Sunday, 25 September 2011

Walking across Morecambe Bay

And that's another one ticked off. Today I finally got to walk across Morecambe Bay.

Last summer I looked into these walks, which can only be done with a guide. The usual person to lead the walks is Queen's Guide, Cedric Robinson. He's been the Queen's Guide since the 1960s and is getting on a bit now. I think he's actually trying to retire, but doesn't have a replacement. His walks are now usually only at the weekend and tend to get booked up well in advance with charity groups. I phoned him to try to get myself on one, but he is no longer dealing with bookings himself. After a bit of research I realised the only way I'd get to do this was with a charity. As luck would have it my local hospice was organising one for the first time. I quickly signed up and duly turned up on the day only to be told the walk had been cancelled because of the heavy rain over the weekend. The river that has to be waded through was far too high to be safe. As it was already September it was too late to re-arrange and so had to be postponed until this year.

This year, there was yet again plenty of rain, but fortunately it dried up in time for the weekend. Even getting to sit on the coach in Ashton bus station was further than I'd got last year. Right on time we were off, only to get stuck on the motorway going at 30 miles an hour behind a large motorcycle demonstration. Hundreds of motorcycles and a couple of quad bikes holding all three lanes up. I was beginning to think I wouldn't get to do the walk this year either. The walks have to be timed between the tides and there's no room for being late. Fortunately the driver pulled off the motorway and took us a different way so we arrived in Arnside in plenty of time.

We had three coaches altogether and some people also made their own way there. All in all there must have been about 200 of us. Arnside seemed quite nice; much nicer than Morecambe itself. (Note to self: go back and do some walking there). Right on 4pm Cedric blew his whistle and we set off. To start with we followed a path along the top of the beach and through a caravan park. After about 20 minutes we were on the sands and heading out across the bay. The walk had started for real.

The sand was just wet enough for it to start to seep through trainers and so soon almost everyone was barefoot. We never really hit sinking sand though. I know the idea of the guide is to make sure we avoid the dangerous stuff, but I thought it would actually be harder going than it was, with a bit of sinking going on. Not long into the walk it clouded over and we felt the first few drops of rain. After a quick stop to put rain jackets on, we were off again. Fortunately the rain held off and was never more than a few drops.

The River Kent was midway through the bay. I was actually expecting it nearer the end and so was a bit surprised to come across it so soon. It's quite wide and Cedric stopped us and got us to spread out alongside its shore. He reassured us that there was no current and the sand was solid. He also warned us that it would come up to our thighs and we might stand on some fish.

The water felt cold at first, but my legs quickly got used to it. As I'm not particularly tall, it did come a bit higher than my thighs. There were quite a few fish about and they were quite big. I didn't stand on any, but had a few bang into me. They felt like big pebbles each time they hit my legs. It didn't take too long to cross the river and I was quite enjoying myself by the end. Not long afterwards there was another less deep stream to cross. This one was narrower and only knee deep.

As we got to the far side of the bay the sand became strewn with little spurts of grass. These became thicker and thicker until we were completely off the sand and walking across a boggy grassland. The grass was quite sharp and as at first, we seemed to be on dry ground, everyone stopped and put their trainers back on. Very quickly we hit the bog though, and my shoes filled with water. The light was failing by this time and we had one last set of obstacles to deal with in the encroaching twilight. The boggy area was criss-crossed with ditches, most of them quite deep with thick gloopy mud in the bottom. There was a lot of very slippy, shiny black mud as well which created quite a lot of problems when trying to get a good foothold to get across the ditches. But we did it and soon arrived at the small train station in Kents Bank where our coaches were waiting.

The walk took 3 and a half hours and was, according to Cedric, about 8 miles. The time and distance will always be different as there isn't a direct way across the sands. Cedric has to check the route out first and sticks branches in the sand to show the safest way avoiding the trecherous quicksand. The route changes with the tides and so is different from day to day. We zigzagged across the bay the whole time and I was quite disoriented by the end, not really knowing which direction I was going in. As we had to be across before the tide came in and before darkness fell, we had to keep quite a quick pace going all the way across. The walk certainly wasn't difficult and wasn't anywhere near as challenging as I was expecting it to be. However, I was still feeling quite tired by the end and was glad to get back on the coach.

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