This is stage 1 of the Wild Wash Wander expedition.
I had been looking forward to this walk for quite a while.
Timing was everything, I wanted to be at the edge of the Wash as the sun was rising. This would only be possible if I took the first ferry from King’s Lynn across the Great Ouse at 7.20am. The only time it’s still dark at 7.20am is midwinter, oh and I wanted a clear night/morning so I could enjoy the breaking dawn in all its glory. So, as you can see, a tricky trick to put into effect.
After two years of waiting for the right moment I noticed, a few days into the new year, that the time was just right to embark on this grand adventure. I was still on Christmas holidays, the weather indications were nearly perfect and it remained very dark in the early morning.
I hopped on the first train to leave Ely for King’s Lynn at 6.35am and arrived at Lynn for 7.05am, giving me 15 minutes to cover the half mile or so to the ferry to West Lynn.
I arrived at the ferry boarding place right on 7.20am and five minutes later spotted a small boat heading my way from the other side of the river.
There was one passenger on the boat who disembarked and hurried past me. I said good morning to the captain and paid my £1 fare. A minute later we were underway across the Great Ouse towards West Lynn.
Oh! It all went by far too fast. Was it a big big thrill to be on the ferry, crossing the river in the breaking dawn? Yep, it was dreamy dear reader, just dreamy. Look, I’m a romantic and stuff like this means a hell of a lot to me. It was fab!
Before I knew it we had arrived at West Lynn. I was tempted to pay £5 and sail back and forth a few more times but I needed to get to the Wash before sun-up. I said farewell to the captain and made my way up the gangplank and back to dry land.
I picked up the Sir Peter Scott path (named after the famous conservationist who made his home in a lighthouse at the other end of the walk). The path took me along the banks of the Great Ouse, with the lights of King’s Lynn to my right.
The morning began to break…
After 40 minutes or so I arrived at the mouth of the Great Ouse where it spills out into The Wash.
Behind me the golden dawn was gathering pace over Norfolk.
Squadrons of geese flew overhead, a seemingly never ending display of air power, quite mesmerising at times. But of course, this is birdland. the salt marshes belong to them. I saw endless varieties of birds, the majority of whom I cannot name. I definitely saw a Marsh Harrier though, there was NO mistaking her.
Finally I reached The Wash. My boots were letting in the dewy dampness of the grass and I wished I’d brought a flask of tea along. The Wash was about a third of a mile out across the salt flats. I could just about make out the cliffs of Old Hunstanton across the way in Norfolk.
And then…never ending horizons, straight lines everywhere, wind, wind, wind, birds amock, making a glorious racket. I kept my spirits high by singing the first Clash album, both sides, at high volume.
After running out of songs I pulled out my harmonica and played some blues riffs…
…and sometimes I just stood still and listened to the wind and birds, tasted the salty air on my lips and felt the sea breeze on my face. This is Fen wilderness at its finest!
It’s impossible to miss two odd-looking man-made islands along the way.
Built in 1975 as part of a study into the feasibility of building a large freshwater reservoir (I don’t really understand this but it’s what the internet told me), the project was abandoned pretty quickly due to costs and no one really understanding what the project was actually about.
The first of the two is (apparently) accessible by walking out over the salt marshes. If were wearing a pair of wellies I might well have strode bravely out and explored.
The second island is now managed as a seabird reserve by the Fenland Waterfowl Association…
This island is a mile out into the Wash.
Both islands offer something of interest for the eye to rest upon. Imagine a wild camp on one of these! Might be a bit noisy with all the birds around so maybe not.
Actually, as for wild camping I did spot a few nice grassy spots on the bankside that would be good for a basic bivvy set up. I’d imagine the best time would be a summer’s night with a full moon on show. There probably isn’t a clearer night sky in the whole of southern England, very little light pollution in this neck of the woods.
I finally reached the mouth of the River Nene and began the walk towards Sutton Bridge and the end of the hike.
I passed the Sir Peter Scott lighthouse (now managed by the Snowgoose Wildlife Trust), though it was closed for repairs.
And finally, Sutton Bridge.
I was tempted by the fish and chip shop next to the bus stop but the bus arrived before I had a chance to make a purchase. Half an hour later I was back in King’s Lynn and munching on a delicious toasted bacon sarnie in the station cafe.
All-in-all, a fine day’s hiking in the East Anglian wilderness.