A Fosdyke Saga

Fosdyke 1

HERE’S an interesting fact. Fosdyke Wash, which is a beach at the mouth of the River Welland, in Lincolnshire, is the nearest strip of coast to the most inland point of Great Britain. In other words, there is a place in Derbyshire called Coton in the Elms and it happens to be the furthest point in Britain from the coast, and if residents feel an urge to dip their feet in the sea then their nearest beach is Fosdyke Wash – seventy miles down the road . . .

Fosdyke has always held a unique and inexplicable fascination for me. Stand on the concrete bridge across the Welland to watch traffic streaming along the A17 between one bleak horizon and the other, and more than a hint of American road-movie atmosphere can be detected.

It might be the straight roads and fast cars, or the dust blowing in swirls behind distant tractors, but something indefinable tells me that if Thelma and Louise had driven through Britain, their route of choice would have been the A17 with its unending lines of telegraph poles, great open fields, gaudy diners and cafes, rumbling lorries and occasional Dixieland flag fluttering raggedly above a lay-by burger van.

If I recall the film correctly, Louise sums up the picture I am trying to paint with the memorable and pertinent quote: “We’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.”

Fosdyke 21

Fosdyke 6 Fosdyke 2Fosdyke 9So here I am at Fosdyke, which is little more than a mark on the map between Newark and King’s Lynn. We’ve pulled the van off the main road and parked beside a pleasant wood on the banks of the Welland. I’m off for a walk to Fosdyke Wash to join the good folk of Coton in the Elms for a paddle. I hope they’ve brought a packed lunch.

I like the fens. They offer the type of walking country that really stretches the legs. Skies don’t come wider, rivers straighter, fields bigger, land flatter. Footpaths and bridleways ride the crests of dykes with a religious fervour. Short-cuts invariably end in disaster – as I learned to my cost many years ago – because deep open drains always head them off. Flatness demands respect. This area isn’t called South Holland for nothing.

Fosdyke 12 Fosdyke 17 Fosdyke 3 Fosdyke 13 Fosdyke 18 Fosdyke 5Fosdyke 4I walk with a spring in my step along the banks of the Welland, which during Roman times was navigable as far inland as Stamford. Nowadays, boats venture only as far as Spalding. But I’m heading the other way, out towards Fosdyke Wash and the seaside. And I’m there within the hour.

Fosdyke 7But disappointment slows my steps like wet mud. If this is the end of the road from Coton in the Elms, the good people of Derbyshire would do well to find a swampy peat sike on the slopes of Kinder Scout for their paddle, rather than make the long trek here. There is nothing but salt marsh and honking geese. No golden sands or windswept bays.

I have visions of Thelma and Louise gazing into each other’s faces for the final time, and a foot pressing an accelerator as their car sails off the embankment to bounce noisily across turf and embed itself in a tidal gully. The Grand Canyon this is not. It’s not the seaside either. I’ve been done.

Wish you were here? This is me at the seaside . . .

Wish you were here? This is me at the seaside . . .

Originally, I’d had a notion to follow the coast eastwards for a few miles to Gedney Drove End because I like the name. But the plan depended on me being able to paddle along sandy beaches and devour the occasional ice-cream. Instead, I head back to the van along a series of dykes where Second World War pill-boxes gaze out across fields of strange plants. It’s one of those days where plans change.

Fosdyke 16 Fosdyke 11 Fosdyke 14 Fosdyke 10 Fosdyke 15 Fosdyke 20But all is not lost. Back in the van we head inland along the course of the Welland to Spalding, and – with more than a little trouble – find a campsite for the night. It has a fishing pond and a bar. I might get my paddle after all. And a bottle of that stuff Thelma drinks. What was it called, Wild Turkey? Sounds good to me.

Fosdyke 19

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Camping, Drove roads, Environment, Footpaths, Hiking, Rivers, The Romans, Walking, Weather and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to A Fosdyke Saga

  1. I feel your pain. Hopefully, it was only a minor disappointment during a stunning walk. I seem to recall an episode of Dalziel and Pascoe that was set in the Lincolnshire fens and it were right creepy. Folk drifting up and down those drainage channels in the fog. The place is perfect for a good ghost story.

    The landscape looks infinite, like you could set off walking and two years later find yourself back where you started having gone round the world. Perhaps if you consider the marsh grass a type of tall sand, you could call it a beach.

    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Chris, if I had the type of imagination that could turn marsh grass into tall sand I would be a happy man in a happy world. Alas, I do not possess such strengths.
      I missed that Dalziel and Pascoe episode but you’ve sparked something in my memory about a film set in that landscape. Someone drowning in a ditch, perhaps? I’ll have to wrack my memory on that one. And on that happy note . . .
      Cheers, Alen

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  2. Liz adams says:

    The Nine Tailors might have taken place here!

