Solvitur ambulando… It is solved by walking

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
June 2021

Get dropped off. Walk back. Makes you work, gives the walking an edge of mission. I’m gang handed, again – a tailored forced march for children aged 3 to almost 12 – a rucksack of biscuits and squash is slung over shoulders – pre-drop-off checks are done – turning the corner – red light – see the pumping station. Gold Leader standing by. The old sign – PARADISE: NO CARAVANS NO CAMPING. Pull in – go go go – in dust kicked up by our turning delivery vehicle – toot toot – the young assistants are ahead, already over the bank and on the track marked MEMBERS ONLY – unofficial signage.

Small boats, resting in the Grayfleet – various states of repair – some paint peeling, some rust – worn ropes, the muddy footprints of various waders – rickety jetties are appealing, however the silt of the Great Eau is deep. An avocet makes the surface shiver with the action of just set aspic – red gloss on a fibreglass hull, reflecting nothing. No one about – a few vans parked up a mile or so north – campers – you would, wouldn’t you? A few tins, moonlight, a fry-up at sunrise – leave no trace.

Where the Grayfleet meets the Eau the track turns south – all sons giddy, spooking a goose – there’s a bridge up ahead – wait for me there. A yellow car reverses down the track – pauses – he scans the horizon with a pair of comically large binoculars, and drives off.

There’s a floodlight and a camera with a collar of spike – we make our way to the bridge over the Great Eau outfall – the water is wide here, wide enough to feel perilous – the crossing is basic, sturdy, efficient – down one side are gauges and measures, alarms too – it floods out here from time to time – spring and neap tides when the moon pulls hard on the fabric of the ocean.

Biscuit time on the Eau Bridge – I dish out a Blue Riband apiece and weak lemon squash is swigged from a school flask. Signage – a stick man falls into rippling lines – turns are taken walking along the top of the bridge – a tightrope act, just dangerous enough – to the east, a network of creeks that riddle towards to sea – sunken places, heavy with crabs, quick mud and other difficulties – bad place for a man to get stuck – we used to pole vault across them, a mate and I, we walked every waterway.

On – split between the great steppe of saltmarsh and deep, thorny dune – sun blocked by a scatter of clouds across the south west – beams visible through the shadows – high contrast – a few snap – the landscape is black. My sons in silhouette as they climb the bunker – Lincolnshire 3 Bay – a local breed (there’s all kinds of information on the Pillbox Study Group website) – it’s in good nick – the northern chamber bricked up, the southern open. I wriggle in – I poke my head in through a loop hole – checking – some pillboxes can be frightful within – this one is clear – no litter, no weirdness – just sand. I squeeze in to make sure there’s no glass lurking – nothing, good – the boys follow.

The whitewash remains – no graffiti – there would have been shelves to rest arms and cuppas on – somewhere for a pair of binoculars to hang – an armoured bird hide – there’s an idea. The boys peep heads in and out, hatching plans to camp out – possible, but not today – the glare of outside framed in concrete. We climb out and stand on top – this is high adventure, if you are 3 – legs are dangled – the older boys leap off and scramble back up – there are strange flies and low birds within the reeds – a small boat at work close to the shore – the sun is out over the sea – very blue, glittering.

The boys muck about – the youngest very much taken with ducking in and out of the pillbox, doing a lap, then ducking back in. There’s a curlew somewhere and I scan the horizon – no one about – those vans have gone, no ships waiting on the Humber, no vapour trails – a heat haze way to the south, wobbling the approaches to Mablethorpe – I can just make out the Tide Bell, maybe a person.

There’s a hum coming from the dunes – a fast black clouds around the thorns – a recently erected barbed wire fence already tatty with plastic. Time to head on – there’s ground to cover – into the sand hills – hollows and nooks, ideas for games. I let the boys off a bit longer – no rush – traffic hum, nearby cattle – it’s bright inland – the church towers leading the eye into the Wolds, as far as Stenigot mast – over the saltmarsh, fast clouds, moving shapes – the sun high enough to catch the creeks – veins of ore through the great steppe. A couple in red waterproofs below us – I set the boys off – stalk them, unseen – I’ll meet you back at the pillbox, then we’ll head south – the boys are, naturally, noisy – the prey shuffle on, looking around for the source of the war cry.

South, through familiar territory – the citadel of rabbits still thriving – a few little white tails shift quick – no bones today, no skulls, despite our searching – there’s a car park – it’s full, loads of people, milling about, enjoying the nature – there’s a secret way, a tunnel through the blackthorn. We plough on south – keeping high on dune hills, the iron age landscape of our imaginations – we’ll scamper down to the ruined Comet in a bit – time for more biscuits, squash.

Tears – the youngest in the nettles – I send the others on a quest for dock leaves – the eldest shouts something about stings and urine and how he saw it on Bear Grylls and how it definitely will work. A poultice is fashioned and applied, the wounds soon forgotten – onward – we’re to meet our evacuation by the crazy golf in Mablethorpe. I carry the little one on my shoulders as though he were Hannibal on an elephant as we arrive in time for a sack of chips.

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