443 Sutton Bridge to Gedney Drove End

[This walk was completed on the 11th June, 2021]

I chain my bike to a fence in the little parking area on the east bank of the River Nene, and set off walking down the road towards Sutton Bridge.

I’m nervous about leaving my bike, despite its hefty chain, because two campervans are parked close by, with their doors open and their inhabitants packing up after a night spent in the layby. It would be all to easy to pick up my bike and carry it off in a campervan. All you need are some heavy-duty bolt cutters to separate the bike from the fence.

Well, I have to leave the bike somewhere. Stop worrying. Onwards.

For some reason, the bridge at Sutton Bridge is actually called Cross Keys Bridge on my map. It’s a swing bridge. Since I’ve never seen any boats on the river, I assume it isn’t working.

On the other side, a little path takes me past a very pretty cottage, with a garden full of flowers.

I join a side road, and start walking towards the river bank. On a curve before the river, I spot this sign, “PLEASE SWITCH OFF HEADLIGHTS WHEN SHIPPING PASSING.” It seems an odd instruction, as there is a huge hedge obscuring the river.

As I’m puzzling over this pointless sign, a rather dishevelled man comes up to me. Yes, it is a genuine sign, and it really is there to stop the ship’s captains being dazzled.

Do I know much about the history of Sutton Bridge, he asks me. No, I confess. He and an ex-girlfriend put together an information leaflet a few years ago. Would I like a copy?

I follow him back to his cottage – the very same, pretty, cottage with the flower-filled garden that I’ve just walked past, and he goes inside to get the leaflet.

He also tells me that the swing bridge really does work. In fact, he saw it in action this morning when a large ship came through.

It’s funny how the most unlikely people are often the most helpful and interesting. I take the leaflet and tell him I’ll read it later.

Back on the road, I pass a large brick building. The windows are boarded and the place seems derelict. According to a sign, it was once the Bridge Hotel. I imagine seafarers staying there – a welcome refuge after weeks on the waves. Not much use for the place now.

Further along, and here’s a sweet little brick cottage. Oh, it’s the old Customs House.

The road runs up the west side of the river, although the banks are high and you can’t see the water from the road. A sign tells me this is Crosskeys Marina.

It seems an unlikely place for a marina, until I climb onto the bank, and realise the place basically consists of a jetty running along the side of the river. Not many pleasure boats here either, just a series of working vessels – including a fisheries research vessel and a pilot boat.

Further along, the road enters an industrial area and bends around to the left. This is, apparently, the Port of Sutton Bridge. A series of signs tell me to follow the “Advisory Route”, which is simply a footpath that keeps to one side of the road

Looking across the river, I see I’ve drawn level with the parking spot where I left my bike earlier. Of course, my bike is too small to see, and is hidden by a mass of weeds anyway. I notice one of the camper vans has left, and I hope it hasn’t taken my bike with it.

Meanwhile, on this side of the river, I’m faced with a wide stretch of empty concrete. At this point, the Advisory Route crosses the road and takes me along the opposite pavement.

There are some industrial buildings off to left – modern, featureless storage places – where a few large lorries appear to be standing. But the Port itself is absolutely empty. No boats. No vehicles. No activity. Nothing

So, walking through the empty port, while carefully following the Advisory Route to keep myself out of danger, is a rather surreal experience.

Finally, I come to the end of the port area. A sign says this is the “Fire Assembly Point”, and also “No Exit for Port Traffic.”

The road continues as a tarmac lane, and soon deteriorates into a track of sand and grass.

The surface is marked by tyre tracks – so I realise that some vehicles must drive along here. In fact, my map shows this particular section of the bank is a “public byway open to all traffic”. Anyway, it’s a very pleasant walk, with wide open banks, and a clear view of the river.

The sound of an engine takes me by surprise, and I step aside to let a small blue car inch past me. I wonder where it’s going?

A short time later, the same blue car comes slowly back towards me and returns to wherever it came from. Did they come for a scenic drive? Or were they simply lost?

After 2-3 miles, the track crosses over a cattle grid (Cattle? I’m glad I haven’t seen any!) and rejoins a proper road.

This section of road runs straight for a mile. I’m approaching the duo of lighthouses – Peter Scott’s lighthouse is on the other side, while the lighthouse on this side is obscured by a ring of dense vegetation.

