Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Walk 99 -- Wingland Marsh to Gedney Drove End

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 349 days. Rosemary was 59 years and 126 days.
Weather: Very grey. The rain held off until we passed the second lighthouse, then it was wet, windy and unpleasant.
Location: Wingland Marsh to Gedney Drove End.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 760½ miles.
Terrain: Grassy river and sea banks all the way.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: No.35, the Nene at Sutton Bridge.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.89 by the second lighthouse.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were camping at Lutton, near Long Sutton. We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from Lutton to Gedney Drove End, and then out of the hamlet to a T-junction of farm lanes which was the nearest point we could get to the sea wall. We cycled to Sutton Bridge against the wind which was very hard. Over the bridge, we cycled the final three miles to Wingland Marsh with the wind behind us – bliss! We chained our bikes to a rail in full view of the road, not in the ‘heap-of-ashes’ car park!
At the end, we were wet and miserable. Because of that, the footpath which led from the sea wall to our car seemed interminably long, though it was only a quarter of a mile. The rain stopped momentarily, so we were able to drink our tea with some degree of comfort. Then we drove back to Wingland Marsh to collect our bikes, and back to the campsite. There it poured for about twenty minutes, making puddles all over the field. Our tent remained completely watertight, definitely the best tent we have ever bought! Later, there was a full rainbow.

