454am Sutton on Sea & Mablethorpe, to Saltfleet

[This walk was completed on the 20th August, 2021]

The promenade looks busier today. Perhaps because it’s a Friday there seem to be more visitors about.

I leave my Scooty bike chained up in a bike rack. Normally, I try to hide him, for fear of bike-thieves, either by throwing him in the bushes or stashing him behind a barrier of some sort. But there are no obvious hiding places on the open promenade. In any case, I assume he is less likely to be stolen if left in plain sight close to where people congregate.

But, leaving my bike so exposed does make me a little uneasy. Will he still be there when I return?

I shrug my rucksack over my shoulders, and make my way across the sand towards the sea. Thread my way through groups of holiday-makers, and splash through streams of water.

Walking on the firm sand, near the waves, I make rapid progress and soon leave Sutton on Sea behind. Or do I? Hard to tell where the village ends when I’m down here, because I can’t see any houses, only an endless line of beach huts.

My map suggests this coast is built up, more or less, all the way to Mablethorpe. But I don’t get that impression – because the beach in front of me is empty. Just miles of open space and the occasional seagull.

Only the odd person to disturb the peace… a dog walker, a strolling couple… until a trio of children come running across the sand, heading towards the waves. They drop their towels on the edge of the water and splash into the sea – shrieking. The waves knock them over and I can just see their heads bobbing around.

I can’t help a little shiver. It may be the middle of August, but it is not a warm day. Overcast and cool. Those children are much braver than me.

Onwards. The wide beach gets narrower as the tide comes in. I’ve spotted a large building along the shore, which I think is a grand hotel. But, when I get closer, it turns out to be a series of apartment blocks.

They look incongruous – the only tall structures around. I wonder if once a fine old building stood here, but now converted into modern flats.

Beyond the residential blocks are more beach huts. These ones are painted in pretty pastels, but have a regimental air to them. All identical.

Closer to the sea, the sands are relatively crowded. I must have reached Mablethorpe. I can see a swimming area – marked by red and yellow flags – and a lifeguard patrolling on a quad bike.

More people on the promenade. There’s a lifeboat station too, and public toilets (which, luckily, I don’t need to use).

The sea wall pushes out onto the sand, with the usual ice cream kiosks, cafes, and amusements. I give it a wide berth.

A series of circular structures make a line across the sand, and I assume mark the passage of an outlet pipe. The partially submerged concrete platform looks like a giant, artificial caterpillar – or an elongated submarine.

I’m not sure I would want to paddle so close to the end of this structure – who knows what it is carrying out into the sea. Sewage?

Past more beach huts, a wooden pirate ship, an amusement park… and now I’m leaving Mablethorpe behind. The beach is empty again, and I make rapid progress.

Ah, what are all these people doing on the beach, in the middle of nowhere? There must be a car park nearby.

A young woman is drawing intricate patterns in the sand, with a large rake. I would like to stop and watch, but am worried she will ask for money. I’m not carrying much cash – just enough for an ice cream.

Further along, a trailer is parked on the sand, and I decide this would be an excellent spot to buy an ice cream. But, as I get closer, I realise the trailer is only selling hot snacks.

Earlier, cycling to Sutton on Sea on my Scooty bike, I ended up by mistake in a beach car park which had a cafe attached to it. This – just inland – must the same car park. I’ll pop into the cafe and buy my ice cream there.

I make my way up the sandy slope, and onto a concrete path that takes me inland, between the dunes, until I find myself outside a pub and at the entrance to a car park. Totally the wrong car park! This one is next to a seal sanctuary and is guarded by a security guard. Not what I was expecting, at all. No cafe in sight, but at least there is an icecream van.

I buy a cone, and sit on a seat outside the nearby pub, which is closed.

Quick check of my map, and I find the spot where there is both a pub and a car park marked on my map. North End is its name. Apt. This really is the north end of Mablethorpe.

After a short rest and refreshment break, I leave the closed pub, and follow the path back to the beach. Here I will turn left and head up the coast.

Now, I am really leaving Mablethorpe behind. I really didn’t see much of it, but Mablethorpe seemed like a nice place. Like Sutton on Sea, a little more upmarket than Skegness, with families doing traditional things on the beach – sandcastles, paddling, swimming etc. And almost no litter to be seen.

There’s a strange structure on the beach ahead. A stranded buoy? Maybe it’s come adrift from somewhere?