As I draw level with the lighthouses, I pass a funny little box on stilts. “HM Coastguard Sutton Bridge” says the sign. The place is empty, so I’m not sure if the coastguard station is only manned at high tide, or if it is manned at all nowadays.

There’s a small parking area here, with a couple of cars, and after this the road curves round to the left to avoid the lighthouse. I was hoping to get a good view of this building, but it is obscured by trees and is clearly not open to the public.

A footpath carries on, running around the river-side of the lighthouse. A sign tells me that shooting rights on the bank are reserved for members of the Gedney Drove End District Wildfowlers Association. Hope I don’t meet any.

Beyond the lighthouse, the bank runs straight ahead towards the mouth of the river. I meet a couple of walkers, returning to the little car park, I assume.

I reach a sluice – one of hundreds of dykes that intersect the fens and keep the landscape drained. It’s gone 1pm, and the steps down to the sluice gates provide a handy seat, so I decide to stop here for my picnic lunch. Ah, this is lovely.

The tranquil scene is broken by a sudden movement, and I spot a rat running along the bank below. A rat! Urgh!

My appetite disappears. I hastily finish my food, sling my rucksack over my shoulders, and carry on.

This section of the River Nene has an odd name on my map – Tycho Wing’s Channel.

Tycho Wing? Why give this final stretch of the river a name at all, and why Tycho Wing? Sounds like a chinese pirate.

Before I reach the mouth of the river, the bank swings round to the left. But a path seems to continue straight on, past an information board about The Wash, National Nature Reserve.

Hoping the path might lead me to the mouth of the river, I follow it for a short distance, past a rather stagnant pool of water, until I end up trudging through sticky mud and bog.

Uh oh. Too much mud. Too slippery. Not worth the risk.

I turn back and regain the bank, following its route as it curves away from the water.

This is the point where the Nene empties into the sea. I can only see it from a distance, across a field of marsh and mud. And… oh, there’s that artificial-looking island again. The Outer Trial Bank. I take a photograph using the fullest zoom on my little lens.

This is the closest I will get to that odd construction.

I follow the sea bank for another couple of miles. There are two bright spots to this section. I see a beautiful white egret out on the marshes, and a couple of red kites slowly wheeling above the farmland.

But, I’m suffering. Fields full of grasses to my left. Marsh full of grasses to my right. It’s the second week in June and, statistically, this is the peak of the pollen season. Hay fever strikes again! I sniff and sneeze, and try to stop myself scratching at my eyes.

Yes, I’m feeling pretty miserable. And I’m nearly out of tissues for my nose.

As I get closer to Gedney Drove End, the footpath bends away from the sea wall and follows a track back to the road.

I was planning to continue along the sea wall. It’s only 1/2 a mile until the footpath starts again, but there is a sign on a stile with a warning of cattle ahead. Oh yes. There they are.

I decide to stick to the official path, and start walking down the track. It is very pretty, with the hedgerow in flower and… sneeze.. pollen everywhere.

I join the road, and a few metres later come to the turn off for Marsh Lane. My van is parked just along here.

Years ago, when my husband and I were living in a village to the east of Peterborough, and were new to the fens, we set off to drive to the seaside. We reached a place that the map suggested was close to the water, climbed excitedly onto the sea wall… and stared disconsolately across hundreds of yards of marsh and mud, with the sea nowhere to be seen.

I’m not entirely certain, but I think this is where we came in search of the sea. Gedney Drove End. It’s a name that became a bit of a joke between us – a place at the back-of-beyond and on the edge of the world.

Later, driving back through the village, I realise Gedney Drove End is quite a pretty place, with some fine buildings and a real sense of community.

You’ll be pleased to know my bike was not stolen, but was waiting for me when I returned to pick it up.

Also, Tycho Wing wasn’t a chinese pirate after all, but was an english surveyor who mapped this area of the Wash in the 18th Century. You can read more about him here: http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.php?aid=263&ctid=1&cid=13

Miles walked today = 6 miles (yes, I know, a very short walk!)

