[This walk took place on the 12th June 2021]
I chain up my Scooty bike, and leave him hidden in some bushes. I’m back on Marsh Lane, near Gedney Drove End, and heading back to the sea wall.
A path climbs up onto the bank, and here the public footpath restarts along the sea wall. Why is there a gap in the footpath at this point? I don’t know.
I look ahead. Hmm. Going to be another one of those days when it’s best not to focus on the horizon. One foot in front of the other. Just keep walking.
Out on the marsh there are cattle grazing. I hope someone has told them to stay off the footpath! Luckily, they seem a long way away. Beyond the cattle is the sea. And beyond the sea… that must be the coastline on the other side of the Wash. Hunstanton. Too far away to make out the details.
Looking to my left, there are a series of enormous fields, which lie slightly below the level of the marsh. The size of the little tractor gives some indication of the sheer scale of industrial farming in this area.
The sea wall makes a series of angular turns – proof, if you needed it, that this is not a natural landscape.
Ahead are a couple of towers. The white one could be mistaken for a lighthouse (it isn’t), but the green one gives it away. I’m approaching a military firing range.
A line of red triangles marks the circumference of the “Danger Area” on my map. It extends out into the marsh, across sand banks, and into the water of the Wash. It always amuses me that military areas go hand-in-hand with nature reserves – as though there is no conflict.
The boundary nearest the shore appears to lie on the seaward side of the sea bank, implying that the footpath is just outside the restricted area. I don’t know if this is true or not, so I’m half anticipating being forced to turn back and find an inland route past the range.
For this reason, I’ve kept my planned walk very short today.
A yellow marker buoy on the marsh catches my eye. Is it washed up from somewhere else? Or is here for a reason – to mark a water channel maybe? I must say the ground looks very dry, and I find it hard to imagine that the buoy is needed for shipping reasons!
I reach the edge of the Danger Area. Signs warn about the risk of fire, and the danger of unexploded bombs. You are not allowed to dig for objects on the range, and not allowed to hold any object found on the range, or to remove any object from the range – which makes perfect sense to me.
But, for some reason, the sign also tells me there is “No reward or payment of any description for finding such objects…” Crikey! Who would go digging up unexploded bombs and hoping for a reward?
The public footpath sign makes it clear I can carry on, so I do, continuing along the sea wall and making another right angled bend. I walk past the green tower, which appears unmanned.
Ahead, I can see the white tower. And beyond that… is that a red flag flying? Oh no! Am I going to have to turn back?
To my left, a blue tractor is standing in a field among rows of baby plants. Another huge field. Not much bio-diversity on show here.
Nearby, a sign tells me about the nature reserve, and explains a little of the history of the artificial island – the Doughnut – which is still visible out in the Wash.
I continue on, past the white tower. A tarmac roadway runs parallel and just below the sea wall, but I stick to the bank, which is where the footpath signs seem to point.
And then I reach a barrier with a STOP sign. Luckily the barrier is raised, but beyond the barrier is a pole with a red flag flying. Oh dear. A red flag means the range is in use.
I stop and pull out my map to consider alternative routes. As I’m doing this, I notice a couple of people walking along the roadway towards me. They pass right under the red flag.
It turns out to be a lady and her grandson. They’re locals, and are out for a walk with their dog. She reassures me that the range is defintitely not in use today, but the military have got in the habit of leaving this red flag flying, presumably to deter visiting tourists.
I decide to take her word for it, and continue forwards, following the roadway, past the raised barrier and under the red flag.
A sign tells me me that when the red flag is up, I shouldn’t pass this point without permission. This makes me very nervous of course. There are more towers ahead. I half expect an angry soldier to emerge and tell me off – or an army landrover to speed towards me…
I look anxiously around for signs of military manoeuvres. Across the marsh are some structures which look like they might be used for target practice, but all is quiet at the moment. No vehicles moving. No shots being fired. No bombs being dropped.
Onwards. I pass another flag post and am pleased to see that THIS red flag is firmly tied at the bottom of the pole.
The next lookout tower is empty too.
I begin to relax and enjoy the walk. Easy-going along the tarmac roadway, if a little boring. The sun is making an intermittent appearance too, and there is a gentle breeze to keep me cool. Actually, it’s a perfect day for walking.
I reach an area where there seems to be some construction activity going on. No sign of any workmen but it’s a Saturday, so I guess they don’t work at weekends.
At first I think the construction must be something to do with the military, but it turns out to be a drainage projectby the South Holland Internal Drainage Board – a refurbishment of the Fleet Haven Pumping Station.
Past the pumping station, the roadway seems little less used, with grass growing up through the tarmac. There’s another green lookout post ahead, but first I must pass a small hut.
I have no idea what the hut is used for, but some steps lead down from the building and a track stretches ahead across the marsh. It’s nearly 1:30pm, and I decide to stop and use the steps as a bench – it’s lunch time!
The marsh in front of me looks very solid. Maybe it gets muddy in winter, but it seems the sea has well and truly retreated from this area of the Wash. In fact, there is a line of bushes growing a few hundred yards out in front of me. The first stage in natural re-wilding.
After lunch, I perch the camera on a handrail, and take a rather shaky self-portrait in front of a couple of warning signs.
Another sign warns of the risk of fire. It has a moveable arrow, with the risk currently set to “high”. I wonder how often someone comes and alters the position of this arrow.
From this point, I realise, I can see across the whole sweep of The Wash – from Hunstanton all the way across to the shore beyond Boston. Although I take photos, they don’t come out very well – with all the details lost in the blue haze of the horizon.
There is the dark tower of the Boston Stump. I’m pretty sure of it. And Gibralter Point, or even Skegness, visible to the far right of the photo below.
Time to get moving. Onwards.
Past another lookout tower, which turns out to be the last one of the day. To my left somebody has planted a row of trees along the bank of the dyke. Horse chestnuts.
From a distance, I thought they would be willows, as they are often the first trees to repopulate marshy areas. But the horse chestnuts seem to be doing well.
A couple of walkers, with a dog, come towards me along the bank, the first people I’ve met since I entered the Danger Area. They’re wearing shorts, something I never wear when I’m out walking.
I take a sneaky photo of their backs after they’ve gone by.
This grass is short here, but you never know when you’re going to have to wade through thistles, or brambles, or nettles. And then there is the risk of insect bites and ticks…
Yes, the countryside is a dangerous place. Unexploded bombs are only the tip of the iceberg. There are aggressive cows, biting dogs, nasty little blood-sucking critters, and plants that scratch or sting. All seem designed to hurt you. I’m amazed I’ve survived so far!
I’ve left the Danger Area behind. The footpath soon takes a right-angled bend, but I continue straight along the sea wall. I’ve reached a track which leads up to a little parking place… and there’s my faithful Beast waiting for me.
Actually, my main problem today has been hayfever. I took a tablet last night, which helped a little – and certainly made me sleep well – but I’ve still been sniffing and sneezing through the best part of the day.
Miles walked today = 6.5 miles (another pathetically short walk, I know!)
Total around coast = 4,551.5 miles