Status: Purely descriptive 

‘landscape’ is a representation of all of the physical aspects of a view, often associated with artistic representations of views. This can include man made elements as well as natural aspects. A landscape may include; buildings, mountains, hills, rivers, fields, trees, roads, etc. Essentially a snapshot of a defined area with all that is visually represented therein. A ‘seascape’ is the same as a landscape, however, referring to the view which includes the sea. The most frequent definition utilised for ‘seascape’ is provided in the European Landscape Convention, which states that it is ‘an area, as perceived by people, from land, sea or air, where the sea is a key element of the physical environment’ (European Landscape Convention, 2000).

Under the European Landscape Convention it is acknowledged that all landscape can be important in the formation of local cultures and quality of life. Marine areas are specifically included in this scope. It is necessary to consider the impact on seascape and landscape in all development proposals and not just in areas designated for particular features. Inhabitants are likely to be protective of changes to their local landscape/seascape.

strong, healthy and just society is one of the UK High Level Marine Objectives, which align with the UK Marine Policy Statement and this includes people’s appreciation for seascapes. The UK Marine Policy Statement also requires the preparation of marine plans to consider the existing character of an area and; ‘should consider at a strategic level visual, cultural, historical and archaeological impacts not just for those coastal areas that are particularly important for seascape, but for all coastal areas, liaising with terrestrial planning authorities as necessary. In addition, any wider social and economic impacts of a development or activity on coastal landscapes and seascapes should be considered.’ (HM Government, 2011).

Many aspects of the landscape/seascape of the Solway Firth are constant over time and so the original 1996 ‘State of the Solway’ review continues to be highly relevant. Other aspects, such as the Robin Rigg Wind Farm and Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere (the buffer zone for which extends to the coast) are new additions to the Solway landscape introduced since 1996.

Landscapes are predominantly rural and pastoral, and owe much of their character to evolving agricultural and forestry practices. Changing industrial and infrastructure requirements, along with commercial and residential demands also exert an influence. The coastlines and rivers are subject to erosion and deposition, as well as the threat of rising sea levels, and these processes and their management can have significant landscape impacts. The area has a rich legacy of local distinctiveness, and draws many tourists to enjoy the landscape, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Solway.

Communities around the Solway often feel very passionately protective over the landscape and seascape of Dumfries and Galloway, and Cumbria, in addition to the times where one side can see the other. The landscape and seascapes of both the English and Scottish side of the Solway contribute to their community’s wellbeing, draw for tourists and residents alike, and form an important part of the area’s identities. There are several landscape based designations and cultural heritage features which are preserved through designations (see Protected Areas and Historic Environment and Cultural Heritage).

The different threads of the Solway’s history resonate in the landscapes of today, creating a powerful impression of time stretching deep into the past and also reaching out into the future.


Image; Dunskey Castle. © E. Baruah



At first glance, both sides of the inner Solway could be considered one seascape character area due to its open views and rural nature. However, the Scottish and English shores of the Solway differ broadly in geological character (See Seabed & Coastal Geology & Sediments), with Scotland hosting harder rocks than England’s sandstone and coal. The Scottish shore has become more rugged than its English counterpart as a result of these varying rocks. In the west, the contrasts between these harder rocks and younger weaker sandstone, plus the north/south drainage pattern, have created a series of peninsulas [e.g. the Isle of Whithorn] divided by estuaries, with granite intrusions creating rugged uplands rising directly from the coast. The Galloway coastline features several small islands including, Hestan Island, Rough Island, and Little Ross. In the South, softer sediments have been eroded to form a wide coastal plain, backed by the more resistant rocks of the Lake District Fells.

The lowlands on both coasts have been covered by glacial drift material, creating an undulating landscape of glacial deposition features. Changes in land and sea levels have left behind raised beaches and submerged forests, and coastal processes have created the sand spit peninsula at Grune Point, as well as extensive sand dunes and estuarine creeks and sandflats. Further south along the Cumbrian coast, the relatively more resistant sandstone is exposed to create St Bees Head.

The tide has been, and continues to be, a defining feature of the Solway Firth, causing a rush of water and potential flooding as the tide comes in and when the tide is out exposing extensive mudflats. Mudflats are common along the the entire Solway coast on both the Scottish and English sides, but are particularly well known in the inner Solway from east of Balcary Bay and Allonby.

The coastal skylines are sensitive to developments, which might impact views from the sea and/or coast. Dumfries and Galloway and the Cumbrian Solway coasts generally lack tall buildings and extensive changes to the skyline due to the rural nature, featuring towns as opposed to cities.


Image; Walkers on the coast. © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; K. Kirk


Original Solway Review Landscape-Seascape Assessment

North Coast

Along the north coast the Coastal Granite Uplands form the main relief as seen from across the water, in the form of Criffel, Screel, and Cairnsmore. These granite hills rise steeply from the coast, reaching 6-700m. They are rugged and exposed, with a relatively extensive forest cover.

The western Peninsulas of the Rhins, the Machars, and Dundrennan are frequently bounded by steep cliffs, often fronted by raised beaches, and broken by small rocky and sandy bays. Inland the landscape is gently undulating, dominated by improved pasture grazed by cattle and some sheep, with few trees. A fairly close network of lanes connects numerous farmhouses and caravan parks.

The coast and its influences are not generally apparent beyond one kilometre inland, apart from occasional glimpses of the sea and the windswept form of trees. On the south and western sides of these main headlands, the landscape becomes more rugged and is characterised by prominent rocky knolls colonised by gorse, and stone walled fields.

The main inlets of Luce Bay, Wigtown Bay, Fleet Bay, the Nith estuary and inner Solway itself are bounded by coastal flats. At low tide, the extensive sands and mud flats of the estuarine flats are exposed, bounded by very large hedged or fenced fields of cattle-grazed pasture. Dunes have formed at Torrs Warren and Preston Merse. Elsewhere grazed saltmarsh or merse is occasionally inundated by the sea, as around Wigtown Bay and Caerlaverock. Larger settlements such as Annan contrast with the otherwise sparsely settled, rural landscape. 

South Coast

Many of the features of the coastal flats are repeated on the southern shore of the inner Solway. The coastline between Rockcliffe (near Carlisle) and Grune Point looking onto the Scottish shore is characterised by vast intertidal flats, and coastal marshes at Rockcliffe and Burgh marshes, and Moricambe Bay. South of Grune Point, the intertidal strip is narrower and the character less estuarine. A thin belt of fixed and mobile dunes and shingle beaches stretches south to Maryport, separated from the coastal plain by the coast
road. Inland the c
oastal plain includes flatter open landscapes and more undulating, enclosed and intimate areas, and is dominated by improved pasture grazed predominantly by cattle, though with occasional sheep, with arable fields on the flatter land. Linear coastal villages, hamlets and isolated farms are connected by a network of minor roads and tracks.

These rural landscapes contrast markedly with the industrial townscapes of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport, and their associated urban fringe. The cliffs and rocky bays of this coast are backed by coastal hills, dissected by deep meandering river valleys which lead to natural harbours on the coast. Outside the developed or industrial areas, pastoral agriculture dominates, with limited woodland confined to the sheltered riversides.

The coastal sandstone extends south from Whitehaven beyond St Bees Head. This undulating landscape rises to 140m at St Bees Head, culminating in low crumbling red sandstone cliffs, the only coastal cliffs between the Scottish and Welsh borders.


Recent Landscape-seascape assessments

There has not been a recent landscape-seascape assessment on the Dumfries and Galloway coastline (the last extensive landscape assessment was in 1998). There have been character assessments which have undertaken a seascape-landscape assessment in consideration of a specific industry. Character assessments look at an industry and to what extent that industry could be placed in an area without significantly changing the character of that area. As previously outlined, the character of an area is intrinsically linked with its landscape/seascape.

coastal character assessment was conducted in 2007, looking at aquaculture capacity in Luce Sands to Fleet Bay (and North Argyll). There has also been a sector specific landscape capacity study in the Supplementary Guidance from the Dumfries and Galloway Council Local Development Plan 2017with an offshore assessment based on a regional coastal character assessment. This study explicitly stated the recommendation to ‘protect the special qualities of the coastal landscapes and wider seascape which form an essential part of the identity of Dumfries and Galloway…’ (Dumfries and Galloway Council, 2017) highlighting the importance of the Solway, and wider, seascape.

Furthermore, NatureScot (NS) has issued a Guidance note in 2017 on Coastal character Assessments, which includes guidance on how to conduct landscape/seascape assessments as well as visual impact assessments. The landscape and visual impact on the Solway Firth was commented on by NatureScot in Supplementary Advice provided in response to the Draft sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy 2019, in relation to the Draft Plan Option (DPO) site located within the Solway Firth included in the proposed plan. The Solway Firth DPO was labelled as SW1, since the Draft marine plan was published and consultations have been assessed, the Scottish Ministers decided not to progress with the SW1 block, and as such it is not included in the final Sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy,

There have been several landscape/seascape assessments undertaken on the Cumbrian Solway more recently. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has also produced a seascape assessment for the North West Marine Plan Area, which includes the full extent of the English Solway in line with the necessity to consider seascapes within the UK Marine Policy Statement.

