A wander along the wildlife-rich salt marshes of North Lincolnshire.
Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Coastal tracks and field paths, some muddy after rain
Landscape Rolling dunes, open marshland and cultivated fields
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 283 Louth & Mablethorpe
Start/finish TF 467917
Dog friendliness On lead on dunes and marsh between March and August, because of nesting birds
Parking Nature reserve car park at Rimac, off corner of A1031
Public toilets Car park (open May to September), and in Saltfleet
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Walk out of the far (seaward) end of the car park and immediately turn left, through a gate (or over the stile) and up some steps, then out along the top of the dunes with the sea away to your right. Go past Sea View Farm and a small parking area and continue beyond a white barred gate, forking right to reach the marshes. Go left and follow the clear track along the edge of the marshes.
2 At the far end join a rough lane across two successive bridges, then turn right on to the pavement of the coast road. After 100yds (91m) cross another small bridge and turn right for a wide, bumpy lane indicated 'Saltfleet Haven'. Walk this all the way to the small car park among the dunes - and a bit further if you want to view the sandy bay and river mouth (tide permitting) where seabirds and sometimes seals can be spotted.
3 At the back of the small car park, and with your back to the Haven, go up the steps and take one of several faint paths through the dunes in order to pick up the wide track that runs just seawards of the vegetation-topped dunes (not along the actual water's edge). The strip of marshes is spread out to your right.
4 In just under ½ mile (800m), turn left up a concrete ramp by some evergreen trees and walk down Sea Lane past the caravan parks. Turn left at the end, then right after the Crown Inn into Pump Lane. At the far end follow the unmade track as it curves left, between houses and, at the gap in the hedge, take the footbridge on the right for a path across fields.
5 Emerging on the bend of Louth Road, turn left and just after Hilltop Farm turn right, across another footbridge, for a long field-edge public footpath.
6 At the junction of tracks at the far side go straight on, over a small stone bridge across a ditch near a house. Go over the first of several wooden footbridges and continue alongside Mar Dike until you switch banks nearing the far end, to reach the road.
7 Turn left and walk down to the crossroads. Go straight over and along the drive opposite as far as Sea View Farm. Turn right on the waymarked public footpath through the farmyard and field beyond, and continue on the clear path along the landward edge of the dunes to return to the car park.
A west-east cross-section of Lincolnshire reveals a highly contrasting county - from the agricultural flatlands around Lincoln and Gainsborough to the pleasantly undulating Wolds. However, it's the long North Sea coastline that perhaps holds the most surprises, for if you thought that there wasn't much more to it than funfairs and holiday camps, try this walk for size. It's centred on the Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes National Nature Reserve (and try saying that with a mouthful of crisps), an extensive strip of unspoilt beach and marshland that is a valuable natural habitat for wildlife.
To get a flavour of this peculiar landscape, set aside a few minutes either before or after your walk to explore the short (980yds/896m) Easy Access Trail just to the south of the car park. Information panels explain such fascinating phenomena as 13th-century sand dunes and identify plants like wild asparagus and bee orchids. Several different habitats make up this nature reserve. The early summer highlight of the bog and freshwater marshes landward of the dunes are carpets of deep pink and purple marsh orchids, and when the temperature rises sufficiently dragonflies and damselflies will take to the wing. The vast rolling dunes are partly covered by clumps of wiry grass and bushes of spiky sea buckthorn, which in autumn are covered by bright orange berries. Meanwhile plants such as sea lavender and sea purslane thrive on the salty fringes of the beach, while oystercatchers, with their distinctive black and white plumage and long orange beaks, probe the mud for worms or prise open shellfish.
The marshes off Saltfleet are famous, in particular, for vast beds of samphire. Also known as glasswort, this small herbaceous annual with thick green stems was once burnt to provide ash for use in the glass-making industry. It used to be called Poor Man's Asparagus, and is still eaten as a starter for a meal. First of all you wash and soak it in cold water to remove the saltiness, then boil it for a few minutes in a small amount of water and serve with lemon juice and a generous knob of butter. Alternatively, a Lincolnshire variation has it pickled and eaten with chine or boiled bacon.
It's also worth pointing out that this part of the coast is sometimes used by the RAF for pilot training, and in particular the practice bombing of offshore targets. When this is happening a large red flag will be flying at the end of Sea Lane at Saltfleet, and there will also be red beacons and buoys to cordon off the precise area. It doesn't affect the walk at all, and in fact the event often becomes something of an attraction in its own right, but don't expect to see many birds on those days.
There are two pubs in Saltfleet that serve food and drink daily: the Crown Inn (actually on the route) and the New Inn, a little further on in the centre of the village on the A1031. Several snack bars by the caravan sites on Sea Lane also offer a variety of refreshments.
All Saints Church at Theddlethorpe is sometimes referred to locally as the 'Cathedral of the Marsh', although it now stands high and dry and entirely isolated as both the water and the local congregation have gradually disappeared over the years. It's partly maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust who look after scores of similar buildings across the country, affectionately known as 'churches in retirement' (find out more at www.visitchurches.org.uk).
Saltfleet was once an important Roman port, and marked the northern end of the Fosse Way, which ran from the North Sea via Lincoln and Newark to Exeter. Repeated incursions by the sea were responsible for eroding the town and swallowing up Saltfleet's church, until eventually, in 1854, the mouth of the river was straightened and the sea defences strengthened.