The charity Galloways Society for the Blind runs an annual event to raise funds. They take willing volunteers on a walk from Arnside in Cumbria to Kents Bank on the other side of the River Kent. The important feature that is missing from this walk is the bridge over the river; instead the participants in this walk wade through the river. This is the famous walk across Morecambe Bay led by the Queens Guide to the Sands. The current guide is Michael Wilson but the previous guide is more well-known and he still joins in. The 86 year old Cedric Robinson had the position of guide for 56 years from 1963 but he still mentors the new guide while driving a tractor.
Galloways emailed various groups who might have members willing to do the walk and Sandbach U3A was one of those invited. I had completed the walk previously and thought it might be attractive to Sandbach U3A members. I was able to raise a coach load of walkers which set off on Saturday 24th August in glorious sunshine for Arnside.
The organisers had set up a base on the promenade where participants were able to take the necessary steps before setting off at 11am:
- Register that they had arrived,
- Pick up the T-shirt that identified a registered walker
- Queue for the toilets
Given that 400 people were booked in for the walk, the queue was very long and was still in place when the walk started. The organisers said there would be another opportunity to use a toilet at a café 45 minutes into the walk. Comforting words for those who would like a last drain before crossing the sands, but when the last walkers reached the café, it was time to set off again. Time and tide wait for no man!
As the first-time organiser of a coach trip I had visions of a variety of risks that might cause problems. None of them came to pass, but just as I was considering discarding my Crocs for walking on the sand, I slipped and acquired a liberal coating of black mud on my shorts and rucksack. The blessing was that I had already eaten my sandwiches and fruit otherwise the inside might have been as messy as the outside.
The 400 walkers were scattered across the sand and appeared to be following the guide out to sea, where Heysham nuclear power station sat on the horizon. Two of our coach party were specially selected for a tractor ride and Cedric Robinson drove them to where the guide had lined everyone on the edge of the River Kent. When everyone was in the correct location and Moses had failed to part the waters, the walkers plunged in. My memory of the previous walk was that the water reached knee height but my knees are higher than most and the river can be swollen by rain. This time, since the bottom inch of my shorts was wet, few people would have reached the other side with dry clothes. Most people were expecting the soaking and had dressed appropriately.
The walk ends at Kents Bank railway station but the final section, after the firm and smooth sand of the bay, was covered in mud and gullies. Everyone reaching the station had muddy feet and various methods for coping with this were on show. The best idea, which we found out by chance, was to visit Lambert Manor Hotel, shown on the map as Abbot Hall, where the swimming pool toilets were available for walkers and a hose outside removed most of the mud.
This was quite different from the usual trips offered to Sandbach U3A members; there was no singing or dancing, no opportunities for leisurely afternoon tea and a guarantee that participants would get very wet and muddy. Nevertheless everyone claimed to enjoy it but that was probably down to the ideal weather conditions – sunny but not too hot. It would have been a very different story if it had rained.
On the subject of stories, a TV presenter I had never heard of – Simon Calder – was spotted in Arnside before the walk started and he joined it to produce a report for The Independent. This link brings up his report.
Those doing the walk who wondered about the route the guide took, can see it on a map by clicking on this link.