There was also an assessment for the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 2010 (note this does not extend past Rockcliffe in the north and Maryport in the south). Cumbria has also had a number of landscape assessments conducted in reasonably recent years, including the Cumbria Landscape Character Guidance and Toolkit published in 2011. Seascapes on the English side of the Solway include;


Image; Maryport. © Solway Firth Partnership


Diversity of seascape

The Solway Firth is famous for its huge intertidal mudflats and its constantly shifting sandbanks. The more remote and open seascape to the west, on both the English and Scottish sides, is only broken up by a series of relatively small-scale coastal towns such as Stranraer, Kirkcudbright, Maryport, Workington and Whitehaven. In areas such as Silloth, Workington and Maryport expansive views across the Solway are sensitive developments which may break up the vista currently enjoyed.

The Robin Rigg Wind Farm in the Solway has become a feature of both the Scottish and English seascapes. Looking out to sea beyond the windfarm, the outlines of the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland can be seen on a bright, clear day. Similarly, the Anthorn radio transmitters 13 miles west of Carlisle can be seen from the Scottish inner Solway.

It can be quite disorientating looking out at distant landmasses when standing on the Dumfries and Galloway coastline. The irregular nature of the coastline can make it difficult to know if you are looking at another Scottish bay or seeing the Cumbrian coastline. When it is clear enough, the defining peaks of the Lake District can be seen from the Scottish coast, whilst Criffel can be seen from Cumbria.

The regional assessment for the Clyde highlights that seascapes can be more readily enjoyed from the sea, where there are not the same issues of access, obscured views, and disorientation that there is on land, especially when driving.

The seascape is also influenced by the changing height position one has from the sea, from the low-lying sandy bays common along the coast to the cliffs of the Mull of Galloway and St Bees Head.

Seascapes and landscapes are not consistent throughout an area, however, varying in character and content with ‘transition areas’ in between. As discussed in the Clyde Marine Region Assessment these areas, often alternatively referred to as ‘thresholds’ or ‘gateways’; ‘are particularly sensitive to poorly sited development which would distract from this important experience, or be difficult to accommodate due to the abrupt change of scale.’ (Mills et al, 2017)

Dumfries and Galloway has three National Scenic Areas (NSAs): the Nith Estuary, the East Stewartry Coast and Fleet Valley. These areas are designated as NSAs due to their scenic natural character. All three NSAs boast a coastal element and are important features of the landscape/seascape of the area. On the English side the Solway Basin and West Cumbria Coastal Plain are National Character Areas (NCAs) as defined by Natural England, which means they have been divided from surrounding areas due to their natural features. England has a total of 159 NCAs with the entire landmass divided into these 159 sections based on characteristics and natural features as opposed to administrative boundaries.


Image; Screenshot from MMO Marine Planning Evidence Base. © MMO Marine Planning Evidence Base, with layer ‘Land with Sea Views’ turned on.


Settlement pattern

The population densities surrounding the Solway Firth are low and rural, generally speaking, often featuring individual homes or small clusters of houses. The towns or villages which do surround the firth are a product of ports or industries such as fishing and tourism, with resort towns scattered along the coast.

In terms of the historic settlement pattern and its change over time, the 1996 Solway Review’s assessment is still extremely helpful and relevant as historical settlements patters have not changed.

Settlement patterns range from isolated farmsteads and hamlets over much of the Solway, to fine examples of planned or ‘planted’ settlements, of which Whitehaven, Harrington, and Newton Stewart are the earliest examples. Whitehaven was actually ‘the first classically planned new town in England, dating from the 17th century’ (Cumbria County Council, n.d.). The former, with its grid pattern of formally designed, stylish three storey Georgian merchants’ houses, smooth rendered and painted in a variety of colours, is affectionately known as a ‘historic gem town’.

Later, a series of resorts grew up on the inner Solway, first at Allonby, and later at Powfoot, with its distinctive red brick seaside architecture, and Silloth, with its grid layout and three storey rendered facades overlooking the coastal green. A series of Victorian resort towns are also present in Cumbria such as Seascale and St Bees (in addition to those in Allonby and Silloth.) Whitehaven is a Georgian town and one of the first post-renaissance planned towns in the country, whereas Workington is an ancient market town. Maryport was created by the Senhouse family in the 18th Century as a planned town centring on coal mining and ship building. Areas such as Silloth, and the coast between Maryport and Workington are now considered Coastal Urban Fringe areas. Overall the land use of these areas is considered by the Cumbria County Council Landscape Assessment as areas along the coastal edge, which often feature hard defences, structures, and promenades, and unused buildings and fences, along with roads, pylons, and turbines cutting across the seascape. These areas often feature diverse wildlife.

