RICHARD LUTZ takes to the sands of Morecambe Bay for a walk without maps
It isn’t my idea of summer fun to wait ’til the tide goes out and start trekking across a sandy, wet bay, with the danger of quicksand.
But each week a small army gathers at coastal spots on the Lancashire or South Cumbrian coast to wade and traipse across Morecambe Bay. When the tide goes out- and out it certainly does- there are 120 sq miles of empty space in the estuary: sandbars, flowing rivulets, mudbanks, some quicksand and endless horizons.
No doubt most people will remember with a hideous shudder about the deaths of the clam-pickers some years ago when they got lost in a bay mist on these ever changing watery landscapes.
So, it is essential that you take a guide. And these weekly escapes across the bay are done with experts who have decades of experience behind them. The chief among them is septuagenarian Cedric Robinson who was given an MBE for his sandy and safe efforts of getting you from one point to another.
But on the day I arrived, Cedric wasn’t scheduled for his tour of duty. In fact, in a whacky tradition that can only happen in Happy Old Blighty, as Queen’s Guide to the Sands, the only person Cedric is obligated to lead across the bay is QEII herself. And since she is nearing her late eighties, it is safe she’ll leave her day out for…well, another day.
So we made do with another guide: Alan Sledmore with decades of baywalkiing below his feet. We were scheduled to walk from Hest Bank, just north of Morecambe, across the bay to the genteel coastal town of Grange over Sands. It is 6 miles as the crow flies but when you take in detours and convoluted walks to get around deep bits and quicksand, it is near enough 9 or 10 miles as the drunken crow flies.
We were greeted with a warm breezy day. Alan, with a Lancashire accent as heavy and dense as a Bury black pudding was in front. In the back of the group was a sweeper to ensure no one got lost or injured in this vast tractless space where a mist or an optical illusion can set you the wrong way. On either side, quad bikes flanked us as they picked their way towards walkable invisible paths in this world without maps.
We were advised not to go barefoot. And for good reason. Some of the sand is hard with ridges rippling throughout and more than 9 miles is a pain (in the foot). Old trainers will do.
We crossed the rivers Keer and Kent- the latter tripling back on itself in big loops like a sloppy punctuation mark in the shifty sand.
‘The Keer can have a big tide,’ says Alan, ‘And there can be quicksand. You have to be vigilant and people can get stuck.’
The Kent is changeable but, says Alan, with his wooden staff, his bandana and inevitable sunburned face ‘ideal for fording.’
We walked for more than four hours to make the crossing- a smooth cerulean sky overhead and an infinite horizon out to what should be the sea. Westward, the sun glinted off the rippled shallows. Inland, to the east and north, the handsome south Cumbrian shoreline gave us landmarks along with the mountains in the distance.
Quicksand was hardly evident. Alan and co. ensured we stayed well away. ‘But’ he explained, ‘if you do feel yourself sinking a bit, keep on walking. And never stand on one foot.’
Never one to actually stand on one foot for any amount of time, I never felt in danger. Though to feel a bay’s bottom move like liquid underfoot does help with rapid movement- rapid movement anywhere, in fact, as long as it is away from that sinking feeling.
We reached Grange by late afternoon. And for £9, you get transport back to your car, feet and trainers a bit wet, enduring memories of walking across emptiness and a bit of an urge to try another tour. And maybe this time with Cedric himself: the one and only Queen’s Guide to the Sands.
For more information and to book a walk, try this site: www.citycoastcountryside.co.uk/