Outline of Route
Arnside Promenade (Grid ref. SD 456787) to Kents Bank Station (Grid ref. 397757)
Total Distance about 6.3 miles
There have been guides for the crossing of Morecambe Bay for centuries. Guides Farm, by the sands beween Grange-over-Sands and Kents Bank, is 700 years old and is now Crown property. Cedric Robinson and his family now live there. He was royally appointed to the ancient post of Guide to the Kent Sands in 1963. A fisherman by calling, he has culled flukes (flounders), shrimps, cockles and whitebait from the Bay for years. The Bay is notoriously dangerous - even the local fishermen have lost carts, horses, tractors and more in the quicksands, so this is no place for visitors to wander alone. Cedric has appeared in several TV programmes about the Bay, has received an honorary masters degrees from Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire and was awarded an MBE in the 1999 Queen's Birthday list. He also won the Barclays Bank Prize for books about people with his book "Sand Pilot of Morecambe Bay".
I have followed the guide on this walk twice; on Sunday, 30 August 1998, and Sunday, 5 September 1999 and brief details of these experiences follow.
This was a spur-of-the-moment and consequently not a well-prepared trip. Having recently covered some of Lakeland's wettest territory - Longsleddale to, and along the valley of, Mosedale; and Grasmere to Keswick over High Tove - I'd imagined I knew something about walking in wet places. This was not the case. I rang the number for Cedric Robinson, the Morecambe Bay Guide, and spoke to a friendly and helpful woman I assumed to be his wife, who told me that walking boots were not appropriate footwear for the sands, and that trainers, plimsoles or sandals were recommended. She also suggested I wear shorts. I never wear shorts: I don't have any shorts. Exposure to the sun burns my skin.
It was by then late on the Saturday afternoon of the Bank Holiday weekend and seemed too late to go out and buy trainers or shorts. I had some rubber-soled canvas shoes; which I'd not used for a long time, and I supposed my swimming trunks looked like shorts. In any case I wasn't sure I would go, so I let the matter rest.
Sunday morning rose. The skies were hazy so it wouldn't be a good day for photos on the Lakeland fells and anyway there'd be all that tourist traffic to face on the way home, so Morecambe sands it would be. The above-mentioned shoes seemed to fit so I set off by car for Kents Bank Station - the end of the walk. I was pleased to see quite a lot of other people at the station dressed for the walk - I was feeling most self-conscious in my swimwear. We all piled on the train when it came and chugged round the coast and over the viaduct (photo) to Arnside - all 160 pence worth.
By the time we'd walked down from the station to the pier (photo) I knew I'd made a mistake with the shoes - or more likely, the socks. I wasn't wearing any. The right shoe had already taken some of the skin off my heel. When out on the fells I carry a first-aid kit, but today I just had a small pack and had no plasters. Fortunately, a local shop sold me some, so I did have some protection for my heels. It was disconcerting though, to overhear someone saying that on his last trip a three year-old laborador died after having ingested poison on the way across: surely an apocryphal tale.
By the time we set off from the water fountain on Arnside Promenade the crowd had swelled to about 200 people and a few dogs. The first section of the walk is along the coast, partly by the shore, partly on roads, and partly through camp and caravan sites. Can't imagine what the residents thought of 200 people tramping through their holiday back yards. Soon we were crossing the sands towards the first of the river Kent's channels. The guides, there were more than Cedric, lined us up like the cavalry ready to charge. This spreads the load across a width of the sand so it maintains its loadbearing capacity. If we'd gone across in single file the sand would have become fluid and folk would just sink into it (photo).
We took a disorientating, meandering course, crossing several channels on the way. The deepest were about 18 inches. I was surprised how warm the water was. A tractor and trailer, first spotted on the horizon (photo), provided sanctuary and transport for those who'd taken on too much. I regretted not taking the GPS as I'd have liked to have plotted our course on a map afterwards. Close to Kents Bank the ground gets rather muddy - I wouldn't have liked it on a wet day (photo). It took about 2hr 45min by which time the canvas shoes had taken their toll and I now have the sorest feet I've had for some time. I've also got sun-burnt legs. It was worth it, though. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, especially the dogs. Next time I'll wear socks with those shoes, or once we set off across the sand, do it in bare feet.
I was rather better organised for this trip, and a bit wiser after the first. I checked the train times with (Railtrack) and even though I'd have an hour and a half to kill in Arnside between the train arriving and the walk starting I chose, once again, to drive to Kents Bank station and leave the car there. I could have taken the longer drive to Arnside and waited for the train at Kents Bank afterwards, but as the time for the walk could not be predicted neither could the wait. This time I wore a pair of old trousers of a man-made fabric which dries out quickly when wet. The canvas shoes were again deployed, but this time, on top of thick woollen hiking socks. Originally, a coach and horses ride had been planned for the day, but this had been cancelled, consequently a much smaller group collected by the drinking fountain, about forty strong.
We set off, following the guide, along the shore and through the caravan site as before, and collected on the beach. This time I had the GPS and, fiddling with it on the beach, I became an unwilling centre of attention. Curiosity satisfied, the others left me in peace, and I took the opportunity to have a brief chat to Cedric. He seems a quiet, unassuming man, apparently untouched by his fame. I mentioned his book "Sand Pilot of Morecambe Bay", and another, "On Morecambe Bay" by Peter Cherry, and he seemed to prefer chatting away about Peter Cherry rather than himself. I asked about his cottage and he pointed it out to me on the distant shore.
From here on I went barefoot, shoes and socks in a plastic bag in my rucksack. We had been travelling southwest along the shore, and continued in that direction into the waters of the bay and across the Kent channel. It was surprising to me that from here we now went southeast, parallel with the Silverdale shore, though not as far south. before eventually heading west towards Kents Bank. The sand was soft until we reached the flats closer to out destination, at which point is became firm and ridged and hard on the feet. Once we crossed the final channel I put on my stockings and shoes again - a wise precaution as I was to find out later. Back on shore we were greeted by an ice cream van and had the opportunity to buy certificates to show we'd done the walk. There is a cold water tap at the station people use to get rid of excess mud they've collected on the way and I remember thinking a small towel would not have gone amiss in my pack. This time the walk took four hours. Next morning the soles of my feet felt a bit bruised and though this was soon forgotten I was glad I'd worn my shoes for that last part of the trip.
I hope this has whetted you appetite for this unusual walk.
Rev. 02 September 2014