Long sandy beaches and dunes where wildlife thrives
The Lincolnshire coast is as flat as a table-top, and the land is so low-lying that a driver on the coast road from Saltfleet to Wrangle never catches a glimpse of the sea. But clamber up on the sand-dunes or the sea-walls, and a vast panorama of sand, sea and sky opens up. Resorts line the sands, but south of Skegness walkers can join the sea bank near Friskney and follow it for 15 miles to Boston, with only the singing of larks for company.
THEDDLETHORPE ST HELEN
Unrestrained by man-made sea banks, the shoreline between Saltfleet Haven and Mablethorpe North End is constantly changing. As the sea deposits more sand, the wind whips it into extensive ridges of dunes, which become more stable as plant colonies grow. These 5 miles of natural coastline are a National Nature Reserve, with many rare plants growing on the dunes, salt-flats and freshwater marshland. Nesting birds include reed buntings and sedge warblers, and hen harriers spend the winter there.
A footpath through the reserve starts at the car park beside the pumping station on the A1031 just south of Saltfleet, and runs south for 4 miles, as far as Crook Bank. Part of the nature reserve is adjacent to Ministry of Defence land, and there are marked danger areas.
THE TOAD THAT RUNS
The warm sands and shallow pools of Theddlethorpe Dunes are one of the last homes of the natterjack toad, an increasingly rare species as dunes are afforested and heaths ploughed. It is distinguished from the common toad by its small size, the yellow line down its back and the way it runs rather than hops.
Tennyson chose Mablethorpe as a place to find peace and quiet on the day that his first book of poems was published in 1827. He came with his brother and they sat among deserted dunes, declaiming the verses to the empty sands. Today these same magnificent sands attract up to 50,000 visitors on a fine summer’s day, and a modern Tennyson would need to walk far along the dunes to the north of the town to escape the noise of the amusement arcades on the promenade.
The first parish of Mablethorpe with its church of St Peter was swallowed by the sea in the Middle Ages, and the only trace of the original shoreline is a white strip, sometimes visible beyond the breakers at very low tides. Bathing is good, and lifeguards patrol the shore. The RAF use a firing range between Mablethorpe and Theddlethorpe St Helen, and it is not safe to walk along the dunes beyond North End when red flags are flown.
As well as the usual seaside amusements, Mablethorpe has a small zoo at Nprth End, open daily in summer, where injured seals and sea-birds are nursed back to health. There is a motor museum in Victoria Road.
SUTTON ON SEA
Quieter and more sedate than neighbouring Mablethorpe, Sutton has residential streets set back behind concrete defensive sea-walls that were reinforced after disastrous floods in 1953. Pleasure gardens line the promenade, and an 18-hole golf course follows the shore to the south. There are firm sands and bathing is good, except near the groynes where depressions form.
The car terrace at Huttoft Bank is one of the few places on the Lincolnshire coast where cars can park on top of the sea-wall, facing the sea. There is shingle on the foreshore with sand beyond, stabilised by groynes. Swimming is good, but at nearby Anderby Creek there are treacherous mudbanks where the creek meets the sea.
CHAPEL ST LEONARDS
The village of brick villas, interspersed with chalets and caravan parks, hugs the shore behind a concrete sea-wall. Chapel Point is a small promontory on an almost perfectly straight coastline, and the new coastguard tower overlooks 4 miles of straight beaches in each direction. Bathing is good. Volunteer lifeguards patrol the beach at weekends and Bank Holidays in summer.
In 1936 Billy Butlin chose the sandy shore of Ingoldmells for the site of his first holiday camp. Day tickets admit visitors to the camp, with its indoor swimming pool. Volunteer lifeguards patrol the beach at weekends and bank holidays in summer.
Caravan and chalet parks fill the rest of Ingoldmells. Pleasure flights can be taken from the aerodrome west of the village.
Broad tree-lined avenues with grass verges, and front lawns running to large Victorian houses, give Skegness the atmosphere of an airy garden town. The generous scale of the buildings dates from the mid-19th century, when the local squire, Lord Scarborough, drew up one of Britain’s first overall town plans to transform a little fishing village into a seaside holiday town.
The coming of the railway in 1875 confirmed Skegness as one of the principal seaside resorts for Midlands holidaymakers. It remains so today, and although many family houses have been split into holiday flatlets, and the pride of Victorian Skegness-its pier built in 1881 – was demolished after storm damage in 1978, the town behind the promenade retains an air of Victorian gentility and comfort.
Formal gardens along the seafront are stocked annually with 60,000 flowers. The seafront attractions include funfairs, lidos, boating lakes and a marine zoo. There are 6 miles of firm sandy beach with good bathing, and the beach is still growing as the sea recedes. Visitors can escape the crowds by walking south along the sands, past Seacroft golf course and on to the spacious dunes of Gibraltar Point.
Church Farm Museum has an evocative Victorian interior, down to the last detail of hat and cape hanging by the door. Farm machinery and rural craft workshops occupy the barns, and a timber-framed thatched cottage from a nearby village has been restored in the grounds.
A small promontory at the tip of the gently curving are of coast that borders The Wash, Gibraltar Point is the centre of a 1,000 acre nature reserve. There is a visitor centre, and a network of footpaths leads through the dunes and salt-marshes. One of the rarest of Britain’s breeding sea-birds, the little tern, nests on the Spit, together with several pairs of ringed plovers. In the autumn, huge flocks of wading birds – oystercatchers, dunlins and knots – roost there after feeding at low tide on the mud-flats of The Wash.
Volunteers man the bird observatory on the reserve where some 7,000 passage migrants are trapped, ringed and then released every year. Expert and amateur alike can use the hide beside the freshwater mere, where wildfowl, herons and kingfishers can be watched at close quarters.
There is a small harbour where the Steeping River enters the sea.
WAINFLEET ALL SAINTS
The Romans built a settlement called Vaiona just north of the present market town, and extracted salt from the tidal marshes. The marshes have since been drained and the huge flat fields, crossed by a network of dykes, are prime farming land.
Wainfleet has one notable medieval building, Magdalen College School founded in 1484 by William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, to prepare students for his other foundation, Magdalen College, Oxford.
A large but scattered farming parish, Frisk-ney has an impressive church, All Saints, with an original 14th-century beamed roof and wall paintings of 1320. A rare feature is the Georgian ‘hudd’, a wooden canopy like a sentry box in which the priest stood when conducting funerals by the graveside in bad weather.
The fertile farmland around Friskney has been reclaimed from marshland by dykes and sea banks. Friskney Sea Lane, which crosses the A52 beside the Barley Mow Inn, leads to a public footpath along the innermost of three sea banks. This first bank dates from 1810, the second from 1948 and the third from 1977 – showing how progressively more land has been reclaimed from the sea.
The footpath follows the coast past Wrangle and on as far as Boston, but walkers should not stray from the track as there is an RAF bombing range on Friskney Flats.
The church of St Mary and St Nicholas has medieval stained glass and good brasses; when the church is locked the key can be obtained from the verger across the green. To reach the sea-bank footpath, take the road past the church to Wrangle Hall, turn right, then first left and follow the narrow road until it ends at a house called Sailor’s Home. This is a wild spot, with marshy grazing land bordering the mud-flats of The Wash, over which the tide goes out 2 miles.