On the highest tides, a most unusual sight can be seen in the Kent Estuary in Morecambe Bay, called the Arnside Bore, one of the UK’s twenty or so tidal bores. Named after a town in the estuary, it is quite a spectacle and often draws crowds of onlookers.
The source of the Kent is the Kentmere Valley near Ambleside and the river then flows down through Kendal to Morecambe Bay. Arnside is on the south side of the estuary and is a pleasant place to wander, with a good choice of shops, pubs and cafes. Along with scenic views of the distant Lake District fells, there is a much-photographed railway viaduct and the tree-covered slopes of nearby Arnside Knott are a good place for views of the estuary, including a plaque showing the names of hills in the distance.
One feature of the estuary is its high tidal range and during high tides flooding often occurs along the coastal road into Arnside. As water levels rise so quickly, the coastguard station nearby has a rescue boat on hand in case people run into difficulties, and many people have been caught out by the tides over the years. Indeed, during the main tourist season, a warning siren is sounded twice as the tide advances, with each blast about half an hour apart.
When conditions are right, the siren also signals the imminent arrival of the Arnside Bore, for which perhaps the best viewpoint is the now disused pier along the main promenade in the town. Often the first sign of the bore’s approach is a white line of surf in the distance, and the speed and power of its approach is most impressive to see.
As with any natural phenomenon, though, sightings are not guaranteed and only occur under certain conditions, so search online if interested to find out when best to visit. It is also important to choose a safe viewing location, remembering that water levels rise quickly as the tidal front passes, by several metres in places, and never venturing out onto the sands or mudflats. The RNLI website has some excellent advice on water safety.
If you would like to learn more about the tides and tidal bores there are several related articles on this website. A good starting point is this general article about why tidal bores form along with one on the spring and autumn equinoxes, which are probably the best time to see tidal bores.
There is also a post about another tidal bore in northwest England that occurs a few miles from Liverpool: the Mersey Tidal Bore. I give some tips on seeing this in The Mersey Estuary: A Travel Guide (www.troubador.co.uk) along with some more general information on why tidal bores form and where to find out tide times. This YouTube video about the book also includes some brief footage.
If you are interested in wildlife, in some estuaries the incoming tide sometimes startles huge numbers of waterbirds into flight, and with luck they may perform a spectacular aerial dance called a murmuration. This is another wonder of nature and you can read more about them here.
Estuaries can also be good places to see seals and this article gives some seal watching tips, including sites in Cumbria and on the Wirral with seal populations.
More generally, if you would like more sightseeing ideas for estuaries in Cumbria and elsewhere in the UK, why not sign up for my newsletter, which includes an estuary photo guide; see below for more information.