The remains of wartime heritage still exists around the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and, for once, these sites weren’t built to defend against any fallouts with the Scots.
During the First and Second World Wars, huge munitions factories and airfields were built around the border between the two countries to support the national war efforts – Longtown, north of Carlisle, had a huge armaments depot, while Anthorn, Kirkbride and Silloth had airstrips.
Anthorn got its first runway in 1918, but once RAF Silloth was opened in 1939, Anthorn’s site became an emergency backup landing strip. RAF Kirkbride, to the east of Newton Arlosh, also opened in 1939 as a storage and maintenance base.
RAF Silloth was bombed in 1940, which led to the creation of ‘dispersal areas’ in requisitioned farmland to spread out the military resources based there and minimise any collateral damage. The airfield was also home to the creation of the ‘Silloth Trainer’, a type of flight simulator, used to train pilots.
And there were tragic tales too. The Solway Firth was nicknamed Hudson Bay because of the bomber planes of that name which crashed there. An air-sea rescue unit was stationed in Silloth Docks but not every pilot survived because the sands didn’t make their missions easy. The remains of one plane can still be seen at low tide at Grune Point, which is also the location for a distinctive pillbox lookout post, said to be unique as it is made of concrete-filled sandbags.
Anthorn experienced a revival in the 1940s when it was taken over by the RAF. They built a RNAS, Royal National Air Service, facility called HMS Nuthatch which was used as an aircraft receipt and dispatch unit. The last aircraft left its runway in 1957 and the site finally closed in 1958.
Silloth Airfield closed on 31 December 1960, but Kirkbride Airfield is still in use today as a small commercial airstrip.
On both the Silloth and Kirkbride airfields, many of the old buildings and hangars still remain. They are used by local businesses for industries ranging from IT to logistics. Anthorn is home to 13 towering antennae, used to communicate with submarines, and, since 2007, the ‘pips’ time signal, heard hourly on the BBC, have been broadcast from this remote site on the Cumbrian shore.
You can learn more about the area’s recent military past by following one of the Solway Military Trails.