[This walk took place on the 11th July 2021]
I leave my Scooty bike chained up against a fence in the car park at Freiston Shore. It’s nearly midday already
It took me some time to find somewhere for breakfast, then I had drive further up the coast and find a place to park and, after that, I had a convulted cycle ride along minor roads – stopping to check my Garmin regularly – to get here.
But at least I’m familiar with this car park, because I was here yesterday. Full of confidence, I stride down the footpath towards the sea, walking past a bird hide…
…safely past a field of cows, until I climb up onto the sea bank.
I’m nowhere near the sea, of course. From the bank I look out over a large expanse of grass and marshland. At least the path on the top of the bank is nice and clear.
There air is clear this morning too. Out there, beyond the edge of the marsh, is The Wash and, on the other side, is a line of higher ground. I must be looking at – I briefly check my map – the north Norfolk coast and Hunstanton.
I’m unable to make out any details, but I take a photo of that distant line of sea and land.
After walking for a mile or so along the bank, I come to a place where the wall has been breached. This is a surprise, because I was expecting to walk all the way up the coast for many miles along this footpath.
At first, I think I’ll simply wade across the inlet…
…but the ground is very slippery and, as I get closer to the water, the mud coats my boots and grips my feet with unnerving suction. Each step becomes an effort, and my boots sink deeper into the gloop.
Oh dear. Is there another way around? I’m sinking in mud and I daren’t stand still, so I slip and slide back to the bank, where I pull out my map.
If only I’d looked at my map to start with! The footpath doesn’t run this way at all, but follows an inner bank. I’ve come the wrong way.
The proper path curves around on a raised bank that encloses the inner side of an elongated, rectangular area of marsh. I draw level with the point where, on the far side, the sea wall has been breached. You can see the definite gap.
Must have been deliberate, and I guess done to extend the marsh for the benefit of sea birds and migrating birds. Hmmph. There’s already acres and acres of unwalkable marsh around the Wash. And I can’t see any birds out there anyway.
What about us coastal walkers? Nobody ever thinks of us!
I’ve wasted an hour. It’s nearly 1pm. On the other side of the marsh is another car park, accessed via a narrow roadway. I was hoping to find a bench here, but there’s no sign of one, so I sit on the stile and eat my lunch.
A couple get out of their car and give me a friendly wave. They pull a hamper out of they boot. Oh, they’re off to have a picnic too.
I watch them make their way along the bank that leads to the outer edge of the marsh.
I wonder if I should follow them and try to continue along the outer bank? I’m past the breach now. But who knows what further obstruction I might find?
While I’m eating, the skies get darker, and it feels like rain. I decide to stick with this footpath along the inner bank, which continues on the other side of the car park.
I walk past a row of three WW2 pill boxes. Although they’re a common sight around the coast, I’ve not seen them situated so close together before.
I guess this is one of the likely places where the German army could have come ashore, if they’d decided to launch a ground invasion, in WW2. Although, I think our best defence wouldn’t have been a handful of soldiers defending the bank from these boxes, but the boot-trapping, tank-swamping efforts of the marsh itself.
A track appears on my right, lined with a beautiful row of sycamore trees. The track looks like easy walking, and is tempting, but I decide to stick to the proper public footpath – which continues straight on along the top of the bank.
I’m heading towards another pill box. But the path is invisible on the ground. Worse still, I come across cow pats – yes, they look reasonably old, but where are the cows?
Here’s a gate that doesn’t open, and a stile – in such an atrocious condition I don’t dare put my weight on it. The grass on the other side is several feet high.
I place my feet on some of the wider supports and pull myself up. But I only get as far as straddling the fence, before I decide I’ve had enough. No path, unusable stiles, and the threat of cows ahead… I turn back and return to the start of the track. From now on, I’m going to choose the easy way!
With firm ground under my feet, I can make speedy progress. And I really enjoy this part of the walk, despite the incredibly boring views. The marsh on my right has been replaced by miles, and miles, of vast arable fields. Do we really need so many cabbages?
Further along, and I spot the cows. Yes, they’re sitting on the bank, right in the middle of the public footpath. And they have a lot of teeny, weeny calves with them.
I’m glad I turned back. Wouldn’t have wanted to try to walk through this cattle nursery.
Onwards. Along the track. There’s a constant clack-clack noise from the sycamore trees, marking my progress like a rollling percussion orchestra, caused by startled pigeons rising from the branches.
I walk past another pill box. The field of cattle on my left is replaced by a field of horses. the cabbages on my right are replaced by a waving field of wheat.
Under darkening skies, I come to the end of the sycamore trees, but the track continues on. And on.
After three miles, I finally reach the point where the track curves round and rises over the bank. The bend is marked by a cylindrical green tank – a water bowser, I think.
Here, on top of the bank, is a large stone with something engraved on it. I climb over a stile, and take a closer look. It’s a memorial stone to John and Dulcie Saul.
[Later, a brief search of the internet, reveals that John Saul was probably a local farmer, leaving behind an eponymous company which now farms 3,000 acres around Leverton and Friskney. In fact, I would imagine they farm all the land I can see around me at this point on my walk.]
The track leads inland, running between enormous fields.
But I’m carrying straight on along the bank. Over this stile.
The grass over here looks well-cropped. I worry about meeting cows, but instead I meet a group of horses. Oh, how lovely. And with young foals too.
I stop and take photographs. There is something so wonderfully endearing about baby animals.
I think of my own daughters. You never stop worrying about them, even when they’re grown up, but I have plenty of reasons to worry at the moment. My eldest is waiting for her urgent appointment for a dodgy mole – which I’m convinced is a malignant melanoma. Meanwhile, my youngest is undergoing a battering six months of chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Life can seem very unfair sometimes. And seems much too short.
Onwards. I’m nearing a pumping station, where someone has driven up the access road and parked their red car on the top of the bank. Can’t see anybody around.
A sign against the marsh fence tells me this area is reserved for the South Lincs Wildfowlers Club. “Private Shooting”. Maybe the man who drove here in his red car is out there on the marsh, somewhere, with a shotgun.
The pumping station has a new-looking sign, telling me this is the Wrangle Sea Bank, and this flood-defence was partly funded by the EU. Why would you use EU funds to protect hundreds of acres of a private farmland? No idea.
Beyond the pumping station, I pass through a gate, and continue along the bank.
The sky over The Wash is dark, and a line of grey mist suggests rain is falling over the water. But, luckily, it’s still dry here.
I keep an eye out for wild fowlers with shotguns, but instead I see a man in a white suit. Because of Covid, my immediate reaction is “What is a man in a Hazmat suit doing out here?” Oh, no, silly me. It’s a bee keeper.
The bank continues, in a series of gentle curves. The land to my left does look as if there’s been recent construction going on. Maybe they’ve been deepening or widening the drainage ditch?
A mile or so further and the bank makes a sharp V turn inland. This gives me a clear view of the terrain ahead and – uh, oh – cows.
They’re across the top of the bank, and along the slopes on either side. I really do hate walking near cattle, and this group looks as though it might include bullocks too. What am I going to do now?
[To be continued…]
Route so far today: