The beneficiary of this years sponsored ‘Cross Bay Walk’ was, not surprisingly, the West Lancashire MCF 2021 Festival. What was surprising though, was that the event was blessed with one of those very rare gifts that is sometimes granted by the fickle British climate, a hot summers day!
Freemasons, partners, family members, friends and an assortment of four legged, tail wagging companions assembled on the promenade at Arnside in preparation for the ‘crossing of the sands’. The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was there to ‘wave the walkers off on their way’, being unable to join them himself due to another charity event commitment later in the day. However, the group were not destined to be without top level Masonic leadership, as the PrGM for the Province of Cumberland and Westmorland Norman Thompson was accompanying the group, along with many brethren from his own area.
Providing the essential guidance on this perilous trek was the man who undoubtedly understands the quixotic nature of the sands of Morecambe Bay better than anyone. Cedric Robinson MBE is the official ‘Queen’s Guide to the Sands’, a post which he has held since 1963. He is the 25th guide, the first was appointed in 1548 and the guide is paid a nominal salary but the holder of the post also has the use of the 700-year-old Guide’s Cottage at Kents Bank, which is owned by the Crown and managed by the Duchy of Lancaster.
In the period between late spring and early autumn, many groups, sometimes up to 500 in number are guided at weekends by Cedric and his assistants across this ancient thoroughfare which was used in medieval times by the monks of Furness Abbey. Almost all the groups undertaking these ‘passages’ are motivated by raising sponsorship for their efforts to benefit charitable causes.
It was in the company of walkers supporting other diverse charities that the Masonic contingent left the promenade at Arnside to complete the initial stage of their journey along the coastal footpath to a point just past New Barns Bay where they were met by Cedric and his team.
From this point, many experienced ‘sand grown un’s’ will tell you that the objective, Kents Bank railway station on the far shore, looks deceptively close. However, wiser council will relate that you now have a steady two to three-hour trudge to endure as you ‘zigzag’ your way across the literally shifting sands and wade sometimes in waist high water through the estuary of the River Kent.
The vagaries of the quicksand pools, migrating channels and rapid and variable tide courses in Morecambe Bay are the very dangerous elements that make the guidance and knowledge of Cedric and his team such an essential ingredient for any group or individual venturing into this environment.
Having safely navigated this challenging ‘marine Sahara’ of the Lancashire – Cumbria border under the relentless glare of the burning noonday sun, it was with a mixture of relief and sense of achievement that the walkers crossed the last few yards over the muddy saltmarshes at Kents Bank before they were able to seek rest and refreshment at the Abbot Hall Hotel. It was here, in the shade and tranquillity of the hotel grounds that the weary but elated pilgrims were enabled to reflect on a memorable and safe passage of the sands and compare blisters!
Phil Preston, Provincial Grand Charity Steward paid tribute to all who had taken part in the fund-raising endeavour and expressed particular thanks to John Wrennall who had organised and coordinated the event. The total raised will be announced a little later, once all the sponsorship money has been collected.