Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Walk 98 -- King's Lynn to Wingland Marsh

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 348 days. Rosemary was 59 years and 125 days.
Weather: Sunny and pleasant – even a bit too hot! Cloudy later, and colder.
Location: King’s Lynn to Wingland Marsh.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 751 miles.
Terrain: Grassy sea bank all the way.
Tide: Going out – then in.
Rivers to cross: No.34, the Great Ouse at King’s Lynn.
Ferries: No.10 across the River Great Ouse at King’s Lynn; cost 50p each.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We came up the day before and camped at Lutton, near Long Sutton. We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from Lutton to Wingland Marsh where we tentatively left our car in the Nature Reserve car park near a burnt-out car! We cycled to West Lynn where we chained our bikes to a rack in the ferry car park.
At the end, we found that there was just a pile of ash where the burnt-out car had been! Our car was unscathed (relief!) So we drank tea, drove back to West Lynn to pick up the bikes from the now empty car park, and returned to our campsite.

We pretended we had crossed on the ferry because it was easier that way. We were pleased to find a new visitor centre at the ferry car park with toilets that were open! We picked up a leaflet in which was the following history of the ferry between King’s Lynn and West Lynn:
We know there has been a ferry across the Great Ouse since at least 1285, when one Phillip Peyteuyn and his wife sold the ferry rights to John Ode of Bishop’s Lynn. The price was forty silver marks (£27.00 a huge sum of money for the day) plus an annual rent of one clove.

The ferry service was vital—not only to save the twelve mile detour through Wiggenhall St Germans but to avoid the rapacious Lord of Rising (now Castle Rising) who, around 1310, extracted ruinous tolls on travellers using that route.

The Trinity Guild of Powerful Merchants acquired the rights in 1392, their boat running from the south end of their quay (the common staithe) reached by Ferry Street beside the present Globe Hotel. By this time there were two and probably three services across the Great Ouse.

The Duke of Clarence, with his entire household and three hundred horsemen, took the ferry across the river in 1413, (they were on their way to stay at the Austin Friars, which stood in the modern Austin Street near St Nicholas Chapel), and Henry V followed some eight years later.

In 1649, after centuries in private ownership, the Corporation took over the rights; the first tenant John Bird paid a yearly rent to the Mayor of two “well fatted” swans. At this time the ferry became one of the town’s most profitable possessions.

In 1821, the new freebridge to the south of King’s Lynn reduced the overland journey to four miles. By the late 1880s the service has transferred to its present site in Ferry Lane.

The ferry steamer was rejected and an electric launch was tried and proved to be unreliable. A scheme to use pontoons hauled across by cable was rejected, rowing boats persisted until 1920, when two petrol driven motor boats were used. This caused the fare to be doubled from half to one (old) penny. This was a highly unpopular move, which necessitated stationing a policeman at the ferry steps to keep order.
In 1973 the ferry rights passed to the County Council. Ownership of the ferry rights confers not only operating rights but also an absolute legal duty to provide the service, a duty which the County Council found onerous. In 1989 there were fears of closure although it would have taken a Private Members’ Bill to achieve it. Since this time the ferry rights have been purchased by locally based companies in order to preserve this historic service – thus after 340 years, the ferry returned to private ownership.
We had great expectations of this Walk because it was labelled ‘The Peter Scott Walk’, but we were to be disappointed. We thought we were going to see flocks of birds, but we saw hardly any. We walked northwards beside the river to get back to the sea—or so we thought. The official path was behind a hedge, but we stayed by the river for as long as we could because the view was better, marginally. It was cool and breezy up there, but we didn’t mind as we were marching along. The tide was racing out, and there was only one craft on the river—a working-type speedboat. Eventually the path got too rough, so we had to go behind the hedge where we couldn’t even see the river, though the tedium was slightly relieved by the sight of several small tortoiseshell butterflies. We sat down and ate the first part of our lunch, shielded from the wind by the hedge.
The way opened out to the seabank, and we must have been beyond the mouth of the river because we couldn’t see it anymore. We couldn’t see the sea either—it just wasn’t there! Not a tsunami or anything drastic like that, just acres and acres of marshland to our right and acres and acres of intensively farmed fenland to our left, grassy seabank going down the middle. And that was our walk—eleven miles of excruciating boredom! We reckoned the tide hardly ever covered the marshland because it was so green. It seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. Flat! Flat! Flat! Jet aircraft screamed over our heads time and time again, bombing targets further ahead—it wasn’t very peaceful. We did see an egret, some mallards, a yellow wagtail, some wheatears, redshanks, oystercatchers, geese, curlews and gulls—but they were few and far between and usually far away. We saw more aircraft than birds.
Our boredom was alleviated slightly by the sight of some strange lumps way out in the marsh.
They looked like prehistoric burial mounds, but we knew they were no such thing because in prehistoric times this whole area would have been a swamp. We found out later that they were only of 1975 vintage, built as a study of freshwater tanks. The experiment failed miserably, the taxpayer picked up the bill and the mounds were taken over by seabirds!
Although we didn’t need to look at the map (there was only one path) we were watching it carefully because we wanted to know the exact spot where we stepped out of Norfolk and into Lincolnshire.
We had to line it up with dykes, and came to the conclusion that a tiny white post in the grass at the bottom of the bank was the county boundary marker. So I took a silly photo of Colin taking a big step into the next county—the seventh on our trek.
We were almost at the end of our Walk when we met the first person—a local man out walking his dog.
We stopped for a chat because we hadn’t seen anyone else in the last ten miles. He told us that he did the ‘Peter Scott Walk’ once, but never again because it was so boring. I don’t suppose we shall ever do it again—this trek has taken us to a lot of places we have never been to before, and taught us that many of them we shall never willingly visit again!
At last we reached the River Nene, and turned sharp left.
Two lighthouses appeared, one on each side of the river, but a good hundred yards inland from the entrance. They are both follies, built as a show of exuberance when the Fens were drained and the river straightened. The one on our side of the river was once the home of Peter Scott (the famous naturalist and son of ‘Scott of the Antarctic’) when he was an impecunious young man. Apparently, when he was living there he discovered that drawing birds was more interesting than shooting them. He became passionate about their conservation, and eventually founded the Wildfowl Trust. We passed a blue plaque set into the wall, and ironwork over the garden gate told us that the building now belonged to the ‘Fenland Wildfowlers Association’—but we still didn’t see any birds!

That ended Walk no.98, we shall pick up Walk no.99 next time at Peter Scott’s ex-residence—the lighthouse (which is not really a lighthouse) on the east bank of the River Nene. We walked into the car park and found that there was just a pile of ash where a burnt-out car had been that morning! Our car was unscathed.While we were drinking tea, we heard a bit of a kafuffle on the river. The water had been racing in, and no less than three ships were leaving on the high tide. We drove back to West Lynn to pick up the bikes from the now empty car park, and returned to our campsite.

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