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Cumbria, England

Merlewood: a walk on the wild side

Posted by Jonathan Broom on Jun 17, 2018
Merlewood: a walk on the wild side

If you had to describe Grange-over-Sands, just down the hill from Merlewood, the word you might use, not pejoratively, is genteel. It’s a pretty place, a throwback to a kinder, gentler age, with its bandstand

its ornamental gardens

its clock tower, its friendly high street, its promenade.

A civilised place. A safe place. You might, if you were carping, say that it lacked the opportunity for adventure.

And you would be wrong. Just beyond the promenade – or to be exact, beyond the marshes – lies the magnificent Morecambe Bay.

It’s huge. Humungous. The largest area of inter-tidal salt flats and marsh in the UK. Nigh on 120 square miles of constantly shifting sands and mudflats. A tidal range of almost 5½ fathoms. Bordered to the north by the towering Fells of the Lake District; to the east by the Arnside-Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and at its southern edge the seaside town from which the Bay takes its name. Famous the world over for its seafood. A Site of Special Scientific Interest. And one of the most important bird and wildlife areas in Britain.

Majestic when the tide is in; but it’s when the tide is out that the adventure begins.

The adventure being, to walk across the Bay. It is, let’s be clear, an extremely hazardous undertaking. At low tide the ground beneath your feet is still as close to liquid as it’s possible for ground to be – and in places, closer than that: hard-to-spot quicksand pools abound, and there are tales of carts, horses, tractors and more being sucked into the depths. And yes – sadly there have been human fatalities too.

It is not illegal to strike out across the Bay on your own – just insanely stupid. Which, fortunately, most people aren’t, preferring to rely on the expertise of an experienced guide.

Cedric Robinson, MBE, has been shepherding walkers across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay since 1963. But this is not some self-appointed role; indeed, Cedric’s employer is the highest in the land – none other than Her Majesty herself.

And Cedric’s position isn’t some newly-minted job title, either. The Queen’s (or presumably King’s) Guide to the Sands is a royal appointment dating back to 1548.

But if you fancy the job as a way of boosting the bank balance, prepare to be disappointed. Yes, the Queen’s Guide enjoy s rent-free accommodation (in the Crown-owned, 700-year-old Guide’s Farm Cottage on Morecambe Bay’s Kents Bank), but the annual stipend of £15 doesn’t go very far. Fortunately Cedric (and, one assumes, his predecessors) is a man of simple pleasures, and many talents: including fishing for cockles, mussels and whitebait, whence derives his expertise at reading the treacherous and ever-changing landscape of Morecambe Bay at low tide.

The role of Queen’s Guide came into being out of necessity. In bygone days the peasantry, largely ignorant of the dangers the Morecambe Bay sands posed and unwilling to take the time or pay the money for transport around, rather than across, the sands, were prepared to take the risk; and to put it simply, too many lives were being lost. The answer? Someone who could lead the peasants safely across for no charge (other than his yearly stipend). Which is why, though most Bay Walks these days carry a fee, that fee is paid entirely to charity: Cedric receives nothing.

Folk walk the Bay Walk for a variety of reasons. Many do it for charity, others simply for the challenge – but to date Cedric has safely guided over half a million walkers across the sands – who have, collectively, raised a staggering £2½m for charitable causes.

If you’re holidaying at Merlewood and you fancy seeing the holiday site, Grange-over-Sands and the Fells of the Lake District from a unique and altogether different angle; getting lungfuls of fresh sea air; and enjoying an unforgettable experience – why not book yourself on a Bay Walk? You’ll find further details by clicking here.

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Jonathan Broom
Author: Jonathan Broom

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