Lancashire appears to fall into two parts; the largest body of the county from the Mersey to Silverdale, and Furness and its hinterland in the Furness fells – ‘Lancashire North of the Sands‘. In reality though, Lancashire is not divided by the waters of Morecambe Bay, but united by the sands.
A look at an Ordnance Survey map shows a public footpath running from Hest Bank on the east shore of Morecambe Bay, north-north-west to Kents Bank on the north shore, both in Lancashire. It is an ancient path. In the Middle Ages the monks of Cartmel Priory led pilgrims across the sands: after the Dissolution king Henry VIII appointed the first King’s Guide to the Sands to continue this duty.
The path is a hazardous path: a misstep can mire a walker in quicksand, and a missed tide can see the waters rushing in faster than a man can run – faster indeed than a horse can gallop. With each tide the sands shift about the Kent Estuary so that yesterday’s safe route is today’s deadly trap. In spite of this, it is still a popular walk, but one only to be attempted under the eyes of the Guide.
The map I first drew up for the Lancashire Border Walk assumed a walk across the sands. With sager heads on their shoulders, the Friends of Real Lancashire amended this, and rightly so. Philip Walsh’s walk of the boundary, the Real Lancashire Boundary Walk, crosses the estuary by train from Silverdale to Grange-over-Sands outward, to start the circumnavigation of Furness and from Grange to Arnside on the return.
Those who follow should take the same route, unless, unless, the sands are open and the Guide available, in which case it is a proper, public right of way, uniting the county across the sands.
In the future, there is another possibility: a campaign is afoot to attach a cantilevered footway to the Arnside viaduct (which carries the railway line between to parts of Lancashire). If one day that comes to fruition, it may be possible to walk the whole way dryshod. The sands though are still there – shifting in the bed with every tide, concealing their dangers, ready to swallow the unwary, beaconing the adventurous.