Saturday, June 19, 2004

Walk 102 -- Boston to Freiston Shore

Ages: Colin was 62 years and 42 days. Rosemary was 59 years and 185 days.
Weather: A darkening sky with sharp showers and a cold wind. It rained steadily for the last part of the Walk.
Location: Boston to Freiston Shore.

Distance: 9½ miles.

Total distance: 792½ miles.
Terrain: Mostly grassy river banks. Concrete in Boston.
Tide: Out, coming in.

Rivers: Nos.37, 38 & 39, the South Forty Foot Drain, the River Witham & the Maud Foster Drain (who’s she?) – all in Boston.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘The Red Cow’ at Fishtoft which we visited on our cycle ride. Colin had Bateman’s mild, and I enjoyed a glass of Strongbow cider.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.

Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.

How we got there and back: We came up the day before and camped at Burgh le Marsh. This morning we were tired and dispirited, so we made a late start. We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from Burgh le Marsh to Freiston Shore where we parked in a nature reserve car park. Then we cycled to Boston via Fishtoft where we stopped at the ‘Red Cow’. Soon after we left the pub, the heavens opened and we got soaked! We tried to shelter under a tree, then we carried on through Boston to the industrial estate where we finished the last Walk.
At the end, we walked along a track from the sea bank to the nature reserve car park. We drank a cup of tea feeling thoroughly cold, tired, wet and miserable. Truthfully we both wanted to go home because we were so tired and the cold wet weather didn’t help. (The fatigue was not due to the Walk, but to a number of other factors that have affected our lives in recent weeks.) We drove back to Boston to collect our bikes, then back to our campsite at Burgh le Marsh. We were so late I had to cook in the dark.

We were really too tired for these few days walking, but I thought that if we didn’t fit it in this week we would never do it. The weather was against us as well, one of the wettest and coldest June weeks we have experienced in years. We left Bognor late when we came up yesterday because of our inefficiency in packing, and we got caught in traffic around Cambridge which delayed us more. Then we couldn’t find a campsite. I had picked one from the book, but when we got there it was jam-packed with caravans—no space. A man told us of a pub nearby that ‘did tents’, so we went there to find electric hookups but no toilets or showers. Eventually we happened on a site at Burgh le Marsh—a nice big field but only two toilets in sheds with cold-water basins. We were asked to pay £6 a night despite no hot water or showers, but it was already getting dark so we didn’t have much choice. I ended up cooking in the dark!

So, why were we so tired and dispirited? Well, just over a month ago our new son-in-law, Mark, had major heart surgery. He is only 33, and about four years ago he started having palpitations and pains in his chest. It turned out he had a congenital heart defect—a leaky valve in fact. Blood was sucking back as he pumped it, so his heart was having to work much harder. Being a muscle, with the extra work it had to do his heart started to enlarge. But the heart can only enlarge inwards making the chambers smaller, so that compounds the problem. He was becoming more and more seriously ill. Fortunately the operation to repair the valve was a success, and he is now well on his way to recovery.
Annalise has always been an emotional person, and they have been married just under a year. I was her ‘sounding board’ through all the drama of Mark’s major operation—and I was quite worried about him myself (no one seemed to appreciate that). Also, we had to look after Jamie and Kelly (aged 14 and 12), who were very good but it was exhausting having two extra people in the house—especially as they are such picky eaters. It was their exam week at school, and the lazy tykes wouldn’t do any revision. I was too tired to insist, Annalise got annoyed, and at the end of the week Steven (Kelly’s real Dad) got angry because Annalise forgot to tell me they were supposed to be going to him for the weekend. It seemed I couldn’t do anything right, and I was ready to explode! Colin stuck his head in the sand, in the usual male fashion, but he was getting quite narked too.
We only had a few days respite before my Canadian cousin Rosemary, with her friend Elaine, came for a long-promised visit. We were delighted to have them and we had a lot of fun with them, but our feet hardly touched the ground for a whole week! We took them all over the place and we had a ball, but we were exhausted! Two days after they left, we drove up to London to stay with our friends, Keith and Valerie. That was another long-promised visit, and great fun on the ‘London Eye’ and the open-air theatre in Regents Park, but when do we get a rest? We didn’t, because two days after our return we travelled down to Cornwall for a camping trip we had promised ourselves. The weather was lovely for a change, the campsite was good and we did a lot of walking. On the way back we stopped for a couple of nights at our favourite campsite in Dorset—Eype Mouth. Fantastic weather, views and walking, particularly pleasing as we had cancelled our trip there in early May due to adverse weather—like howling gales and torrential thunderstorms! Not much resting, so I suppose we were a bit silly to spend only three nights at home before coming on this Round-Britain walking trip.

