If you’re coming from the east, you can spot Millom in the distance across the waters of the Duddon Estuary, but thanks to the twists and turns of the A595 it takes somewhat longer to get there than anticipated. 

No matter. Take your time and enjoy the countryside of this relatively undiscovered south west tip of Cumbria, an area dominated by Black Combe fell. 

Millom itself is considerably quieter than it was a century ago. After deposits of high quality iron ore (haematite) were discovered at nearby Hodbarrow in the mid-19th century, the town became a great centre for iron mining and steel making. 

25 million tons of ore were extracted over the next 100 years or so and at their peak the mines employed more than 1,000 men, many coming from Cornwall because of their experience and expertise in tin mining.

Within the space of a few years, however, the mines and the iron works shut down. You only have to go the Millom Heritage and Arts Centre and see the 1966 photograph of the Millom Ironworks to appreciate the effect of its closure two years later on the local population and economy. 

The poem On the Dismantling of Millom Ironworks by Millom born Norman Nicholson is particularly poignant. 

But those industrial times are not forgotten. A statue of a Hodbarrow miner stands in the town centre and a part of the Millom Heritage and Arts Centre is devoted to Millom’s ‘golden age’ of iron and steel.

The centre also has exhibits on local mining, on shipping in the Duddon Estuary, the wartime operations of RAF Millom and on rural heritage. There’s a large model of part of the Furness Railway and a tribute, by way of photographs, letters and poetry, to Norman Nicholson who was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1977.

A stained glass window in Millom’s St George’s Church - its spire seen from miles around - is also in memory of the famous local poet.

As for the site of the Millom Ironworks, just to the east of the town, that’s now a nature reserve and home to natterjack toads, skylarks, orchids, butterflies and bumblebees. Hodbarrow has gone the same natural way. 

At one time the haematite mines were protected from the sea by a concrete barrier but today the area is flooded and the resulting lagoon is an RSPB reserve. 

Breeding terns, sedge warblers and great crested grebes (known for their flamboyant courtship displays) are amongst the 50-60 bird species seen here every year. Marsh and bee orchids are a feature as well. Over 250 plant species have been recorded.  

The reserve, with its pushchair-friendly nature trail, is one and a half miles (2.4km) south of Millom, next door to the seaside village of Haverigg. The beach at Haverigg has a sculpture Escape to Light by Josefina de Vasconcellos, dedicated to the UK’s inshore rescue teams. About four miles (6.4km) north west of Haverigg is the fine beach at Silecroft.

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