The brief life of the Carlisle Canal linked the city to the sea and gave rise to Port Carlisle’s urban terraces, and provides some of the Solway’s most interesting industrial archaeology, along with pit and dock structures in west Cumbria, and mills and viaducts to the north of the Solway.

In recent years, settlements have remained reasonably consistent in terms of population. There has not been large scale influxes of new residents into these towns and villages. This lack of change can be illustrated in the population of Dumfries and Galloway, which was ~148,740 in 1998, and ~148,790 in 2018, according to the Dumfries and Galloway statistics with the National Records of Scotland.


Image; Coastal Home at Beckfoot. © Solway Firth Partnership


Inter-visibility and views

As previously mentioned, the large tidal range of the Solway, along with the changeability of the weather in the United Kingdom, means that the views of the Solway landscape and seascape are constantly changing. For example, at times Ailsa Craig can be seen from Stranraer, however there is no guarantee of views such as this. Looking across the Solway, both sides can see stunning views of the opposing coastline, complete with hills and structures, weather permitting.

There are important visual relationships with the Lake District National Park to the south, and with the hills of Dumfriesshire to the north, particularly the coastal peak of Criffel.


Image; Blitterless looking towards Scotland. © Solway Firth Partnership



Industry is the foundation of why many towns were established around the Solway Firth. It is widely known that fishing is a valuable industry around the Solway and other industries which drew in new residents were mining and defence. As time progressed, and these industries adapted, developed, or ceased, the infrastructure required for such operations was expanded, built, or abandoned. With the potentially lucrative impacts of industries for coastal towns, the negative result of industrial development suggested through the 1996 report remains relevant today. This is namely that one of the most negative seascape impacts of industrial development is the restriction of access to the coast, thereby limiting opportunities to experience the coast and sea, and the presence of large areas of abandoned and neglected works.

Of course, over time, the landscape-seascape changes, and more development may be seen along the coast in the future. The West Cumbria Mining Group has plans to develop the Marchon Chemical Works brownfield site in Whitehaven into Woodhouse Colliery for deep coal mining. This site was once an imposing feature of the Cumbrian skyline located in Whitehaven and will make use of the Sandwith Anhydrite mine portals, which are currently abandoned. Woodhouse Colliery was given conditional planning permission by Cumbria County Council in April 2019. However, environmental groups that objected the development were granted a judicial review of the planning approval (BBC News, 2020). The Woodhouse Colliery plans were previously approved by Cumbria County Council, but were being reviewed by the Council again considering the carbon budget. However, the approval decision no longer lies with the council as the Secretary of State for Local Government has decided to ‘call in’ the plans. Following a public inquiry, final approval or rejection of the plans will be up to him. Information about the ‘call in’ process can be found here. There are ongoing objections to the Woodhouse Colliery plans. This development has been designed to minimise its visual impact however, if approved, the development will potentially change the seascape-landscape, as will continued changes in the industrial landscape.

Coal mining was a central feature of the English Solway coastline’s industrial history. Previously there were also many open-cast mining sites, for example Lakeland Colliery, along the Solway coastline. The image opposite illustrates the number of coal mines which have been located along the English side of the Solway coastline (with an example of data from a mine opened). Each point represents a mine and can be clicked on to gain more information. As illustrated in this map, coal mining was once a booming industry along the English coast.

A more modern industry has been taking advantage of the natural assets of the Solway Firth, with wind farms becoming common sights on the landscape or seascape. The Siddick and Oldside (just west of Siddick) Wind Farms located along the English Solway coast and the Robin Rigg Wind Farm have changed the landscape and seascape.

The Siddick and Oldside Wind Farms were originally discussed in the1996 Solway Firth review in anticipation of their construction, as they had just been granted approval as the report was prepared.


Image; Interactive Map © Northern Mine Research Society interactive mine map


Archaeology, Folklore & Cultural Heritage

The following two pages on cultural heritage, archeology, and folklore are purely descriptive and included in the Landscape-seascape section of the Solway Review due to the significance these topics have in the existing landscape, development of and ongoing sense of place of the Firth and surrounding area. For a socio-economic assessment of the Historic Environment and Cultural Heritage of the Solway see the section within the Productive chapter of the Solway Review. History and folklore combine to give the Solway a rich cultural heritage evidenced in its landscapes, buildings and monuments, in the local customs and traditions of its people, and ins the tales of local people and their exploits around the Solway. Cultural traditions such as the Riding of the Marches are maintained, and the area retains a strong sense of its turbulent history.

