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It All Comes Out in The Wash

Choose between a wildlife wander or a spectacular aircraft display on the South Lincolnshire coast.

Distance 5.7 miles (9.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field edges, firm tracks and sea banks

Landscape Open arable fields and bare marsh and mudflats

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 249 Spalding & Holbeach

Start/finish TF 463292

Dog friendliness Overhead military planes on weekdays can be very loud

Parking Roadside parking in centre of Gedney Drove End (off A17 east of Holbeach)

Public toilets None on route

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1 With your back to the Rising Sun pub, turn left and walk along Dawsmere Road past the junction and take the signposted public footpath on the right, between bungalows, opposite the playground sign. At the far side of the field go across a small footbridge and up some steps in order to turn left into a wide field.

2 For 1 mile (1.6km) walk the edge of this field, which is in fact the line of the former sea wall, keeping more or less parallel with the present and much higher sea bank over to your right. And as a sign indicates, continue straight on at the point where the old sea bank veers invitingly away to the right.

3 When the field eventually ends near a strip of woodland turn right for 50yds (46m) then, faced with a small thicket, drop down to join the wide farm track on your left. Turn right, and follow the main, higher route (ignore the lower track) alongside a narrow shelter-belt of woodland which includes apple, cherry, hazel and birch. This wide, gravel track heads out towards the sea bank then bends left and continues past Browns Farm.

4 Stay on the main track for about ¾ mile (1.2km) beyond the farm, then go right by an old wartime pill box for a short path over to the sea wall.

5 Turn right and follow either the grassy top of the sea bank (a public right of way) or the surfaced lane just below it past a succession of military observation towers. The bombing range is spread out before you, with the low Norfolk coast over to the right and the Lincolnshire seaboard towards Boston and Skegness leftwards.

6 After the third tower ignore the gated road that heads off inland (a short cut back to Gedney) but instead continue along the grass-topped sea bank past one final building until you reach a stile.

7 In sight ahead is a public footpath sign that points right, down some steps, for a direct path along a field edge to the junction of an open lane. Here continue straight ahead into Gedney, turning right at the end back on to Dawsmere Road. However, if you want to prolong your Wash-side wander continue beyond the stile for 1¼ miles (2km) until the sea bank divides. Bend right, on the inland arm, and join a small lane before turning right on to Marsh Road back into Gedney.

It has to be said that the Wash is a peculiar sort of place. On the Norfolk side is Hunstanton, England's only east coast resort where you can watch the sun setting across the water (it faces west, of course). The rivers Welland, Witham, Nene and Great Ouse all issue out into this vast shallow lagoon covering 300 square miles (776sq km), which is sometimes covered by water but more often than not by endless tidal mudflats. These have built up over a long period as the four rivers have deposited huge quantities of clay and silt, and not surprisingly the various burrowing and surface invertebrates that this supports have attracted a healthy bird population. In fact the Wash supports more birds than any other estuary in Britain, plus one of Europe's largest concentrations of common seals, and comprises England's largest national nature reserve.

Much of the walking around the edge of the Wash is along high embankments, which mark over 300 years' of reclaiming farmland from the sea. This particular route around Gedney Drove End follows both the old and the current sea bank, which as you will see has allowed the rich agricultural belt to be extended right up to the sea wall. Dykes and drainage channels, controlled by sluices and pumping stations such as the one near Browns Farm, continue to keep the salt water at bay and maintain this artificially fertile land.

Despite the range of wildlife attracted to the Wash, there is another, rather more noisy inhabitant of these parts. A number of military airfields dot the Lincolnshire coast, and planes from nearby RAF Holbeach in particular use a range off the Gedney coast for bombing practice. As you walk along the sea bank, past a number of official observation towers, the small but brightly coloured targets are scattered offshore across the salt marsh, including a couple resembling small ships. Red flags fly all along the shore when bombing is taking place, but it is perfectly safe and legal to walk along the sea bank and watch the proceedings (as indeed many people do), as long as you obey official signs and don't venture beyond the sea wall or pick up any unusual-looking souvenirs from the ground.

The fighters zoom in towards the targets, often at very low level, and it's both very loud and - if you're into that sort of thing - quite exciting, too, since the jets can be very close. Bombing practice takes place on weekdays only, usually between 9am and 5pm, but apparently can continue into the evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I guess it's a bit like working late in the office.

Where to eat and drink

The Rising Sun Inn in Gedney Drove End welcomes families and has a beer garden to the rear, and hot and cold food is served every lunchtime and evening. Just around the corner is the Old Wheatsheaf Stores, which sells sandwiches, pies and other light refreshments.

What to look for

In an environment so featureless, the eye is inevitably drawn to a tiny, circular island, about a mile (1.6km) offshore near the mouth of the River Nene. It was built in 1975 as part of a study into the construction of freshwater reservoirs, but proved so popular with seabirds that the Fenland Wildfowlers' Association made it a permanent nesting site in 1987.

While you're there

The River Nene enters the Wash near the small town of Sutton Bridge, 6 miles (9.7km) south of Gedney. Its historic swing bridge, built in 1897 by the Midland and Great Northern Railway Company, is one of the last surviving of its kind in the country, and connects Lincolnshire with Norfolk.

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