[This walk was completed on the 8th September, 2021]
I’m back in Lincolnshire and making the most of a few days of fine September weather. But, when I park The Beast in the car park, at Donna Nook, I’m alarmed to see a red flag flying over the dunes.
A couple of cars pull in behind me, and people begin hoisting out cameras, tripods and impressive long lenses. A military vehicle is parked close by, and I spot a group of guys in uniform heading along the green space in front of the dunes.
Oh dear. I knew the area around here was a military range, and it looks like there must be something going on today. I hope this doesn’t interfere with my planned walk.
Leaving The Beast surrounded by photographers, I cycle off. Keeping to the back roads, I cycle along a pleasant, but circuitous route, until I eventually reach the car park in the nature reserve near Saltfleet. By this time, it’s nearly midday.
My instinct is to hide my Scooty bike in the bushes, but there are footpaths everywhere and quite a few people about, so in the end I leave my bike chained to a fence in plain view.
I’m walking northwards to Saltfleet, along the edge of a gigantic area of marshland. No sea to be seen here. Just reeds and marsh grasses.
I pass a concrete bunker. Left over from WWII, I think. And probably much closer to the sea when it was first constructed as a defence against invading Germans.
After a mile or so, I cross over a narrow waterway via a bridge, and find myself in a little car park on the edge of Saltfleet. A couple of workmen are sitting in their vans, eating their packed lunches. A nice place for a lunch break.
I tried to find this place last time I was in Lincolnshire, but ended up parking in the nature reserve a mile down the road instead. As I follow the track back to the road, I realise why. It’s not exactly obvious there is a car park along this overgrown driveway, and with no signs to guide you, you really have to know it’s here.
Here’s a little boat yard. The notice board bears a faded sign, “Saltfleet Haven Boat Club.” It even has a web address: https://www.saltfleethaven.co.uk/ But it’s not exactly a luxury marina – just a few little boats, a tractor, a wooden shed, and what looks like a portaloo.
I reach the end of the track, and join the main road, which crosses over the river via a sluice bridge. “Black Gowt” says a sign on the bridge – what a gloriously sinister name – along with signs warning of “Deep Water” and “No Swimming.”
I think Black Gowt refers to the sluice, not the river, which my map suggests is called Great Eau on one side of the bridge, and becomes Saltfleet Haven on the other.
Over the bridge, I join a track which should take me up the northern bank of Saltfleet Haven. This track is called, very helpfully, Haven Bank.
As the water channel deepens and widens, I come across a row of moored boats. Now the little Saltfleet Haven Boat Club makes more sense. There are quite a few boats here.
On the other side of the track, I look across open fields and fishing lakes, to where yet another holiday camp sprawls among the trees.
The track continues for about 1/2 mile along the bank. In the distance I can see vehicles parked. Yes, there is another car park here, another car park I missed last time, because I didn’t realise you could actually drive along the bank.
As I approach the car park, something weird happens.
A woman is leaving in her car. It’s an estate car with the windows open, and with two hot dogs panting in the back. The dogs see me, and rise up, tails wagging. I can’t help smiling at them. The car is picking up speed along the rough track and, by the time it passes me, must have been going about 20mph.
Suddenly, one of the dogs leaps out the open window – a fur-covered missile – and lands, inches from my feet. He rolls over several times, and comes to a halt in a flurry of dust.
The woman slams on the brakes and leans over to open the passenger door. “Why did you do that?” she shouts. The question seems to be directed at me, and for a moment I’m filled with guilt. Did I encourage the dog by smiling at him? To my relief, the dog stands up, gives himself a shake – a sort of doggy shrug – and jumps onto the passenger seat. The lady shoves him into the back of the car, shouts, “I don’t know why he did that!” and drives off.
It’s all over in a matter of seconds.
As I watch the car disapearing down the track, with a trail of dust billowing up behind it, I catch a glimpse of the two dogs in the back window, mouths open in huge grins, tails still wagging.
Thank goodness the dog was unhurt. Feeling a little shaken, I continue.
I reach the end of the road – where a collection of vans, campers, and tractors are parked. The track continues a little further, but its surface has deteriorated into a slurry of mud and sand.
I walk a little further through the mud. Then, stand and stare across the marsh. Is that the sea? Over there, somewhere?
Wish I’d checked the tides, because I don’t know if the water is coming in or going out. Remembering the incoming rush of Morecambe Bay, I don’t want to risk striding into the marsh.
Luckily, there seems to be a sort of shoreline, where marsh turns into sandune, and this curves around the edge of the marshy area like an inland beach.
I follow the curve of the shore, passing a few holiday makers who have set up camp for the day on the edge of the dunes. One lady is brewing tea, with a picnic lunch laid out on a portable table. Another is lying on a deckchair sunbathing in shorts and T-shirt.
It’s just like being on a beach – but with no sea in sight!
I head for a slightly raised finger of land at the far end of the bay, but my way is interrupted by a river.
I get out my trusty map but, in these areas, even the most detailed Ordnance Survey map isn’t much use. The geography of this terrain is constantly shifting, as water courses silt up, and and new ones are formed.
Oh dear, perhaps this is all a big mistake and I’ll have to turn back.
I make my way inland to where the river disappears into multiple streams of water, which I hop, skip and jump my way over. Splashing through an increasingly waterlogged area of marsh, I’m relieved to spot a couple coming towards me through the grass. Oh good, they look as if they know what they’re doing, and there must be a path over there.
