maryport
Isle of Man 39nm
Mull of Galloway 50nm
Ten funky facts about Maryport
- The original town settlement dates from AD 122.
- It was a command and supply base for Hadrian’s Wall.
- The town used to be called Ellenfoot.
- A 1749 act of parliament founded modern Maryport.
- Maryport’s first lighthouse was built in 1796.
- Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian knew Maryport well, and often stayed at his relatives’ house at nearby Ewanrigg Hall.
- Local lad and Lakeland poet William Wordsworth stayed in Maryport in 1829.
- Maryport promenade is one of the prime sites in the UK for UFO sightings.
- Charles Dickens began writing Bleak House while staying in the Golden Lion Hotel, Maryport.
- Novelist Wilkie Collins stayed in Maryport in 1857. His famous story The Woman in White was based on a Maryport ghost story.
Maryport lies within an area both sides of the Solway Firth that historically included prime lands for the ‘reivers’. These were raiders who roamed over both sides of the Borders in the turbulent years from the late 13th to the early 17th century. They spent their time stealing, pillaging, kidnapping and generally being antisocial. They came from both Scottish and English stock, so they were truly ‘equal opportunies’ pillagers.
The celebrated Salford-born painter of matchstick men and northern mill towns had a vital connection with Maryport as he visited many times to paint. He depicted the old lighthouse and docks in a number of his paintings. ‘The Harbour (Maryport), 1957’ is probably his best-known version.