HERE’S an interesting fact. Fosdyke Wash, which is a beach at the mouth of the River Welland, in Lincolnshire, is the nearest strip of coast to the most inland point of Great Britain. In other words, there is a place in Derbyshire called Coton in the Elms and it happens to be the furthest point in Britain from the coast, and if residents feel an urge to dip their feet in the sea then their nearest beach is Fosdyke Wash – seventy miles down the road . . .
Fosdyke has always held a unique and inexplicable fascination for me. Stand on the concrete bridge across the Welland to watch traffic streaming along the A17 between one bleak horizon and the other, and more than a hint of American road-movie atmosphere can be detected.
It might be the straight roads and fast cars, or the dust blowing in swirls behind distant tractors, but something indefinable tells me that if Thelma and Louise had driven through Britain, their route of choice would have been the A17 with its unending lines of telegraph poles, great open fields, gaudy diners and cafes, rumbling lorries and occasional Dixieland flag fluttering raggedly above a lay-by burger van.
If I recall the film correctly, Louise sums up the picture I am trying to paint with the memorable and pertinent quote: “We’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.”
So here I am at Fosdyke, which is little more than a mark on the map between Newark and King’s Lynn. We’ve pulled the van off the main road and parked beside a pleasant wood on the banks of the Welland. I’m off for a walk to Fosdyke Wash to join the good folk of Coton in the Elms for a paddle. I hope they’ve brought a packed lunch.
I like the fens. They offer the type of walking country that really stretches the legs. Skies don’t come wider, rivers straighter, fields bigger, land flatter. Footpaths and bridleways ride the crests of dykes with a religious fervour. Short-cuts invariably end in disaster – as I learned to my cost many years ago – because deep open drains always head them off. Flatness demands respect. This area isn’t called South Holland for nothing.
I walk with a spring in my step along the banks of the Welland, which during Roman times was navigable as far inland as Stamford. Nowadays, boats venture only as far as Spalding. But I’m heading the other way, out towards Fosdyke Wash and the seaside. And I’m there within the hour.
But disappointment slows my steps like wet mud. If this is the end of the road from Coton in the Elms, the good people of Derbyshire would do well to find a swampy peat sike on the slopes of Kinder Scout for their paddle, rather than make the long trek here. There is nothing but salt marsh and honking geese. No golden sands or windswept bays.
I have visions of Thelma and Louise gazing into each other’s faces for the final time, and a foot pressing an accelerator as their car sails off the embankment to bounce noisily across turf and embed itself in a tidal gully. The Grand Canyon this is not. It’s not the seaside either. I’ve been done.
Originally, I’d had a notion to follow the coast eastwards for a few miles to Gedney Drove End because I like the name. But the plan depended on me being able to paddle along sandy beaches and devour the occasional ice-cream. Instead, I head back to the van along a series of dykes where Second World War pill-boxes gaze out across fields of strange plants. It’s one of those days where plans change.
But all is not lost. Back in the van we head inland along the course of the Welland to Spalding, and – with more than a little trouble – find a campsite for the night. It has a fishing pond and a bar. I might get my paddle after all. And a bottle of that stuff Thelma drinks. What was it called, Wild Turkey? Sounds good to me.