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    • McEff says:

      It’s certainly a place brimming with atmosphere, Liz. Even on a sunny day those rivers look spooky, especially when the tide is out. I’ve always found it fascinating.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Martin Benson says:

    Alen you have a wonderful way of bringing these walks to life coupled with some great photos. I’ve often driven over the Welland on the A17 and wanted to explore but I’ve always been going ‘somewhere’. I need to stop next time!
    Regards
    Martin

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Martin. I’ve been driving over the Welland to Norwich three times a year since 1980 and this is the first time I’ve stopped. There is hope for you yet!
      All the best, Alen

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  4. David says:

    I have only ever visited the area around Donna Nook to photograph the seals and the rest of the area is unknown to me. Your posts have certainly whetted my appetite for another visit though. Looks a good cycling area as well.

    You mention trouble finding a campsite – are they few and far between, or is it just a case of being out of season?

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    • McEff says:

      Hi David. The campsites are only just opening for the season and we were the first ones on the Spalding site (£10 for a campervan with two people, which is very reasonable). It’s right on the outskirts on the road to Bourne, if you’re interested. I’ve stayed there before when I cycled to Norwich from Darlington back in the 1990s. Which brings me to your other point.
      It’s great cycling country but the winds can be very strong. I spent a day cycling from Spalding to Stoke Ferry in a head wind all the way. It was bloody hard work.
      I shall now look up Donna Nook because that sounds interesting.
      All the best, Alen

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  5. Love those photos. The views remind me of when I did the Peddars Way a couple of years ago, when I was amazed at how much the area seemed to get under my skin. No hills and mountains but wonderful solitude and fantastic expansive views. The weather was also gorgeous, which helps of course!
    And I might live in Derbyshire, but I’ve never heard of Coton in the Elms….

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    • McEff says:

      I think you’re going to have to take a walk around Coton in the Elms, Chrissie. You could take a picture of yourself being the person in Britain who is farthest away from the sea.
      I don’t know anything about the Peddars Way so I’ll look into it.
      Cheers, Alen

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  6. Grand pictures. I must go there.

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  7. Hanna says:

    Hi Alen. When you mentioned A17 I came to think of Highway 66, Bagdad Café the silence and the sound of the boomerang. I also like the ending of this film much better though the acting is formidable in Thelma and Louise not to neglect the actors in Bagdad Café.
    The quote you bring: “We’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.” is great. Actually I could adapt it for this bleak winter in Denmark.
    All I needed was a flickering light shining from the water in the fens where I have my strolls as guidelines in nowhere.
    Faces in the fens with attracting lights may represent a limbo and do something good in the darkness 😀 😯
    PS Now you don’t have to look for Dalziel & Pascoe but if you find the episode on youtube give me a link, please 🙂
    PPS And your remark on packed lunch made me grab my camera for my next post.
    All the best,
    Hanna

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Hanna. I have a DVD of Bagdad Cafe somewhere. It’s so long since I’ve seen it that I’ve forgotten the plot, so I’ll have to dig it out and watch it again. I seem to recall it was my kind of film. And I’ve told you before to watch out for those flickering lights in the fenland pools. I’ll take a look for the Dalziel & Pascoe episode now.
      Cheers, Alen
      PS You should tell us what you put in your famous packed lunches in your next post.

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  8. Love the ‘upside-down tree’ photo at the end. Also the ship parked on the land (or looking like it). Particularly love that quote and will be trying to remember it to use in the future. Some of my relatives live near Gainsborough and it’s pretty flat but nothing like as flat as that. You can certainly see for miles there.
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      It’s a land of upside down trees, Carol. I like the quote as well.
      I’ve never been to Gainsborough, but I think it’s all pretty flat right down that coast, with the exception of Lincoln, which is on a hill. It has a sort of raw beauty about it.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • I’m the only one in our family to actually like where my Aunt & Uncle live around Gainsborough – everyone else hates it ‘cos it’s flat. I like the slightly rolling aspect of the landscape, the long green lanes between some of the agricultural fields and the lovely red-brick/pantile-roofed houses in the villages. Very pretty…

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  9. John says:

    Love this post,once again any enjoyable read. Also have you got hold of a copy of Robert MacFarlane,s new book. Landmarks.I think you would really enjoy it

    Best

    John

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  10. “Flatness demands respect”, very true that! Thanks for shedding light on an area which is largely a white splurge on my mental map!
    Enjoyed it very much
    Charles

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  11. Dave (B) says:

    In a former life, I’d often drive across northern France and into Belgium. I was frequently struck – impressed, even – by the sheer remorselessness of the flat landscapes. Particularly by how long a landmark – a tall industrial building for instance – would remain visible as you approached, and then after you’d passed.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Dave. Yes, there’s something about landscapes like that. I recall driving down through northern France and seeing a cathedral on the skyline. It was there for ages before it was lost from view. I think it was Rouen but I’m not sure. But it certainly made an impression on me in all that flatness.
      Cheers, Alen

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  12. Jo Woolf says:

    Wow, what strange landscapes, Alen. You describe them well. I have never visited the fens but I think I’d probably feel a bit uneasy in all that flatness! I bet they get wonderful night skies though.

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  13. Terry Martin says:

    Moved to Fosdyke back in 2007. One of the first things I did was cycle to the sea wall to sea the sea … Nearest proper beaches are Hunstanton way or Skeggy.

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