Dashing Duke crossed Morecambe Bay in 1985

Reporter Michelle Blade looks at a historic event when Prince Philip rode a horse and carriage across Morecambe Bay in 1985.

By Michelle Blade
Thursday, 28th May 2020, 2:45 pm
Duke of Edinburgh competes in the Holker Hall Carriage Driving Trials across Morecambe Bay on May 30,1985.
Duke of Edinburgh competes in the Holker Hall Carriage Driving Trials across Morecambe Bay on May 30,1985.

Prince Philip made many visits to Lancashire but few as memorable as the May day in 1985 when he rode a horse and carriage across Morecambe Bay.

Here is a report of the event from the time.

Airborne camera crews threatened to spoil the historic crossing of Morecambe Bay sands by the Duke of Edinburgh.

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Prince Philip with Cedric Robinson. The two little boys are James Burrow, who now farms at Gibraltar Farm, and Sarah Fishwick's son John Todd. They were both 10- years- old. Photo by Sarah Fishwick.

The noise from three helicopters circling overhead unsettled horses pulling the 11 carriages during the trip - the first for more than a century - and Prince Philip angrily waved his whip at them and added a few chosen words.

But sweeping the minor annoyance aside, the Duke made his way across treacherous sands with the command of a latter day Moses.

Sands guide Cedric Robinson, who rode at the Duke’s elbow throughout the fourmile journey, said afterwards: “He kept asking about the sands, remarking on the scenery, chatting to his horses and cursing those helicopters.

“You could feel the carriage almost shoot from under you when they came in too close and I think that was the only thing that annoyed him.”

Prince Philip again but this time looking towards Heysham, which you can just see in the distance. The crowds are standing on and near the hard track and the grass that used to go out from below Fishermen's Cottages on The Shore. Picture: Sarah Fishwick.

The crossing from Silverdale to Kents Bank, from

Lancashire to Cumbria, was the first by horses in 130 years and quite likely to be the last.

Mr Robinson added: “Today’s conditions were perfect, but the sands shift so much that sooner of later a tragedy occurs.”

Large numbers of people gathered in Silverdale several hours before the Duke had even arrived.

You can see the horse drawn vehicles going out on the track and just one still going along the shore. The crowds followed as far as they could but the speed of the horses meant they were soon too far out and too far ahead to keep up. Picture: Sarah Fishwick.

The beautiful Lancashire village was virtually takem over for the day as families

filled the main street and cars were jammed along all roads.

What was originally planned as a private visit by Prince Philip turned out as a huge reception party. The whole district seemed to converge on Silverdale and police had the task of dealing with major problems. Two hours before the Duke arrived by car from Blackburn the shoreline was lined with thousands of sightseers basking in the sunshine.

It proved a day out for all the family,their pets and what seemed most of the village’s large community of senior citizens.

So many people had parked their cars on the shore and were then lining along the route that they had to be asked to move or stay back by police so that the wide carriages taking part in the cross bay journey could get through. The three television crew helicopters hovered above the shore waiting for the first sign of the 11 carriages. Cheers finally signalled their arrival as the Duke came into view flanked by policemen on horseback.

Sitting next to Prince Philip was Mr Robinson carrying a walkie-talkie.

Conditions for the crossing were ideal and crowds cheered the Prince as he made his way to the sands. The Prince, wearing a flat cap, was in charge of a team of four horses and behind him came 10 other carriages with two out riders bringing up the rear.

The other vehicles making their way across the bay included a small pony and trap and one carriage with a dog tethered to it.

Two marine rescue vehicles were on hand to make sure none of the enthusiastic crowds wandered out too far on to the treacherous sands.

A loud cheer went up as Prince Philip told his team to walk on.

On the other side, a triumphant grin spread across the Duke’s face.

The first glimpse of the dashing Duke came as his magnificent team of

Cleveland Bays plunged into a channel marking the course of the River Kent. Occasionally, the pace slowed as tricky patches were negotiated but as the Royal cavalcade came into view of thousands gathered on the Grange foreshore to witness the occasion the horses snapped into a brisk canter.

The Duke’s arrival in Cumbria was greeted with rapturous cheers from delighted onlookers,

After crossing the railway line at Kents Bank station, the Duke slowed to a halt in the shade of some trees where his horses took a well- earned rest.

He chatted to those around him, including retired grocer James Ross and his wife Marlene.

Mr Ross said: “I only gave up working last week and this has made the start of my retirement something to remember.

“I think the Duke and the others made a magnificent spectacle which local people will treasure for a long time to come.”

Mr Robinson, a local fisherman, who paused to run eyes tired from lack of sleep in preparing the event, paid his own tribute to the Duke’s achievement.

“He’s a good lad. He’s certainly a good horseman and he’s got a good team there. I wouldn’t mind them myself.”

Sarah Fishwick, of Silverdale, was at the historic occasion and took photos from the shore.

She said: “I was standing looking down onto the shore from The Lots near Fishermen’s Cottages.

“The photos show how much grass there still was with people, sheep and cyclists all over the area as well as the horse drawn vehicles.

“They show crowds standing way out in the bay on the side of what used to be a hard track which has long gone.

“The photos show how much the shore has changed since then.”