We took too long getting going this morning, got soaked on the cycling bit, and didn’t start the Walk until 2.25pm—we never learn! We were really hungry by the time we locked our bikes to a gate in the industrial estate, and when we found an upturned oval table-top on the river bank we used it as a ‘seat’ to eat our lunch. The river turned a bend almost straight away, and once more we found ourselves walking through a field of heavy horses with their foals! They were lovely—and so gentle. A little further on the river curved the other way where some terraced houses backed on to it. A man (with a fag hanging out of his mouth) came out of one of the back gates on to the bank, and told us he was looking for seals. Apparently he had seen them quite often in that part of the river at certain states of the tide. We didn’t see any, only a heron and shelducks.
We came out on to the road and crossed a bridge over South Forty Foot Drain. On the opposite bank was Boston Dock – ‘Port of Boston into Europe’ it told us proudly. We were hoping that we might be able to take a short cut over the railway bridge into the dock, but it was ‘no-go’—the swing bridge was open and looked as if it was staying that way. So we carried on to the road bridge over the River Witham—such a busy route with traffic thundering by all the time.

Boston Parish Church, St Botolph’s

(Affectionately known as ‘The Stump’)We visited Boston the following day so that we could give ourselves time to wander around. St Botolph’s Parish Church really stands out on the horizon, looking very much like a cathedral though it isn’t one. The reason that such a big church was built in the town is because it was designed at the end of the 13th century when Boston was a large port, second only to London. The wealth of the wool trade paid for it. But it’s history starts way back in Anglo-Saxon times when a monk named Botolph came to the area to preach, and then founded a church—probably a very simple affair. The place was called Botolph’s Stone, but later shortened to Boston. No trace of this original church remain, but the foundations of a later Norman church lie three feet under the south aisle of the present church. The church we see now was built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
There is about thirty feet of soft silt under the church, so the early builders had considerable trouble with the foundations. However, by lengthening the chancel, re-roofing and carrying out many repairs to the east side of the nave—where the whole building was leaning—they seemed to solve the problems. Amazingly, there has been little difficulty with slippage over the past five hundred years! The tower was started about 1450 and took seventy years to build. The first architect (there were at least four) took no chances and ordered the foundations to be dug down to the firm boulder clay underneath—this was about five foot lower than the bed of the river. All this digging had to be done by hand, of course, but it paid off because the tower still stands today. We went up it!
There are various theories as to why it was called ‘The Stump’. It is often said that it is unfinished, but the walls of the lantern were built too thin to support a stone spire. Some say the tower resembles a tree with its boughs lopped ready for felling, and that is how it got the name. But it could have been a sneer on the part of Boston’s neighbours, for the importance of the town receded even as the church was built. There is an 18th century rhyme which goes:

Boston, Boston, Boston,
Though hast nought to boast on,
But a Grand Sluice and a tall steeple,
A proud, conceited, ignorant people,
And a coast where souls are lost on.
(Does that last line refer to us?) We were told that they couldn’t build any more on the tower, otherwise it would have sunk into the Fens.
The church has over sixty medieval hand-carved misericords, which we are both finding increasingly interesting. They are a ‘video’, if you like, of medieval life. We got talking to one of the wardens, and he showed us some of the most interesting. Then we climbed the tower, which the warden opened with a big key. There were only 209 steps, but they were big ones and fairly steep so we found it hard going. It was worth it, though, for a birds’-eye view of the roof of ‘Kwik-Save’!! It is so flat around here we could see forever, but in effect not very much. We could see across ‘The Wash’ to the Norfolk side, but it was just a thin misty line on the horizon.

