Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Walk 104 -- Friskney to Skegness

Ages: Colin was 62 years and 45 days. Rosemary was 59 years and 188 days.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a lovely breeze.
Location: Friskney to Skegness.
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 813½ miles.
Terrain: Overgrown tracks and field edges across private land. Beach, dune-marsh, and eventually concrete prom.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.40, the Steeping River near Gibraltar Point.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None – we decided to save Skegness Pier for the next Walk.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Jolly Sailor’ in Wainfleet-All-Saints. Although it is recommended as the main pub for the nearby Bateman’s Brewery, it had no real ale when we went in! So we didn’t stay. (Isn’t there a song about the pub with no beer?)
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: No.2, in Skegness! Unfortunately it was CLOSED!! It had been going on Sunday, but not on a Tuesday evening. We shall have to hope it is open at the beginning of the next Walk. (Nearly a year later, we rode on it!)
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were camping at Burgh le Marsh. We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – to Skegness where we parked in a residential street for free, avoiding the £4 charge in the car park. (These Councils shouldn’t be so greedy!) Then we cycled to Friskney where we padlocked our bikes to a post.
At the end, we walked into Skegness at 7pm on a Summer’s evening to find practically everything was CLOSED – even the toilets!!! The seafront lights looked good, except that they weren’t on! There were loads of people about – most of them repulsively obese – but all there was for them to do was play Bingo or visit a chippy. The latter is what we did, and a horrible greasy meal it turned out to be. We returned to the car for a cup of tea, then we drove back to Friskney to collect our bikes, and at the ‘Jolly Sailor’ only to discover that they had run out of beer!
The next day, after a wet and windy night, we packed up our soaking wet tent – which fortunately has proved to be sturdy and 100% waterproof – and returned home.

We did a bit of research before we started today’s Walk. If we kept to public footpaths we would have to walk a long way inland putting miles on our route, so we were prepared to risk continuing along the sea bank which was private land from the very start of the Walk. (They can only ask us to leave, after all.) The difficulty was the Steeping River that needed to be crossed by a footbridge which was marked on the map. We wanted to find out if this bridge really did exist, and if we could get across it. If we reached the Steeping River and couldn’t cross it, we would have to backtrack miles and it would be worse than if we had stuck to the public footpaths in the first place—so it was very important that we found out.
We drove to a place called Gibraltar Point, parked and walked a hundred yards along a private track to the Skegness side of the footbridge. Yes, there was the bridge, BUT—it had a tall padlocked gate with spikes all round half way across it, and on our side was another tall padlocked gate with rolls of barbed wire along the top!! Talk about unfriendly, it looked impossible! While we were looking at it all in horror, a lady wearing an apron came out of the only house nearby and asked if she could help. Colin explained that we were trying to walk the coast of Britain, and today’s Walk was intended to be from Friskney to Skegness. We had been wondering about walking the seabank, but we now saw that we couldn’t get over the river. “Oh, we don’t mind coastal walkers!” she exclaimed, “we get all sorts through here!” (I’m sure she was going to say “all nuts” but changed it at the last minute!) “That bridge belongs to the Nature Reserve—old Mr ‘Jobsworth’ over there! The gate on the bridge isn’t really locked you know, it looks as if it is but you will only have to gently push and it will open. And if you don’t fancy climbing this gate, you can always go the fox’s way!” “What’s the fox’s way?” I asked. “Just look at the fence as it goes towards the river,” she replied, obviously enjoying herself, “and you will see it gets lower and lower. The fox goes that way because he doesn’t like climbing fences any more than you do! If you walk through the long grass right to the edge of the river bank, the fence is so low you will be able to step over it without any climbing at all!” (I remembered doing a similar thing on the Isle of Sheppey to get out of a farmyard where we had taken a short cut!)
Our ‘saviour’ then continued to rant on about ‘Mr Jobsworth’ at the Nature Reserve, how she was the fly in the ointment as far as they were concerned and they wanted to get rid of her and demolish her house because it was upsetting the wildlife (“What about the Yanks bombing the hell out of everything?” I asked. “Quite!”) and how she was going to set up an amusement park (all this was ‘tongue-in-cheek) and have a huge Ferris wheel with hundreds of coloured lights and loud music, etc, etc. She was quite a character! We thanked her, and as we left she called out, “Don’t let Mr Jobsworth see you, and remember I don’t know anything!” We assured her that, if challenged, we had never met her!