Total around coast = 4,545 miles


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
This entry was posted in 23 Lincolnshire and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to 443 Sutton Bridge to Gedney Drove End

  1. Eunice says:

    If you hadn’t already found out I could have confirmed that Sutton Bridge does actually work – more than once on my journeys to or from Yarmouth I’ve been stuck in a line of traffic when the bridge has been opened to let a boat go through. Thanks for the email by the way, I owe you one back which I’ll get round to eventually 🙂

  2. David Jones says:

    Hello Ruth, I’ve been following your progress around the country for the last five years or so. Why have you suddenly jumped from north of Scotland to the east of England missing out the east coast of Scotland and north east of England. Keep up the good work. David.

    • Hi David. Cowardice, I’m afraid. I just couldn’t face taking my aging van all the way up to the northwest corner of Scotland, when I had no idea if we were truly coming out of lockdown, whether shops, cafes, hotels would be staying open etc. Next year I’ll head back up there, Covid rules permitting.

  3. jcombe says:

    Yes a rather dull walk. That hotel was derelict when I walked here too and that was several years ago. I guess it’s not very touristy to stay around there. As to you bike, I think my folding bike is like your “monster bike” in that it ways a ton so I tend not to worry too much about what if someone steals it – maybe they will be doing me a favour 🙂 (Though it might mean getting back a little tricky). That said I do usually lock it if I can find somewhere suitable, even in remote parts of Scotland. On that topic would now be a bad time to point out that there is a fairly frequent bus service between Kings Lynn and Sutton Bridge? Though I guess cycling isn’t so bad in the flat lands of Lincolnshire and avoids waiting about.

    This is an odd sort of area and your story about going to the nearest seaside amused me. I find a lot of people assume that the vast majority of the coast is sandy beaches and don’t realise that much of it, especially on the east coast and parts of the south coast is marsh where you can barely even see water.

    Nice that you had a local to give you some local information too. I thought that bridge did still work, but I wasn’t certain.

    • Yes, I was always vaguely hopeful that someone would steal my old Monster bike. But I’m very fond of my electric Scooty, and would hate to lose it, so it adds an extra layer of anxiety to the walk!

  4. tonyurwin says:

    I had visions of you gazing across the river to where you left your bike, and watching someone cycling down the road on it, agonisingly separated by the water! The kind of thing pirate Wing might do?

  5. Hi Ruth. I have tried to comment twice and was asked to log in to WordPress but I don’t think it has worked unless you only publish comments after moderation and have not yet done so. I am now trying to post this using exactly the same format that I use to comment successfully on Bowland Climber’s WordPress blog.

    • Hi Conrad, and thank you for persevering with the comment. I don’t moderate known commenters on this blog, so I’m not sure what the problem is with WordPress comments, but I, too, have had problems when trying to comment on friends’ blogs. I think it must be wordpress glitch. I find the best thing to do is NOT to hit the little wordpress icon which appears on the right below the comment box, but just fill in my email address and website details. Sorry for the difficulties.

  6. I have similar problems in posting comments. When I had a WordPress account, I could successfully make comments to this blog, and now that my wordpress account is closed, sometimes my comments go through and sometimes they do not. I don’t have this problem with any other blog that I follow. (Maura)

  7. I tried again after the success of my comment above but to no avail. I have had similar problems with another WordPress blog. I wonder of this will go?

  8. The comment I was trying to make described the coincidence of me having camped in the garden of the chap you met at Sutton Bridge (I think.) It was the house on the north-west corner of the bridge. See my post for 19th June 2010 when I was walking from The Broads to The Lakes:
    and the follow up for the next post on 20th June. When I tried to make the comment I had copied and pasted the relevant extracts instead of just giving the link as I have done here and that may have had something to do with it not going. I have also changed my WordPress password, so I hope this is now all working.

    • Ah, that was definitely the same house, Conrad, and must be the same man. He referred to his ‘girlfriend’ and I’m not sure if that was the same ‘wife’ who you met, or a newer partner. He was a nice chap and very proud of the history of the area.

  9. southcoastwalker says:

    Ruth, you have the gift of noticing the tiniest interesting things on even the most monotonous walks! Today I walked from Dover to Deal pier, just another small bit of my walk from Brighton pier to hopefully Tower Bridge (eventually!); the cliffs were fabulous but Kingsdown to Deal was pretty boring unless you like a concrete path along miles of shingle and grass. I need to take a leaf from your book and become more observant.

    • I remember that stretch, and yes it is pretty dull. (Almost as dull as this one!) I seem to notice more when the landscape is rather boring – because weird signposts, and things shown on the map, seem more significant. I’m also a very slow walker 😄

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