When I get closer, I discover it is a strange piece of scaffolding, with something metal inside… what is it? A large bell… with an anchor – no, a clapper – hanging down beneath it.

Of course, I can’t resist swinging the clapper. I give it a light tap.

BOOM. The resulting noise is enormous, echoing around the empty sands, and making me jump with fright.

A couple stand nearby with their dogs, and they laugh at my discomfort. “Loud, isn’t it.” They explain it is designed to ring when the tide comes and the waves hit the clapper. Can be heard for miles around.

I leave the bell behind, and continue up the beach. The sands are really wide at this point, and stretch ahead as far as the eye can see. It’s like walking across a vast desert – quite surreal – with seabirds wheeling away as I approach, and crunching shells underfoot.

Hardly anybody about now. Just a few tiny figures walking by the waves. I can just make them out with my camera on full zoom.

While inland, beyond a mess of seagulls, runs a line of variegated dunes.

After a while, the sheer emptiness of the sands becomes unnerving. And I worry about incoming tides, and how quickly the water might cover these flat, flat sands. So, I head towards the grass at the top of the beach.

I’ve left the official England Coast Path behind – it ended somewhere in Mablethorpe. So, I’m pleased and relieved to see there’s a clear path here.

Later, I pass a few dog walkers. And spot a rabbit – no a hare – standing momentarily still as a statue in the grass, before it leaps off into the cover to the bushes.

At some point, according to my map, the beach becomes a “Danger Area” and I will need to turn inland. I spot the first sign I might be approaching the forbidden zone.

“The public are warned not to enter the danger zone…when the red flags are hoisted”.

Underneath this, the sign goes on to explain I shouldn’t go digging for objects on the range, and if I was to find such an object, there would be “no reward or payment of any description”.

Well, I have no intention of digging for unexploded bombs. But, am I allowed to carry on?

I look around, and can’t see any red flags, nor any sign of a flag pole where they might be hoisted. There is nobody around. What should I do?

Out across the sand, only just visible, tiny figures are walking by the sea. Too far away to ask for advice.

Further along, another sign tells me that horse riders must avoid flushing out birds on the marsh, and must keep to sandy beach. Oh, that’s reassuring. If horses are allowed here, so am I. If this is still the beach, of course, which isn’t clear…

There’s nowhere else to go, so I carry on for a while. I’m approaching a line of vegetation, when a man emerges from the dunes with a couple of dogs, and strides out across the grassy beach. He’s gone out of earshot before I can ask his advice on footpaths.

The vegetation ahead is fenced off, and it looks as if I’ve reached the edge of a nature reserve. I follow the same route the man with the dogs took – a concrete walkway heading inland over the dunes.

A quick check of my map… and it looks as though a public footpath continues from here, somewhere, and runs along behind the dunes… I just need to find it.

[To be continued…]

The bell in scaffolding was part of an art installation: Time and Tide Bell

Route so far:

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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10 Responses to 454am Sutton on Sea & Mablethorpe, to Saltfleet

  1. Eunice says:

    I visited Mablethorpe 14 years ago – went to the seal sanctuary – but unfortunately being a dull December day I didn’t get a very good impression of the general area as everywhere was closed. Was the seal sanctuary open when you passed? Just wondering as it’s showing on Google maps as being temporarily closed, presumably because of Covid.

  2. Liz Wild says:

    I walked this stretch, but in the opposite direction, in May 2019 and the bell wasn’t there then. I’ve just looked it up on https://www.timeandtidebell.org/mablethorpe-lincolnshire/ and it was installed in June that year. I saw the time and tide bell at Appledore when I did that stretch several years ago.

  3. jcombe says:

    I quite liked Mablethorpe, it was a lot better than Skeggy, anyway! I remember they still had donkeys on the beach too. That bell looks really interesting. I don’t remember seeing it so thanks for explaining it is an art installation. I think I’d have been tempted to ring it too.

    As to the lady drawing patterns on the beach I bet it looked wonderful from above. I went to the island of Sark in the summer and there is a beach down a *lot* of stairs. I was the only person on it and someone else came down and started making patterns in the sand. When I’d finished lunch and headed back up all the steps I was astonished to see how good it looked from above.

  4. tonyurwin says:

    Seven Time and Tide bells? Now they are right up my street. I shall have to “collect” them all. 🙂

  5. Ian says:

    Just up from the bell there is also an old tank on the beach.

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