By the time we had parked in Skegness and cycled to Friskney, it was lunchtime. The inner seabank we had walked yesterday—chosen because it was furthest away from the jets bombing the marsh—is a public footpath as far as the lane where we had experienced the double rainbow. It continues northwards, but is private from there on. We walked about a hundred yards up it, and decided to sit down in the long grass, surrounded by beautiful wild flowers, and eat our lunch where we were relatively secluded. The Yanks were still bombing the marshes to the East, and there were some agricultural workers in a field way out over by the seabank. We conjectured that they were immigrant workers, and as such wouldn’t be at all interested in our trespass—so we didn’t mind if they saw us.
So far so good. Then a tractor was driven out from the farm and started running up and down a field much nearer to us, spreading fertiliser or some such. That was a more serious threat, because if we stood up the tractor driver would see us immediately. This was less likely if he was at the far end of the field, especially if he was driving away from us, so Colin started timing his ‘laps’! We would have less than a minute to scoot about two hundred yards to the next bit of ‘cover’, but we didn’t have to do it because he ran out of fertiliser—or whatever—and returned to the farm. We got up immediately, and walked as quickly as we could without appearing to be in a hurry. It was real ‘cloak-and-dagger’ stuff! Our hearts were pounding fit to bust, we ought to know better at our age! The track became quite overgrown, so we walked along the field next to it. Since the track was on a bank, this meant we had a low profile and we felt more comfortable. We kept the bank between us and the isolated farm buildings we saw, just in case someone was there.
We came to another lane, our last ‘let-out’ to a legal path. The track continued as a tarmac road to a farm, and the entrance was plastered with PRIVATE ROAD KEEP OUT notices. We ignored them, and continued walking along the field edge. A ‘services’ jeep took us by surprise as it sped up the road to some place hence. The driver must have seen us, but he took no notice. He was not the landowner, so we supposed he wasn’t bothered who we were.
Then we came to a covered reservoir which was right up against the road. We dithered for a while, not knowing whether to risk exposing ourselves on the road or walk round it on the field side. Just beyond it were a couple of buildings which could have been cottages—then our number would have been up as we boldly walked in front of their windows! (They turned out to be empty farm buildings after all, but we couldn’t tell that from our side.) We decided not to risk the road, but found our way was all prickly and stinging nettles. So we changed our minds and returned. We were just about to step out into the road when Colin urgently whispered, “Quick! Duck!” We threw ourselves into the long grass as a car sped past on its way to the farm! We couldn’t stop laughing—there we were, a couple of old crinklies, aged 59 and 62, behaving like the ‘Famous Five’ on an adventure! The only thing missing was ‘lashings of ginger-pop’!! We were rolling in the grass shrieking with laughter, we had a crazy five minutes.
When we had calmed down, we thought more seriously about the consequences of being ‘caught’. We could play the ‘we are lost’ bit, but couldn’t claim to know that the gate on the footbridge was unlocked. That would mean extending our Walk by several miles and we couldn’t bear that. So we returned to Plan A and fought our way through the prickly undergrowth round the reservoir. At one point Colin’s foot disappeared into a hole where there was a hidden ditch, but fortunately he came to no harm apart from stinging himself on the leg. We regained the field edge by the road where it was easier walking, and we were shielded from sight by the bank the road was on. But then we had to cross an open track in full view of the farmyard which seemed to be full of people. It was about a hundred yards away from us, but if any of the people happened to be looking in our direction they would surely have seen us. We peeped round like two naughty schoolchildren up to some prank, and decided to go one at a time. Colin’s eyesight is better than mine, so he went first, signalled to me to stop—then to come. We both got across unseen—phew!
After that our confidence grew. There were no more buildings, the seabank was overgrown and there was absolutely no one about. The sun was shining and the flowers were blooming, including a whole bank of wild orchids! Everything was fine, except Colin’s stinging leg was troubling him. So he did his ‘Ray Mears’ trick—he rolled up a couple of dock leaves in his hands and squeezed them until green juice ran out. This he applied to the sting, and because it was in concentrated form it afforded much better relief than just rubbing the leaf on the affected area. I was eulogising about all the flowers, especially the poppies which were growing in profusion, and we both felt very pleased with ourselves. We ‘scrumped’ a few fresh peas from the field edge, and they were sweet and delicious. (Naughty! Naughty!)
A tarmacked road came from somewhere yonder, through the seabank we were walking next to and continued along our side for about half a mile before it disintegrated into a track. We couldn’t think of a reason for it, but it made walking a lot easier. Our seabank was fast converging on the real one, the one in between (remember from yesterday, there were three) having disappeared about a mile back. Surly nothing could go wrong now! Except there was a deep drainage ditch, too wide to jump over, on the other side of our bank, ‘Mr Jobsworth’ was leaning on a bar outside his Visitor Centre on the Nature Reserve staring at the marshes where we were walking, and would the gate on the footbridge really be open?
We needn’t have worried. The drainage ditch went through a culvert where the two seabanks met, and we were slightly north of the Visitor Centre where the warden was staring at birds so he was not actually looking in our direction. After crossing the drainage ditch, we walked along the other side of the seabank so he couldn’t see us anyway, and the fearsome gate on the Steeping River bridge was unlocked just as the lady had said! We reckoned she had broken the padlock herself because she was fed up with rescuing people who were trying to cross this tidal inlet and getting themselves into trouble. I often refer to a book called, ‘Two Feet, Four Paws’ by Spud Talbot-Ponsonby because this lady walked the entire coast of mainland Britain with her dog, Tess, in one year! Here is her description of crossing the Steeping River:
“The seawall continued to the River Steeping, which I had been told we could cross via a sluice. But when we arrived here the gate was padlocked. I was determined to avoid the five mile detour inland, and knew I could negotiate the spikey palings somehow. First I had to make Tess think small and fit through a square hole at the base of the gate, about the size of a cat flap. But folding Tess up enough was a little like trying to thread a needle with baler twine, and I sat back with a defeated air, wishing for the first time that I had a miniature Chihuahua for company.
As I began to accept our position a man came out of the only house on the other side of the river. He had the air of one who had seen a good few people in the same predicament. “The key’s held by the NRA,” he told me.
“I was told it was open!”
“It is for one day of the year! For the annual run from Boston to Skegness!”
We were joined by the man’s wife, who was a homely figure wearing an apron. “I’ve just been cooking a chicken, perhaps if I get a piece we could persuade her through?” she suggested. That was all that was needed. Tess took one sniff at the woman’s hand and popped through the hole, where she was duly rewarded. I scrambled over the spikes, and we set off happily along the dunes to Skegness.”I am sure it was the same lady we had spoken to that morning—no wonder she made such disparaging remarks about the Nature Reserve people if they insist on keeping the gate locked. Don’t they realise that people like us will come anyway, and some may put their lives in danger rather than turn back at that stage? We negotiated the ‘fox’s way’ round the second gate, waved a ‘Thank you’ towards the house, and turned along the road towards the Visitor Centre.
We had done it !
We met a school party at the Visitor Centre, which made me smile for I had given up supply teaching seven months previously—after a 37 year career as a classroom teacher—and had not entered a school since. It’s a nice feeling that the ‘little darlings’ are no longer my responsibility. We used the toilets and filled our water bottles. Colin even had a chat with the warden, ‘Mr Jobsworth’ himself, and found him to be very pleasant and informative. (He obviously had no idea which way we had approached Gibraltar Point.)
We followed the path across the dunes to a nice sandy beach—AT LAST! But soon after we turned northwards along the dunes / marsh, we seemed to lose it again. It was very elusive! In fact we got lost amongst the dunes several times, they were so high and confusing. We were also very tired, of course, and unable to think properly. They seemed to go on forever! Every so often we could see the Ferris wheel in Skegness on the skyline—that was our goal and we tried to keep it in sight, but it didn’t seem to get any nearer. Even when we knew very well we were in Skegness itself, we had to climb a high overgrown bank of dune before we descended into ‘civilisation’. There a passerby asked us what were our ‘uniforms’ about—eh? He meant our gaiters! When we informed him why we wore them, he wasn’t very impressed. I walked on, but Colin stood and chatted to him for about twenty minutes. I was so tired, and sat on a concrete wall to wait. All I wanted to do was finish the Walk and get something to eat, but Colin never does know when to curtail a conversation and get moving.
That part of Skegness was neglected and overgrown. Further on the Pleasure beach was closed—empty cars were going round the log flume, we thought to test it—and the Ferris wheel was not going! Nearly everyone we met was obese, some were grotesquely so. The only outlets open were fish ’n’ chip shops—four consecutive buildings in one street—and Bingo. None of the fairy lights on the seafront were on, and even the toilets were shut!! This was about 7pm on a Tuesday evening in late June—it was all very disappointing. We did concede that the beach was beautifully sandy, and the gardens were well kept and fun, but Colin—who had spent several holidays in “Skeggie” as a small child—was particularly disenchanted.

That ended Walk no.104, we shall pick up Walk no.105 next time by the Pleasure Beach, and hope that it will be open then, whenever it is. We had decided to celebrate the success of our Walks by treating ourselves to a fine fish ’n’ chip meal in this famous East coast seaside resort. We chose a place called “Harry’s” because they advertised “ the best fish ’n’ chips in town”. But Colin was in a real state because the toilets were all shut, his pad was full and he couldn’t sit down without it leaking out. The proprietor told us they had no toilet on the premises, but he thought there was a ‘night toilet’ open down by the car park. So I minded the rucksacks while Colin went off to search—he was gone nearly half an hour, but he did find one in the end. Just one cubicle, and it was smelly! At last we could tuck into our fish ’n’ chips—and a horrible greasy meal it turned out to be. We returned to the car for a cup of tea, then we drove back to Friskney to collect our bikes, and to the ‘Jolly Sailor’ only to discover that they had run out of beer! It obviously wasn’t our day. It started raining before we reached the campsite, and we both had indigestion all night.The next day, after a wet and windy night, we packed up our soaking wet tent – which fortunately has proved to be sturdy and 100% waterproof – and returned home. We were cold and damp, and so treated ourselves to a roast meal in a pub near Boston.
Whatever happened to Summer?

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