Archaeological and heritage sites are scattered all around the Solway, varying vastly in age, purpose, features, history, and the remaining evidence of their existence. The sea was essential for the life and success of historic settlements, and as such harbours are important snapshots into the past. Sites around the Solway include an 8,000 year old submerged forest at Mawbray Banks, chambered cairns, cup and ring marks to the western end of Hadrian’s Wall (a World Heritage Site), to more recent castles and even more recent industrial history (discussed in more depth in the section below). Remnants of past maritime activity include the old Solway Viaduct. In recognition of historical significance, St Bees is designated as a Heritage Coast.

The landscapes of the Solway have inspired artists and writers, whose works influence how we perceive the area. Turner painted scenes at Caerlaverock and Whitehaven.

The 19th century also produced the Whitehaven school of marine painters, including Joseph Heard and Robert Salmon, and later Maryport painter William Mitchell, plus James Brooker, who carved ships figureheads. Kirkcudbright inspired the ‘Glasgow Boys’, including Hornel, Openheimer, Peploe and Ferguson, and later Jessie M. King and A.E. Taylor of the Arts and Crafts movement. The inspirational qualities of the Solway continue to attract artists today.

The area has also featured in literature, from Burns poems and songs, to Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Redgauntlet’, which includes dramatic scenes on the quicksands, where ‘he who dreams on bed of Solway may wake up in the next world’. Dorothy Leigh Sayers based ‘Five Red Herrings’ in the towns of Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse of Fleet, whilst S. R. Crocket’s ‘The Raiders’ features an enlarged Hestan Island. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is said to be inspired by childhood games in the garden of Moat Brae on the banks of the Nith, and has driven years of fundraising which succeeded in reopening Moat Brae in 2019 as a literacy attraction. 


Image; Nelson’s Grave. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership.


A Brief History of the Solway through Landscape


The Solway in prehistory

The raised beaches of western Galloway contain early evidence of human activity along the Solway. People hunted, fished and gathered shellfish along the shores and river valleys from well before 7500 BC. In the centuries before 4000 BC small groups of incomers also farmed in the woodlands. They built first small and then larger chambered tombs, the most striking of which is Cairnholy, and had strong contacts with Ireland. The silts of the Solway may conceal the remains of their boats. Larger ceremonial sites developed from around 3000 BC, such as at Dunragit, and in the latter half of the millennium, copper smithing and then bronze working were taken up. In the following centuries villages of round houses, and small burial enclosures became more common. ‘Burnt mounds’ or cooking sites are frequent survivors from this period of activity. With the onset of a deterioration in climate around 1200 BC, many upland areas were abandoned. New sophisticated fortifications began to be built from around 750 BC, though by the arrival of the Romans the British tribes around the Solway were again living mostly in undefended settlements.


The Solway in Roman Times

The Romans left a strong military imprint on the area in the form of Hadrian’s Wall, one of the most significant complexes of archaeological remains in the world. The wall and associated ditches extended westwards to Bowness on Solway, the westernmost wath or fording point across the Firth. Beyond, a series of towers and milefortlets extended southwards, linking more substantial forts at Beckfoot, Maryport, Workington and Moresby. Visible remains include Milefortlet 21 at Crosscanonby and sections of ditch. North of the Solway a road ran westwards connecting camps and forts such as Gatehouse of Fleet, and to the south the earlier Stanegate frontier ran from Carlisle to Kirkbride. Many Roman artefacts are now housed in museums at Carlisle and Maryport.


The coming of Christianity

Carlisle was an important garrison town, and centre for British Christianity during the late Roman times. Missionaries ventured northwards, and St Ninian established a church at Whithorn around 450 AD which remained a pilgrim centre for many centuries.

Britons held the eastern Solway until the early eighth century and the arrival of the Northumbrian Angles. The Angles established a monastery at Hoddom and carved the nearby Ruthwell Cross which carries the oldest surviving example of written English. Viking raids were then followed by Irish Scandinavian settlements in the west, and in the early tenth century St Bega established a Benedictine monastery at St Bees. Each community left its mark, with Scandinavian and Gaelic place names in the west and Anglian in the east (‘Solway’ derives from the Norse name for the ford across the Esk). The kingdom of Strathclyde then expanded to encompass Nithsdale and Cumbria, and was later absorbed into a Scottish kingdom. The eastern Solway alternated between English and Scottish rule through to the end of the twelfth century, coming under the feudalising influence of the Normans. Meanwhile in the west the Gaelic speaking community of Irish origin was ruled by the Lords of Galloway. The area remained a semi-independent principality until the 13th Century.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Cistercian Abbeys were established at Dundrennan, New Abbey, Glenluce and Holm Cultram, with extensive landholdings on both sides of the Solway. These communities had strong links with the continent, bringing both trade and agricultural improvement. Marshes were drained, sea defences constructed and sheep grazing introduced to areas which had previously been largely wilderness.



The end of the thirteenth century and the Wars of Independence heralded a fresh period of instability especially in the east, with invasions, counter invasions and raids across the waths of the Solway, and the ‘Debatable Land’ between the Esk and Sark claimed by both countries. Caerlaverock, besieged by Edward I, and other great castles such as Threave and Carlisle, together with the Scots Dyke reflect the turbulent nature of politics for several centuries. The King Edward I Monument on Burgh Marsh marks the peat wath crossed frequently by both nation’s armies. The continued need for defence is evidenced by later tower houses such as Carsluith Castle and pele towers as at Harby Brow. At Newton Arlosh and Burgh by Sands churches were fortified to protect the community.

The raids of the Border Reivers continued after the union of the crowns in 1603, and the religious disputes of the seventeenth century were another source of turbulence. In Wigtown the Martyrs Stake records the place where two Covenanters (Margaret Wilson and Margaret Maclauchlan) were tied to stakes and left to drown in the incoming tide for their adherence to Scottish Presbyterianism.

The stability which slowly emerged in the course of the seventeenth century was accompanied by the establishment of large estates around country houses, such as at Arbigland, Garlieston and Ardwell, with the creation of gardens and woodlands around the houses and the enclosure of agricultural land. The building of New Abbey corn mill reflects the take-over of church lands by the great estates following the Reformation. Two distinctive forms of field boundary, the Galloway-dyke and Galloway-dyke and hedge influenced the form of enclosures elsewhere. Meanwhile the southern shore of the Solway remained in the control of smaller landowners leading to a pattern of scattered farms and villages.

The more recent military heritage and activity of the Solway still evident today, even with much military activity has ceased over time. The quiet, rural surroundings coupled with access from ports such as Stranraer, Cairnryan and Silloth made the Solway coast a perfect location for munitions factories in both world wars, RAF airfields, flying boat bases and bombing target bases. For more information on current defence activity around the Solway see the Defence section of the Solway Review.

The Solway offered invaluable contributions to World War II (WW2). Sites in and around Garlieston can be seen, with features such as the Mulberry Harbour Beetle pontoons (remains at Eggerness and Rigg Bay are now protected national monuments), as well as some standing and collapsed buildings. The Beetles, which are found in and near Cairnhead Bay add to the modern history of the seascape/landscape. They also add to the variability off the Solway coast, with the ‘beetle’, invisible and covered at high tide but exposed as a large concrete structure at low tide. Much of the physical evidence of WW2 history around Loch Ryan has been dismantled and dispersed. However there are a few publicly accessible sites that still show structures from that period such as the lookout post and flying boat slip ways at the Wig. Solway Firth Partnership have a publicly available leaflet dedicated to Loch Ryan WW2, providing more information of sites to visit, and tourist trails exploring the Solway’s military heritage are available through the Solway Military Trail.


The Industrial Revolution

Industry was another shaping force, causing the expansion of various towns around the Solway. By far the most dramatic changes occurred on the west Cumbrian coast. This sparsely populated area was transformed into a booming mining and manufacturing complex, based on the easily won coal resources. Lowther began the development of Whitehaven in the seventeenth century, exporting coal and importing tobacco until the town was one of the leading ports in the whole country, playing its part in the slave trade. To the north, the Senhouse family lead the expansion of Maryport, based on coal, shipbuilding and cattle. Workington was to see its major growth in the Victorian era, when exploitation of the local iron ore stimulated the beginnings of the steel industry. The trade of these three towns spanned the world and reflected the colonial strength of Britain, and Whitehaven attracted the last expedition by a foreign power on the shores of the English mainland, led by Solway born John Paul Jones, the ‘founder of the American Navy’.

North of the Solway, local textile industries developed, as for example the cotton milling of Gatehouse of Fleet, but on a smaller scale, and the landscape retained its predominantly rural character. Dumfries shipped out wool and cloth, and Annan built tea-clippers and exported cattle across the Bowness wath. As well as legal trade, smuggling formed an important part of the eighteenth century economy of the Solway. Scotland’s Bard, Robbie Burns, was involved as an exciseman in the boarding of the Rosalind on the sands of Gretna. Fishing and wildfowling also played their part, particularly in the nineteenth century, with large fishing fleets at Kirkcudbright, Maryport and Whitehaven, as well as traditional haaf netting in the tidal channels. Dumfries served as the main port for southern Scotland in the wave of emigration in the mid nineteenth century. This maritime heritage is reflected in the series of lighthouses, and the many wrecks which litter the coastline.

