The author of a new book about Morecambe Bay, Julia Rampen, joins the King’s Guide to the Sands for a walk across the treacherous landscape. It’s undeniably beautiful, but it’s also mysterious and dangerous – those sands have swallowed centuries of history.

It’s only when you reach the end of the rocks, take your shoes off and stand barefoot in the sand, that you understand the temptation. Walking from Hest Bank to Kent’s Bank would have taken medieval pilgrims a full day over rough and hilly ground. Why tramp all that way, when you could walk straight across Morecambe Bay?

For centuries, many took the second path, even though doing so was walking a tightrope between life and death. There was the party of nine, coming home from Ulverston fair, whose cart overturned in a sinkhole known as Black Scar. The party drowned, but the cart survived, only to overturn again when 12 lads drove to the fair at Lancaster.

This story was related by Cedric Robinson in his memoir about the Bay in 1980. But the Bay’s dangers remain. In 2004, an estimated 23 Chinese cockle pickers died on the sands after being caught out by the tides. Just in the last year, Morecambe RNLI rescued a young girl stuck in quicksand and eight people stranded on a sandbank.

Great British Life: Walkers setting off across Morecambe Bay (c) Julia RampenWalkers setting off across Morecambe Bay (c) Julia Rampen

I know, as I stuff my wellies into my bag, that the Bay known as the Wet Sahara should not be underestimated. But for as long as walkers have felt the lure of the sand, there have also been experts to guide them. In the days of the monasteries, Cartmel Priory used to supply pilgrims with guides, a responsibility later assumed by the Duchy of Lancaster and continued to the present day. Religious routes often crossed sand or sea are often invisible to us today, but perhaps explain why the ruined St Patrick’s chapel perches so high on the hill in Heysham, as if the monks were gazing out of the sea awaiting their next visitors.

For more than half a century, Robinson’s official title was the Queen’s Guide to the Sands. Two years before his death, he passed on the walking stick to another local fisherman, Michael Wilson, in 2019 (Wilson is now the King’s Guide to the Sands after the monarch’s death). What all the Guides have in common is a layered and granular knowledge of the Bay. In Robinson’s memoir he talks of the “old spots”, dangerous patches of water that could be shallow but might be very deep, the three rivers, and the impact of heavy rain. ‘To one who follows the sands,’ he wrote. ‘Everything has a meaning.’

This Saturday, though, I do not need to do more than follow Wilson, and the other walkers, mostly in shorts and trainers, who were hiking across the sands from Arnside to Grange-over-Sands. The walk was in aid of a more recent historical landmark than the priories – the Art Deco seaside pool known as Grange Lido.

Great British Life: Julia and Michael Wilson, the King's Guide to the Sands (c) Julia RampenJulia and Michael Wilson, the King's Guide to the Sands (c) Julia Rampen

In the 1930s, the lido would have been dwarfed by Morecambe’s Super Swimming Stadium, said to be the largest of its kind in Europe, and bigger even than Blackpool’s South Shore Swimming Coliseum. Both these temples to the interwar ideals of youthful beauty were later bulldozed. The smaller Grange Lido also closed, but the building survives, and is currently undergoing restoration.

Keeping between the laurel branches Wilson has planted to mark the way, we walk along a sandy bank that hugs close to the coast, before curving out into the vast, tawny wilderness. We are walking in the late afternoon, when the tide is low and the sand hard beneath our feet, but even so, the crowd comes to a stop at the edge of a wide river. It’s hard to tell how deep it is, because we have few reference points here, only trust in the guide ahead of us. I roll up my leggings, hitch up my bag, and start walking. The water reaches my knees and sloshes up my thighs. As the first line of hikers make it to the other side, the mood eases, and laughter mingles with the sound of splashing.

All the same, as I sip hot tea on the other side, I’m glad Wilson made us wait half an hour before starting the walk, in order for the river levels to subside. The fact is, even more than the impatient coach parties of the 19th century, we expect nature to fit our schedule. Friends who live on Sunderland Point once told me of the delivery vans that get stuck on the causeway, the hapless drivers caught between the deadlines of huge corporations and the reality of the tides. And yet Morecambe Bay is a reminder that nature has the deciding vote in the end. A projection by Climate Central, a group that maps the impact of global heating, shows many of the historic settlements around the Bay will be below the annual flood level by 2050, including Morecambe, Sunderland Point and much of the road leading into Arnside.

Great British Life: Julia with her book (c) Julia RampenJulia with her book (c) Julia Rampen

Still, for now, we’re over the river and on track to make our restaurant reservation in Grange-over-Sands. I’m admiring the old lido on the promenade when suddenly the ground shifts below my feet. Quicksand. I remember Wilson’s advice and keep walking, but I’m glad all the same when we reach the marsh grass. As I turn back and look at the distant Blackpool Tower in the sun, I can’t help wondering how much history the Bay has already swallowed, and whether it lies, preserved, somewhere beneath that deceptively flat brown sand.

* Julia Rampen’s novel, The Bay, is available to order now from Waterstones and other bookshops. Find out more about Grange Lido at