We didn’t turn into the docks because we knew there was no way out. We continued along the road and passed a rather beautiful old building behind magnificent iron railings which is now used as an education centre for slow learners. Nothing wrong with that, you might say, except that it was dwarfed by a number of HUGE storage cylinders. Imagine having those at the bottom of your garden! According to our map there was a footpath leading to the bank of ‘The Haven’—which turns into the River Witham in Boston—directly after the bridge across the Maud Foster Drain (who on earth was she?) but we couldn’t find it. About a hundred yards further on there was a path which led to a T-junction on the river bank. One of the arms of a PUBLIC FOOTPATH signpost pointed directly at a high fence with a trough of barbed wire along the top!
Fortunately we needed to turn the other way to get back out to sea again. (What’s the sea? It’s a very long time since we’ve seen it!) We walked past the church we had seen from our starting point on the opposite bank, and passed a girl out walking her dog. We sat on a seat to eat our meat pies (a second lunch) and suddenly we were surrounded by dogs! So many people were out walking them today, and didn’t seem to realise their darling pets were being bothersome. Two of the owners—women of uncertain age—sat down on the bench with us and told us how wonderful their ‘naughty’ dogs were, still oblivious to the fact that they were a wretched nuisance while we were trying to eat our pies!
One of the women told us she had seen a barn owl down by the sewage works (we still had that treat to come!) where they had put up an owl box. She used to treat injured owls, so she told us. The other woman told us she was a ‘Lincolnshire Yellow-Belly’, which meant that she had been born in Lincolnshire. She didn’t really know the origin of the phrase, but it could refer to the laudanum local people used to take when feverish. Another possibility is that it refers to the yellow waistcoats worn by the Lincolnshire Regiment.
We escaped from the canine hounds without giving up any of our pies and without upsetting their doting loopy owners—a great bit of diplomacy there! Continuing down the river bank, we were continually buzzed by a wretched kid on a mini-motor bike. Aided and abetted by a man we took to be his father, he was constantly riding up and down the footpath for the next mile of walking. Perhaps our tolerance level was low, but we just wanted to shout, “Go away!” When we got to the sewage works, he did—perhaps it was too smelly for him! We found the owl box, but it was disappointingly empty.
Further on we came to a memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers. In the early 17th century, a group of Puritans were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Led by a man called John Cotton, they tried to flee by boat along ‘The Haven’, but they were caught by the authorities at that very spot and imprisoned. After their release, they did manage to escape to Holland. Subsequently they joined others in Plymouth and sailed to America on the ‘Mayflower’. There John Cotton founded the city of Boston, Massachusetts. The memorial stone is in a little park. The inscription reads:
Then it started to rain. Nothing seemed right today, and Colin was getting upset. His incontinence problem was just getting worse and worse which, understandably, was making him very irritable. It is now twenty months since his operation for prostate cancer, and whilst we are both relieved that the cancer has completely gone he is finding the incontinence increasingly difficult to live with. He has tried everything the medical people have suggested to improve it, but the surgeon has at last conceded that essential nerves were permanently damaged during the operation and he will never get control of his bladder back. His one ray of hope is a pioneering operation to fit an artificial sphincter, but first he must go for numerous tests to find out if that is a suitable solution. Then it is another major operation and then they can’t guarantee it will work. His problem today was that he was so out of control he had to find a suitable bush behind which he could change his pad every half hour of the Walk, and he was afraid he hadn’t brought enough spare pads with him to last—or find enough bushes for that matter!
We made our way through a herd of cows all over the path, with a mooing Mum who had been separated from her calf. (Can you really trust such large animals under these circumstances?) Then we actually reached the sea! It was the first time we had seen it since Hunstanton, the other side of The Wash. But it wasn’t with us for long because it soon disappeared behind the marsh. By then it was raining quite heavily and everything was a miserable grey—we didn’t really care any more. On the map the actual sea wall is not marked as a public footpath, but we found that in the field it is signposted as one—so that was all right.
We turned north-east and climbed over a wet stile. There was a large herd of sheep grazing all over the sea bank. As we walked forward, they moved ahead of us baaing away and making an awful racket. We were unintentionally ‘herding’ them, and this went on for two miles! Every so often a batch of them would veer off to the left, go down the bank and allow us to pass them. So our ‘herd’ got smaller as time went on. It was really quite funny, except that we were cold and miserable. Some of the sheep who were behind us kept following, joining in the cacophony with added urgency. We realised that they were Mums, and their half-grown lambs were still ahead of us. None of them had the intelligence to sort this out, and we just kept on walking, our heads down against the rain.
There was, apparently, a young offenders institute somewhere off to the left of us. At one time the lads had done a lot of work building up the sea bank, and there was a stone erected as a tribute to this effort. I’m afraid we took little notice of it because we were so wet by then. Just before we left the sea wall, we saw a barn owl flying about. That cheered us both up no end, it’s amazing what an exciting wildlife sighting will do! At Freiston Shore—where we eventually got rid of the last of the sheep—there was a notice on a gate telling us that we couldn’t go any further along the sea wall because they had breached it to form a marine lagoon. There wasn’t a footpath marked on our map anyway, so we took the track going inland for a quarter of a mile and regained our car at the nature reserve.

That ended Walk no.102, we shall pick up Walk no.103 next time at the nature reserve at Freiston Shore, and in better weather, we hope. We were cold, wet and miserable. It seemed to take forever to collect the bikes and return to our campsite at Burgh le Marsh, and I ended up cooking in the dark again. Quite frankly, we both wished we were at home!

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