Smuggling, and the advent of the railway, slowly reduced shipping. The Solway Viaduct from Dornock to Bowness opened in 1869 allowing the railway to carry iron ore from West Cumberland to the steelworks of Lanarkshire, and the remains on either shore can still be seen today. The decline of the railways, including the loss of the ‘Paddy Line’ to Stranraer, has since left the area with weakened long distance connections.


Woodland and forestry

Tree coverage around the Solway is very variable. The coast often features sporadic tree coverage interspersed with dense gorse and other common coastal plants. The assessment of woodland and forest includes only tree coverage within very close proximity to the coast, landward edge of saltmarsh habitat etc, from a visual assessment. Woodland coverage is significant further inland to the immediate Solway coast, please visit the Woodland Trust website for more information about UK woodlands. An interactive map is available here.


The English side of the Solway has limited coastal trees. Therefore the following overview of tree coverage includes very clusters of trees which are small. There is a coastal railway line from Whitehaven to Maryport which is primarily located just landward of the coast, and there are almost no trees on the coastal side of this rail track. Although, there are some small tree clusters on the seaward side of the track when it diverts inland in Workington and Harrington, none of these are coastal.

Below is a visual assessment of the tree coverage around the immediate English Solway coast. Any other coastal trees are very occasional, wooded areas are located more inland.

  • Silloth Green and the eastern side of Skinburness has some tree clusters which, although not on the coast, are in close proximity.
  • The landward edge of saltmarsh near North Plain has a scattered tree line, west of RSBP Campfield Marsh.
  • Bowness-on-Solway features some tree coverage along its coast and to the west on the landward edge of Saltmarsh
  • Hadrian’s Wall Path in Port Carlisle has surrounding trees.
  • Thin line of trees on the edge of Easton Marsh near Drumburgh.


Scotland is known for its wilderness and rugged beauty, and a large part of this character comes from the extensive woodland and forests which Scotland boasts. Dumfries and Galloway is one of the most wooded areas of Scotland, with roughly 31% of its total area having forest or woodland cover, according to Dumfries and Galloway Council (2014).

On the Scottish side woodland and forestry is variable and therefore larger areas of tree coverage will be outlined below, as opposed to the discussion of very limited tree covered areas above. The bullet points below summarise a visual assessment of significant coastal tree and woodland along the Dumfries and Galloway coast from east to west.

Coastal trees and forests of varying desities and sizes can be found at, or in the area surrounding;

  • Muirbeck Wood to the east of Powfoot, most of its extent is inland.
  • Caerlaverock ‘Castle wood’, behind significant saltmarsh habitat.
  • Arbigland Estate coast.
  • East of Southwick Coast Wildlife Reserve
  • The beach at Sandyhills.
  • Rockcliffe, with significant woodland running inland predominantly around the Mote of Mark. Roughfirth Road runs along the coast west of Rockcliffe to Kipford, and limits trees from reaching the coast.
  • Roughfirth Glenisle Viewpoint and Tornat Plantations on the land across Urr water from Kippford.
  • Two large areas on the opposing coast to Rockcliffe, until around Horse Isles Bay.
  • West side of Orchardton Bay
  • The north and south of Balcary Bay.
  • The north and south of Bathinghouse Bay.
  • The entire coastal length of St Mary’s Isle, near Kirkcudbright.
  • Sennick Forest from Goat Well Bay to Ross.
  • Almost the entire western shore of Brighouse Bay.
  • Rough Point Wood/ Cally Mains Wood to the east of the Big Water of Fleet.
  • Around Cardoness
  • The coast south of Carsluith, including Ravenshall Wood.
  • North of Eggerness and Shore wood to the south.
  • The entire coastal area around Rigg/ Cruggleton Bay, including Galloway House Gardens and Cruggleton Woods.
  • Torrs Warren Plantation
  • The southern side of Chapel Rossan Bay.
  • North of Corsewall.


Image; Tree on the bank of the Nith. © G. Reid/ Solway Firth Partnership


Maritime activity

The level of maritime activity along the coast is mixed. Much of the shoreline is undeveloped and dominated by sparse populations and natural features. Hotspots of activity do exist, related to fishing and tourism sectors.

These undeveloped areas, dominated by natural processes and few human developments, include isolated stretches of coast (>1.5km) and remote stretches (<1.5km). The Scottish Solway and the northern Cumbrian Solway are the most undeveloped.

The Port of Cairnyran is crucial for its ferry service to Northern Ireland, whilst Kirkcudbright harbour is significant for its shellfish (scallop) landings and processing. The Cumbrian coast was exploited for its coal reserves, and the industrial towns of Workington and Whitehaven matured into two of several small but active ports in this area. These continue to be active ports today, with a vast array of uses, including the Robin Rigg Wind Farm which is operated from the Port of Workington. The towns of Maryport and Silloth rely more on tourism, with people attracted to the open sandy coasts and dunes.

