Finding A Derelict Lighthouse on Hodbarrow RSPB Nature Reserve.

The derelict lighthouse at Hodbarrow mines and Millom ironworks
The abandoned cast iron lighthouse on Hodbarrow RSPB nature reserve.

I stumbled upon this derelict iron lighthouse at Hodbarrow RSPB nature reserve in Cumbria quite by accident.

I had decided to get back to nature and take a quiet evening stroll along the sea wall surrounding Hodbarrow Lagoon while staying near Haverigg. What I hadn’t realised was that it was previously the site of mines supplying Millom ironworks. Seeing abandoned engineering and remnants of industry on my peaceful walk through the nature reserve was a rather unexpected bonus!

Hodbarrow nature reserve is managed by the RSPB who have owned the site since 1986. It spans a large area of the former mines on the north side of the Duddon Estuary. The reserve is part of the Duddon Estuary site of special scientific interest and visited by a large number of birds including breeding terns, great crested grebes, redshanks, oystercatchers and other waterfowl. These can be quietly observed from the various hides dotted around the reserve.

How To Find The Mines At Hodbarrow.

The RSPB site is easily accessible from nearby Millom or from the start of the sea defences where they meet the beachfront in Haverigg, which is where I began my walk.

There is a small car park here if you want to walk around the reserve like I did or you can drive or cycle along a rough track that runs around the reserve with various parking spots along the way.

There are no facilities in Hodbarrow reserve, the nearest toilets, shops and restaurants are at Haverigg or Millom.

Hodbarrow Outer Barrier Sea Defences.

The sea facing side of the Hoddbarrow outer barrier sea wall is lined with thousands of concrete blocks. They are all individually numbered and dated and have holes in them for moving and positioning them.

Set into the wall in places are long seized-up winches and the rusty fastenings for old machinery from the days of the ironworks.

The outer barrier sea defence wall stones. The sea wall protecting Hodbarrow mines at Millom iron works near Haverigg
Hodbarrow outer barrier sea defence stones near Haverigg.
The numbered and dated stones of Hodbarrow iron mine's sea wall defences at Millom ironworks
The numbered stones of Hodbarrow’s sea defences.

Millom Ironworks and Hodbarrow Mines.

The mines and ironworks were in operation from 1856 until their closure in 1968 where they mined the haematite found in the area and processed it to extract iron ore. The construction of sea defences to protect the mines at Hodbarrow took five years and cost almost £600,000 before finally being completed in 1905. The defences included a new lighthouse part of the way along the inside of the sea wall.

I followed the path that runs along the wall between the sea defences and Hodbarrow Lagoon towards the lighthouse in the distance, unaware of whether it was still in use or not.

Apart from trying to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes that followed me, it was a pleasant walk. The immediate landscape is fairly barren but there’s the view of Duddon estuary and watching the water skiers on the lagoon to make the hike more interesting. Scattered all around the area are decaying pieces of iron and the reinforced concrete sleepers and rails from the tracks of the mine’s former railway.

Broken railway sleepers at former iron mines on Hodbarrow RSPB nature reserve
Broken and rusted reinforced concrete railway sleepers at Hodbarrow iron mines.

Hodbarrow Cast Iron Lighthouse.

As I finally reached the lighthouse it became apparent that it hadn’t been used for quite some time and had clearly seen better days. Reading an information board, I found that it had actually been restored by the local community in 2004 and even had a new light fitted and working but at the time of my visit it was in a sorry state again.

I love exploring derelict and decaying old buildings but I find it really sad that people took the time and energy to bring this lighthouse back to life after half a century of abandonment only for it to become a rotting shell again within 15 years.

Despite this I was intrigued by this lighthouse as it wasn’t one of the usually brick or stone built ones that I’d visited many times before. The red and white painted lighthouse has a 9 metre cast iron tower with the top housing what was once a lantern surrounded on the outside by an iron walkway.

When I visited, the lighthouse’s iron door had been removed and was lying on the ground several feet away making access to the tower possible. Time for a spot of exploration!