We started walking South beside the river, but we were soon forced on to the road (not busy) by a fence. We stopped to look at some ploughs decorating the verge of a driveway to a farm, and also admired the bountiful pink blossom on their trees. There were some cows with calves by the river—hence the fence—but altogether it was a pretty dull Walk down to the bridge. Opposite the port we were able to regain the river bank, and we managed to find a sheltered spot in the lee of the bridge to eat the first part of lunch.
In 1216 there was no bridge there—in fact the whole area was marsh and swamp with dangerous tidal streams running across it. However, a very famous man wished to cross. King John had a habit of upsetting people wherever he went, and in that year he wanted to get to Lincolnshire quickly because some barons in Norfolk were somewhat angry with him. He paused at Cross Keys, as the area by Sutton Bridge is known, and demanded a guide across the Wash. A sumptuous feast was provided for him while a guide was sought. When the man arrived, he urged haste because of the tides. But King John was far too important to listen to advice, and besides he hadn’t finished his dinner. At last they set off—several hundred people, even more horses and numerous coaches and carts loaded with baggage. It was a wild and windy night, the tide was coming in fast and they were – doomed! – doomed! (Sorry, I got a bit carried away there!) Anyway, they all fell in the bog. Many of the people and horses drowned, but King John managed to escape to safety by the skin of his teeth – or more probably the arrogant fool was rescued by some nameless underling who was cursed for his pains. Never mind the death and destruction – more importantly most of the baggage was lost including the crown jewels which, of course, no king worth his salt would ever travel without. King John got to Lincolnshire safely, but he was so distraught over the loss of his jewels that he died a couple of weeks later. The jewels have never been found.
Now the area where they fell into the mire has long since been drained as part of the Fens. We reckoned that it was somewhere about the field in which we were camping—a short distance away in a hamlet called Lutton. Unfortunately we didn’t come across any jewels when we banged in our tent pegs, but we sat by the river and decided to have a very careful look when we break camp in a few days time!
Sutton bridge is a unique swing bridge carrying the A17 across the River Nene. We had picked up a leaflet giving its history:
Sutton Marsh (Wash) and Lutton Marsh embanked by Cornelius Vermuyden.
Corporation of Guy’s Hospital purchased land at Sutton Wash for £37000
Wm. Marrat described the settlement at Sutton Wash, “…most of the land belongs to Guy’s Hospital. Here there are about eighty houses, three inns, one Wash House for sea air and bathing. Merchants and shipowners reside here.”
A bridge and embankment made at Fosdyke.
The Ouse was bridged at Lynn, leaving Cross Keys Wash the one remaining obstacle for a direct route from Norfolk into Lincolnshire.
Cross Keys Bridge and Embankment Act passed to construct an embankment from the Wash House to Walpole Cross Keys, the bridge to be built over a new outfall for the Nene.
Nene Outfall Act passed, for a new outfall to replace the sand choked outfall at Gunthorpe Sluice which was causing problems for drainage and navigation.
In August navvies began to dig the new outfall starting at Gunthorpe Sluice (end of Kinderley’s Cut). After almost two years, they reached Skate’s Corner. Here the two lighthouses were built to mark the river entrance from Tycho Wing’s Channel which took the waters of the Nene Outfall to deep water at Crab Hole.
The bridge was built in the dry river bed. Like at Fosdyke Bridge, it was designed by Rennie. It was made of oak and had five spans, the centre one being of iron and lifted to allow the passage of ships.
With the completion of the outfall, the navvies constructed the 1½mile embankment over Cross Keys Wash. According to reports, 900 men with horses and carts completed it in 26 weeks. On the 4th July the Union Norwich to Newark Coach was the first vehicle to use the road built on top of the embankment. There was great rejoicing at the event, the direct route from Norfolk to Lincolnshire and the North had at last been achieved shortening the distance by 26miles. The Wash House became a coaching inn and renamed the Bridge Hotel.
1850 Robert Stephenson built an iron bridge to take the railway as well as the road.
The Cross Keys embankment made 15000acres of land safe from the sea. The area was named Wingland after Tycho Wing. The A17 now follows the disused railway line at the bottom of the embankment which is reputed to be haunted by the phantom horseman.
(That last bit was probably added to keep the tourists flooding in!) Talking of which, there weren’t many — tourists that is. On our campsite (one of the best we have ever camped in — cheap, but with a new centrally heated toilet / shower block with lovely free hot showers) there was just us and a man who was temporarily working nearby so he had parked his caravan there as an economic place to stay. One evening, on his way back from a shower, he stopped to ask us why on earth anyone would want to holiday in such a boring area as the Wash! We said we didn’t know, and explained about our Round-Britain-Walk. We added that we wouldn’t be staying again, once we had walked past Boston, despite the lovely campsite — the area held little of interest to us.
We walked across the bridge, it shook with the traffic. On the other side we came across an unusual road sign which read:
We started walking North on the other side of the river, and passed an old Customs House. On the river bank were some mallard ducks, the males glistening in their breeding plumage—all except one. He was bald! We realised that he was being bullied by the others because every time he went anywhere near them they lunged at him. They had pecked all the green feathers off his head, poor thing. There was really nothing we could do to help him, we just felt rather sad at the competitiveness in this cruel world.
We had to walk through a small port next — we thought the ships we had seen leaving the Nene yesterday evening had loaded up there. We were informed that we were in a ‘No Smoking’ area — probably the first official non-smoking area on our Round-Britain-Walk so far! Port Sutton is a very young port — it was only established in the 1970s when we joined the European Union. It seemed to be timber, mostly, waiting on the dockside, but there were some metal girders. After the port we were on a track, which was much better than a road.
We saw lots of goldfinches in the hedgerow as we walked along.
We hid behind a bush to get out of the wind, and ate the second part of our lunch — then it started to rain. So we donned wet-weather gear and carried on. We passed a man trying to teach a youth how to cut back the brambles, but he didn’t seem to have much idea. We wondered whether he was an apprentice or reluctantly doing Community Service. The weather seemed to brighten, and we were tempted to divest ourselves of our hot wet-weather gear. We paused at the second lighthouse to eat our chocolate, and ponder that we had been walking at least a couple of hours, covered over five miles and had got precisely nowhere! Only the thin River Nene separated us from our bikes—we could see them on the other bank.The rain set in, and the rest of the Walk along the exposed sea bank was nothing short of an endurance test. We were cold, damp and miserable. This didn’t stop the jets screaming overhead, as they had been all day. There were occasional flashes over the sea — or in the direction of the sea for we couldn’t see it. There were soggy fields to our left and boggy marsh to our right. Colin got very uncomfortable as his pad was soaked and there was simply no cover where he could change it. In the end, I told him to go down the seaward side of the bank — as there was no one about, even the jets had stopped — while I kept cavy. It is very embarrassing and uncomfortable for him, but at least he doesn’t have cancer anymore. At last we came to the stile which led to the T-junction of lanes where our car was parked.

That ended Walk no.99, we shall pick up Walk no.100 next time on the sea wall nearest to Gedney Drove End.
We were very wet and miserable, and the footpath which led from the sea wall to our car seemed interminably long though it was only a quarter of a mile. The rain stopped momentarily, so we were able to drink our tea with some degree of comfort. We noted that the red flags were down further ahead, because we walk on to a range almost immediately at the start of the next Walk. We drove a bit further along to an observation tower to find out whether the public footpath is just inside or just outside the firing range, but all we found were notices warning us not to pick up anything off the marshes on pain of death. So we drove back to Wingland Marsh to collect our bikes, and back to the campsite.

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