The west Cumbrian coast forms part of ‘Britain’s Energy Coast’, reflecting in part not only its history of coal mining but as a setting of several wind farm developments, often built over restored mining areas. Although the southern section of the coast is relatively urbanized, the north retains a strong degree of tranquillity.


Image; Boat on the Solway. © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant


Hard Defence

There is very limited hard defence in Dumfries and Galloway, mainly as the population is so sparse, with few high-value areas at immediate risk. There are a few small scale examples, for example, the ‘rip-rap’ boulders at Southerness and Carsethorn, and the concrete walls protecting land and property north of Drummore and near Newbie Farm.

In Cumbria there are more frequent developments of medium and large scale defences along the coastline. Hard defences already exist, e.g. Carlisle’s flood defences and the rock armour protecting the Cumbria Coast railway at Parton. There is potential for pressure to have more hard defences to protect against coastal change arising from climate change.


Image; Powfoot Defence. © Solway Firth Partnership.



Allerdale Borough Council (2018). Maryport Delivery Plan. Allerdale Borough Council and Britain’s Energy Coast. Available here. (Accessed: 23.05.18)

Baxter, J.M., Boyd, I.L., Cox, M., Donald, A.E., Malcolm, S.J., Miles, H., Miller, B., Moffat, C.F., (Editors), (2011). Scotland’s Marine Atlas: Information for the national marine plan. Marine Scotland, Edinburgh. pp 191. Available here. (Accessed: 22.07.19)

Dumfries and Galloway Council (2014). Local Development Plan. Supplementary Guidance. Dumfries and Galloway Forestry and Woodland Strategy. Available here. (Accessed: 20.05.19)

Dumfries and Galloway Council (2019). National Scenic Areas (NSAs). Available here. (Accessed: 01.09.19)

Forestry and Land Scotland (n.d.). Dark Skies in Galloway Forest Park. Available here. (Accessed: 01.09.19)

Grant, A. (2006). Landscape/seascape carrying capacity for aquaculture. NatureScot Commissioned Report No. 215 (ROAME No. F04NC12). Available here. (Accessed: 15.04.19)

Land Use Consultants (1998). Dumfries and Galloway landscape assessment. NatureScot Review No. 94. Available here. (Accessed: 29.07.19)

Land Use Consultants (2010). Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Landscape and Seascape Character Assessment. Available here. (Accessed: 14.05.18)

Marine Management Organisation (2018). Seascape Character Assessment for the North West Inshore and Offshore marine plan areas. A report, MMO Project No: MMO1134, 63pp. Available here. (Accessed: 29.07.19)

Marine Management Organisation. (n.d). Marine Planning Evidence Base. Available here. (Accessed: 14.05.18)

Marine Scotland (n.d.). Scotland’s National Marine Plan Interactive. Available here. (Accessed: 06.08.19)

National Records of Scotland (n.d.). Dumfries and Galloway Council Area Profile. Available here. (Accessed: 31.07.19)

NatureScot (2018). Guidance Note – Coastal Character Assessment. Available here. (Accessed: 23.05.18)

Solway Shore Stories. (n.d.). ‘The submerged forest.’ Available here. (Accessed: 23.05.18)

UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011). The UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.  Available here.  (Accessed: 28.05.18)

Visit Cumbria (n.d.). West Cumbria Coast. Available here. (Accessed: 23.05.18)


In-Text References;

Cumbria County Council (n.d.). Cumbria Landscape Character Guidance and Toolkit. Available here. (Accessed: 12.06.19)

Dumfries and Galloway Council (2017). Local Development Plan Supplementary Guidance, Dumfries and Galloway Wind Farm Land Capacity Study – Appendix Report. Available here. (Accessed: 10.06.19)

European Landscape Convention (2000). Florence, 20.X.2000. Available here. (Accessed: 14.05.18)

HM Government (2011). UK Marine Policy Statement. Available here. (Accessed 31.07.19)

Mills, F., Sheridan, S. and Brown S., (2017). Clyde Marine Region Assessment. Clyde Marine Planning Partnership. pp 231, Available here. (Accessed: 14.05.18)

Northern Mine Research Society (n.d). Coal Mines – England interactive map. Available here. (Accessed: 20.06.19)

Solway Firth Partnership (1996). The Solway Firth Review, Solway Firth Partnership, Dumfries. Available here. (Accessed: 23.07.19)


Image; Needle’s Eye. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership