Posted by: travelrat | June 23, 2010

Roa Island

Roa Island is a place of holiday cottages and a dormitory suburb for the people of Barrow in Furness. There’s a boat club here, and the Barrow lifeboat station. It’s also where you get the ferry to Piel, which I wrote about at

But, it wasn’t always like this. When nearby Barrow was just a small fishing village, ships used to anchor in Piel Harbour, a natural harbour formed by the mouth of the Walney Channel, of which both Roa and the neighbouring Piel Island were a part. Even after the Barrow Docks were established, the harbour pilots were based here, for they were ideally placed to meet ships, and guide them up the Walney Channel. And, some ships still found it more advantageous to use Piel Harbour rather than Barrow.

Even the Glasgow-Fleetwood passenger steamer found it more convenient to pick up and land passengers here. They would arrive and depart by means of a spur of the Furness Railway, which ran along a causeway which, in the words of John Abel Smith, its designer ‘ … connected Roa with the neighbouring island of Great Britain’

Railway passengers alighting at Roa may have been bemused by the station, which was called Piel Station. The Post Office on the island was called Piel, too. Until quite recently, the postman used to row across the channel to take the mail to Piel.

But, they are both gone now, as, indeed, is the railway. But, the Customs House and a watchtower can still be seen, although they’ve long since become private residences. The Coastguard Station is now called Roa Island House, and was once used as a weekend retreat by the noted local industrialist H.W. Schneider.

Unfortunately, the cannon that were in the garden when I visited ten years ago I found were gone the last time I visited; in fact, the garden’s gone, too! It is said Schneider installed the cannon so that he could fire the appropriate salute to any visiting royalty that happened to sail up Walney Channel.

I wonder if they were ever used? If I were Captain of a ship carrying royalty, I’d be inclined to call battle stations and return fire. Maybe that’s why I was never a ship’s captain?


  1. So interesting. I wasn’t aware of the history of Roa Island. I learn something new every time I come here!

    • I was really tickled by the reference to ‘ … the neighbouring island of Great Britain’ And, the idea of Schneider firing salutes to passing Royalty really did it for me.

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