Hodbarrow RSPB reserve rusted derelict iron lighthouse
The derelict rusty iron lighthouse near Haverigg.

Inside The Abandoned Lighthouse.

Inside there were the usual signs of vandalism with graffiti on the walls and beer cans and other rubbish strewn across all three floors of the lighthouse.

The structure itself is still nice and sturdy and perfectly safe to enter, although climbing the tower can pose a few hazards. The signs of corrosion are all around, particularly on the ladders and around the windows, which are unglazed and leaves the inside of the tower exposed to the elements.

After making the short climb to the top of the tower I found it in much the same condition as the bottom level with the added mess from its use as a perching place for birds!

I spent some time taking in the views of the estuary and the eerie ambience of the place as the sun started to set before leaving the lighthouse behind and continuing on my stroll.

Inside the abandoned Hodbarrow iron lighthouse at Millom
Inside the disused cast iron lighthouse on Hodbarrow mines.
Second floor of Hodbarrow iron lighthouse at Millom iron works
The second floor of the abandoned Hodbarrow lighthouse.

Hodbarrow Lagoon.

The path follows the sea wall as it curves around to join Millom on the other side of the lagoon. The lagoon itself is a fairly modern creation, formed by the subsidence and flooding of land where part of the mine once was. It’s now managed by the RSPB and as well as being a haven for waterfowl and wildlife, it is also used for various watersport activities.

The scenery is nice enough but there’s not much to see after that in the way of buildings until the remains of an old stone based windmill and the original ironworks’ lighthouse come into view on the hills above.

Looking through the porthole window of Hodbarrow lighthouse Millom
View across Hodbarrow mines from the window of the iron lighthouse.

The Victorian Stone Lighthouse.

This lighthouse known as Hodbarrow Beacon is a scheduled monument built in 1866 at the time when the ironworks first became operational. It’s an 18 metre stone tower with a round window at the top, which would have shone a light out into the estuary to guide ships into dock so they could load up with iron ore.

It was decommissioned in 1905 when the sea defences were constructed and the iron lighthouse built to take over its role. The tower is still standing but the interior is mostly empty except for a stone staircase. Access inside the tower is currently blocked by a locked metal gate.

The cast iron lighthouse that replaced it was itself decommissioned in 1949.

A Timeline of Hodbarrow Mines And Millom Ironworks.

  • 1856 – Hodbarrow Minining Company sinks first mine shafts to extract haematite for iron ore.
  • 1866 – Millom and Askam Iron Company open Millom Ironworks. Millom new town founded. Stone lighthouse built to guide ships into harbour.
  • 1905 – Hodbarrow Outer Barrier sea defences constructed. Cast iron lighthouse built to replace first lighthouse.
  • 1949 – Iron lighthouse decommissioned.
  • 1968 – Hodbarrow mines and Millom ironworks close.

Hodbarrow At Sunset.

I didn’t continue much further towards Millom as it was getting dark and I still had a long walk back to Haverigg. The sun was setting as I retraced my steps back along the sea wall, past the iron lighthouse.

It was a beautiful sight glowing in the evening sun. I only wish I could have seen it in its heyday, lighting up the estuary for the ships coming in to dock and load up with a precious cargo of iron ore.

I said farewell to Haverigg and Millom but I do plan to come back and complete the 6 mile walk around Hodbarrow nature reserve sometime in the future.

Hodbarrow lighthouse at sunset. The abandoned lighthouse at Millom iron works photographed at dusk
Hodbarrow lighthouse photographed at dusk.

The Old And New Hodbarrow Lighthouses Compared.

LighthouseYear
Built
Decom
Year
HeightTower DesignLight Source
First1866190518m (59ft)Stone round towerFrom Window
Second190519499m (30ft)Cast iron round towerLantern

More information on Millom’s industrial heritage can be found at the Millom Discovery Centre including original machinery and artifacts from the ironworks and the Hodbarrow mines.