Posted by: travelrat | October 17, 2010

Roaming Around Roa

This post has been entered into the Granturismo/HomeAway Holiday Rentals travel blogging competition.

When I was growing up in the North of England, we often went to Roa Island, a place of holiday cottages and a quiet dormitory suburb for the people of Barrow in Furness, for the day. We didn’t go for the beach; there wasn’t much of one there. We went to watch the ships cruising up the Walney Channel to Barrow.

Barrow was once just a small fishing village, ships anchored in Piel Harbour, a natural harbour formed by the mouth of the 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 channel. And, some ships still found it more advantageous to use Piel Harbour rather than Barrow.

Even the Glasgow-Fleetwood steamer found it more convenient to pick up and land passengers, arriving and departing by rail. The railway ran along a causeway which, according to John Abel Smith, its designer ‘ … connected Roa with the neighbouring island of Great Britain’

Curiously, the railway station on Roa 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 mail to Piel.

You can still see the Customs House with its watchtower, although they’ve long since become private residences. And, as a reminder of Roa’s maritime past, the Barrow lifeboat is stationed there, too

Roa Island lifeboat station, with the castle on Piel Island across the channel.


  1. Hi Keith,
    How unusual, so Piel Island only has a castle on it?
    I can see some sort of a white building in front of the castle, is this a private house? It looks to be a long Island by the photo.

    It does seem strange to call the railway station and Post Office on Roa, by the name of the Island across the way, I wonder who’s idea that was?

    • It’s the pub! See for a photo.

      As to the name of the station/Post Office, I suppose the logic was that, since the whole stretch of water enclosed by Walney Island, Piel and Roa was called ‘Piel Harbour’, people could more easily identify with it.

      In the same way, not far away, the railway terminated at a village called Birthwaite. The railway company changed the name to Windermere, even though it’s a good three miles from the lake of the same name, to better attract the customers.

  2. Hi Keith,
    Thanks for that, Yes it is a pub, I would of never guessed that a pub was there. It looks like a really nice place, so peaceful, a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Can you wander around the old Castle, if so, that would be my first port of call to go exploring.

    • There’s a few details of the castle at, and some pictures. You can visit it, but it needs a bit of scrambling about to get inside.

      Entry is free, but you need to take the ferry across from Roa … cost £3 when I visited; probaly more now.

      You couldwalk across the sands from Walney at low tide, but I wouldn’t advise it unless you are with someone who knows the area reallywell

  3. i love small places like that. what a journey your life has been! good luck.

  4. Hi Keith, thanks so much for entering our competition. Good luck!

  5. Lovely! What a nice spot. Must get there one day.

    Sorry to take so long to acknowledge this. Way behind on everything due to terrible internet access.

    Thanks for this and best of luck!

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