Walking in a line to deliberately intersect their progress, I reach the couple, and realise they aren’t following a proper path after all. More like a series of streams. They’re carrying picnic things. He’s taken his shoes off, while she has decided to keep her sandals on as she wades through the water.
I ask them if there is a proper path out here. “Not any more.” he says, brushing some mud off his white shorts. He turns apologetically to his companion. “Used to be an easy walk to the beach, but it seems further away than I remember.”
In finding a way round the river, I’ve reached the other side of a raised island of dunes. Now, I can see – yes – there is a beach, of sorts, over there.
Watch the couple make their way to the drier sands. Hope they enjoy their day, and hope they don’t get stranded by rising tides.
Having failed to find a reasonable path through the marsh, I decide the best thing to do is to follow the route the couple took, and head back towards the shore.
Definitely more of a river than a path. The red flag among the trees gives me something to aim for.
When I get closer to the flag, I realise I’m on the edge of another holiday camp. Or, no, it’s the same one I saw earlier. I’ve not really got very far at all!
The flag is a “not safe to swim” signal, I suppose, and this is the camp’s access point to the shore. Several groups of people are standing on the slope looking out over the marsh and muttering things like, “Beach? What beach? Where’s the beach?”
I’m just grateful to be back on firm land, and still with reasonably dry feet. There are no public footpaths marked on my map, but the track along the edge of the dunes looks promising. Onwards.
It is a beautiful day. Much better weather than most of the days I spent hiking this summer. I once heard a weather forecaster refer to August as the monsoon month in the UK. Probably true. The weather always seems much nicer in September.
All the lovely sunshine should make for some great photography. The landscape is dramatic, although the resulting photographs are… to put it mildly… a little dull.
I can’t see the sea at all now. But over there, where the shore runs, is a line of white towers which must mark the edge of the military area.
There is not much shade in the marsh, so I scramble up a bank to sit under the branches of a stunted tree. Time for a rest, something to drink, and a rather late lunch of fruit and snack bars.
While I’m sitting there, a couple stroll past and stop for a chat. We discuss the weather and the beauty of the marsh. It’s nice to have a conversation with someone, and I envy them their companionship.
Although I’ve usually walked alone – and prefer it that way – I’ve never felt truly alone in life until recently. Now, after nearly 40 years of marriage, I’m single and have just had the second anniversary of my divorce. I still find it hard to believe, and the thought brings waves of sadness.
A shiny blue shape floats past me. A lost balloon. I jump up and try to catch it, but it floats tantalisingly out of reach and ends up hanging over a pond. I simply can’t reach it. Hope it lands somewhere safe. These helium balloons seem such fun things to have, but can cause real problems to wildlife if allowed to litter the countryside.
I’m approaching the edge of the “Danger Area”. From this point on, the area close to the dunes is increasingly crisscrossed by channels of water and I risk getting cut off from the shore. So I decide to head inland – to the sea bank, where I can see a red flag flying. I’ll ask the military people on duty if there is a safe path I can follow.
But, this place, complete with military warning signs and the red flag, isn’t the military post I expected. It’s simply an unmanned car park at the end of a fen road. Although there’s no name on my map, a sign tells me the car park is called Howden’s Pullover.
Howden’s Pullover? I have a mental image of a nerdy guy with round specs and a striped pullover, hunched over a desk somewhere. (I know, in this context, a pullover means a stopping place and not an item of clothing, but I can’t shift the image!)
Although not marked as a footpath, there is a wonderful grassy track along the top of the bank. Perfect.
I meet a few walkers – people with dogs and family groups – all of which gives me confidence. With a bit of luck, this easy route will take me all the way to Donna Nook. Once I get there, I’ll make the most of this fine weather and walk a bit further along the coast.
It’s easy walking. To my right, across miles of grassy marsh, is the distant sea, and a line of those white towers which must, surely, mark the edge of the Danger Zone. I pass a few military bunkers, slipping slowly into the marsh, otherwise there are no buildings to be seen on this side.
To my left, stretch Lincolnshire fields. Slightly higher land in the distance – must be a sign I’m near the Lincolnshire Wolds – one of the few hilly areas in Lincolnshire. Here the highest peak reaches the dizzy height of just over 550 feet (or 168 metres).
My OS maps indicates where a couple of farm tracks come up to the bank. They are festooned with “Private” signs, and “Keep Out” notices.
I see some sort of obstruction ahead.
I’m beginning to worry about what will happen if I find my way forward blocked. Was hoping it would be easy to come off the bank, but didn’t realise the local landowners would be quite so unfriendly to walkers. Was also hoping the range wouldn’t be in use – but just look at the red flags.
I pass a sign. “Donna Nook, Air Weapons Range”. Uh oh, that means planes with bombs, or with machine guns. In smaller print, “Public access of Donna Nook AWR is not permitted when red flags and/or lamps are displayed.”
I reach the obstuction, a metal gate across the bank. Here, a track crosses over, and there are no entry signs. Yes, those road signs apply to vehicles, but… but… there’s a red flag.
I climb over the gate and take a closer look at the signs. I can’t hear any bombs going off. No machine guns. No jets or other planes. It’s all very quiet.
But… but… there are red flags.
[To be continued…]
Route so far today: