Author Lindsay Sutton tells Fiona Finch why he was determined to honour both Cedric Robinson, retiring ‘Queen’s Guide to the Kent Sands of Morecambe Bay’ and raise questions about the future of the Bay with his new book ‘Sands of Time’.
Cedric Robinson is a revered, renowned and record breaking guide to one of Lancashire’s most unusual walks.
Over the past 55 years the sand pilot has guided thousands of people, many taking part in charity fundraisers, across Morecambe Bay - when the tide is out.
Now the time has come for him to retire as “Queen’s Guide To The Sands”.
Journalist ,friend and keen Bay crosser Lindsay Sutton was determined this milestone would be marked in a special and enduring way.
The result is his tribute to both Cedric and the Bay, a thought provoking book entitled 'Sands of Time'.
The 144 page hardback, subtitled 'Following in the footsteps of Cedric Robinson on Morecambe Bay' contains numerous photographs numerous photographs. and celebrates not only
Cedric’s remarkable life, but also looks at the effects of climate change on weather and wildlife in the Bay.
Cedric, who has been awarded many honours including the MBE, has served longer than any sand pilot since Henry VIII’s first appointment back in 1534.
His knowledge of what can be treacherous terrain gives the less brave the confidence to meet the Cross Bay Challenge.
As many as 10,000 walkers a year, including Prince Philip who crossed by horse and carriage, take that challenge following a carefully planned eight mile route, which changes constantly with switching channels and tides.
These are tides which Lindsay, who describes his book as “a labour of love”, rightly observes sweep in over the 120 square miles of sand “faster than a galloping horse.” They infamously claimed the lives of 23 Chinese cocklers in February 2004.
It is a terrain, sometimes described as a “wet Sahara”, which must be treated with respect, knowledge and understanding.
Cedric stresses in the book: “It may be unpopular to cancel a walk if there are too many dangers and no safe route, but it has to be done - and out there, you can’t cut corners.”
Cedric is sharing his knowledge and handing over the reigns and responsibilities to new guide Michael Wilson, who like Cedric is from Flookburgh and a local fishing family.
In the transitional period Cedric, 87, with a new title as “Ambassador of the Sands” will offer a “guiding hand” and assistance to his successor, who will continue using Cedric’s walk start and finish points of Arnside to Kent Bank.
But on days when that route is not passable due to dangerous conditions Michael hopes to offer a possible solution - a walk out to the Kent channel, maybe across it and back to Arnside, so that charities can still have a Morecambe Bay fundraiser.
Finding a safe route involves observation, assessment and local knowledge. The changing tides, width and depth of the River Kent and the location of ever-changing patches of quicksand must all be factored in. Lindsay, who also helps on the walks, notes: “Judgement, timing,decision-making, people skills and ease of manner all come to it. Cedric’s quiet authority and his firm but no-fuss leadership skills will be a hard act to follow. But with grace and goodwill, these values and characteristics can be passed on.”
Cedric has witnessed many changes over the decades. A whole kilometre of salt marsh has eroded from one side of the Bay in the past 35 years. There has been a 30 per cent seasonal increase in rainfall over the past 50 years - leading to catastrophic flooding in both Cumbria and Lancashire.
Changes in local bird life are also detailed in the book . The RSPB Leigton Moss nature reserve has attracted thousands of starlings, the bittern and avocet to the Bay, but staff have witnessed a decline in some other visitors.
The book also contains many tributes to Cedric from county charities which have raised much needed funds through numerous Cross Bay walks.
Lindsay, an award winning journalist and former TV broadcaster and producer, was a young convert to the delights of Morecambe, recalling visits there as a child from Yorkshire, and is hopeful for its future.
Cedric, who his penned his own books about his life on the Sands and wife Olive, 94, will continue to live at Guide’s Farm, near Grange-Over-Sands, the grace and favour home which came with his guide ”pay” of £15.00 a year.
Lindsay credits Cedric with transforming an archaic post into “a dynamic charity fund-raiser” and the new book, also reveals a personal reason for gratitude to Cedric. One of the book’s dedications is in memory of Lindsay’s brother Graham.
In the book he recalls: “Graham,my older brother had learning difficulties and whenever he came on a cross-bay walk with me Cedric made a real fuss of him , making him feel like part of the family. I loved that and I’ve always been grateful to Cedric and Oliver for ensuring that Graham had a great day out and felt part of the fraternity.
“At the end of each walk Cedric insisted on giving him a signed certificate which went up back at his home in Bradford. And I was happy when Olive said each and every time ‘He’s a love isn’t he?. He was a love, right up to the end, when he died of lung cancer, never having smoked a cigarette in his life.”
“I tell you all this, not only to inform you of the considerate nature of Cedric and Olive, but also because that’s why 10,000 people do this walk very year - to raise money for people like my brother and for charities that help look after them. Graham was lucky to have loving people around him, to give him the safety net and the warmth needed to live a meaningful life. Not everyone is so lucky.”
* ‘Sands of Time’ is published by Great Northern Books at £11.99.
* Cedric Robinson and Lindsay Sutton will be chatting about the book and the issues it raises at Waterstones, King St,Lancaster on Thursday, June 20 at 6.30pm. Admission £2.