Saturday, 25 July 2015

Morecambe Bay

Open Space Web-Map builder Code

Route: Arnside, Blackstone Point, Kent Channel, Kents Bank

Date: 25/07/2015
From: Arnside 

Parking: Kents Bank
Start Point: Arnside
Region: Arnside and Silverdale AONB

Route length: 8.1 miles (13 km)
Time taken: 02:57
Average speed: 2.7 mph
Ascent: 81m (apparently)
Descent: 79m

I mentioned while writing about Bamburgh that I would shortly be taking part in a charity walk across Morecambe and the bell tolled for said walk this weekend. For those not familiar with the north west of England, Morecambe Bay is an enormous estuary, the largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand in the UK no less, covering over 300 km2. The rivers Leven, Kent, Keer, Lune and Wyre drain into the Bay, with their various estuaries making a number of peninsulas and smaller bays that characterise the area. It would be the estuary of the River Kent that we would be crossing today.

The bay is notorious for its quicksand and fast moving tides - it is said that the tide can come in "as fast as a horse can run" which is faster than I. What you need to cross any part of Morecambe Bay is a seasoned guide, someone who knows the area inside out and back to front and then inside out once again. That man (currently) is Cedric Robinson MBE, officially the Queen's Guide to the Sands.
Cedric Robinson and some other bloke

The Queen's Guide has been royally appointed since 1548 as the official guide for crossing the restless sands and channels of Morecambe Bay, a landscape that changes as regularly as the tides. The sands crossing has been an important route, right up until the 1800s and the construction of the railway and viaduct at Arnside. Prior to that, reaching Ulverston required a significant detour or a seemingly-perilous crossing of the bay.

This walk had been arranged by Galloway's Society for the Blind and over 400 people had turned up the take part. That meant a very crowded, one-carriage train from Kents Bank to Arnside, the meeting point for the start of the walk. After managing to round everyone up into something resembling an orderly mob, we set off along the coastline at Arnside to meet up with Cedric at Blackstone Point.
Once assembled again, and with many opting not to wear shoes for the crossing (myself included), we set off onto the sands with the stark warning that we must keep behind Cedric at all times.
A busy station at Kents Bank
The Arnside Viaduct
The River Kent at Arnside
The River Kent at Arnside
Reaching Blackstone Point
Morecambe Bay beckons
We headed south west for a few hundred metres before swinging south and striding out into the heart of Morecambe Bay. This was a pleasant surprise as I had initial thought we were simply going to cross from Arnside to Kents Bank on the opposite shore. As the sands became wetter, any momentary pause was accompanied by a swift liquefaction around your feet. It's no wonder patches of quicksand are hard to avoid and swallow people up so quickly.
Cedric on home territory
Morecambe Bay
The front half of the group
Looking towards Humphrey Head
Arnside Knott
Not somewhere you want to hang around
Morecambe Bay
The group on the sands
After reaching one of Cedric's markers, we turned south towards the channel of the Kent, a wide expanse of water that really tests the skills and experience of the guides. The channel moves around and is generally never in the same place twice and it is the knowledge of the guides that allow for a safe crossing on firmer ground. As a pointer, the channel is marked on the OS map above though the point we crossed it is the little kink at the bottom of the southerly track. This was me moving along the line between the marker, between which 500 people gathered, ready for the signal to cross, Cedric keen to point out that we shouldn't stray into the dangers beyond the markers.
The sun came out part way through the afternoon
One of Cedric's markers
Sand as far as the eye can see
Looking to Kents Bank
The Lake District over the Kent Estuary
The Kent Estuary
Lining up to cross the Kent
It was time to cross.

The water, flowing swiftly, was around knee depth, enough to easily soak the bottom half of my shorts. As we slowly made our way across, I hung back to get a photo of the crowds as the waded through the river channel. A few minutes later and we were stood on the bank on the opposite side, evidently much higher than the channel and the sands we had just crossed.
Knee deep in the Kent
Crossing the Kent
A lonely marker with the Kent behind
We headed west now, along the sand on the opposite side of the channel, directly towards Humphrey Head, a prominent spur of land that juts out into the Bay. The large group of people began to spread into a long line and took a while to group everyone back together again once we had reached the periphery of the salt marshes on the western shore.
Morecambe Bay
Morecambe Bay
A huge string of people
Heading for Kents Bank
Humphrey Head
Looking over the salt marshes towards Morecambe
Once back on relatively dry land it was time to put away the sand encrusted feet and make the short walk back along the salt marshes to the station at Kents Bank where we had started our adventure. We were left to reflect on a fabulous day out on Morecambe Bay, certainly a unique experience and one that I would highly recommend to anyone - with a guide of course. It's a place unlike any other I've ever experienced and not a place I'd like to find myself alone or without an expert guide.