Time and tide wait for no man

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Chatting to Cedric Robinson in his rambling old farm, Guides Farm in Grange-over-Sands, it’s hard to believe that he is 80-years-old.

Even more remarkable is the fact that he has been the Queen’s Guide to the Sands for fifty years.

Some 500,000 people have been led safely across the bay by Cedric, who has clocked up the equivalent miles of twice around the world and has raised millions for charities across the globe.

Cedric has now written his ninth book, Time and Tide, which looks back over the past half century, reflecting on both the beauty and the dangers of Morecambe Bay.

Cedric was only asked to do the book in September 2012 and only had two months to write it.

He said: “I write it longhand and in chronological order and my editor David Joy then edits it.

“It took me a long time but I enjoyed doing it.

“I think it’s the best book I’ve ever done, there are tributes from people who have done the walks and stunning pictures.”

Cedric comes from Flookburgh and he says was ‘born and bred on the sands.’

From a young age he fished with horses and carts with his father and that is where he gained his immense knowledge of the changing sands and tides of the bay.

He said: “I used to go over with my dad to Morecambe to buy horses which we bought outright.

“My parents had a stall on Barrow market and I saw this big horse, 17 hands, it was a light fawn with white specks and it was strong boned, like a blood horse.

“I never thought I would own it but we bought it. We went out in the tide and it went in as if it had been doing the job all its life. One time all of a sudden, the white surf came up, which it took a disliking to, and it went straight in the air.

“I nearly fell out of the cart. I had to put a bag over its head but we couldn’t get it in to the water. Eventually, I had to trade the horse in for a black and white one.

“Your life depended on a good horse. From leaving school, I did cockling in the winter and shrimping in the spring.

“We used to go out all weathers but cockling was hard work. However, it was a way of life.

“At that time the bay was full of cockles and we used to go out day or night. We put a hessian sack in the water with 12ft of rope with the sack on and dragged it through the ridges to make a track.

“This was our guideline to follow – it was primitive but it worked. The policeman of the sands, Glen Harrison, mentioned that the existing guide to the sands, Bill Burrow, was retiring, and did I want to apply.

“I had to apply in writing to Lord Cavendish, who was chairman of the Trustees. One other fisherman applied but I was chosen.

“My dad was very proud. When I had written a new book, he would pin articles or write ups on the door.”

The first walk Cedric did was in 1963 and he remembers it well. He said: “It was with some soldiers and it was a bit out of season. I had to put my oilskins and waders on. My stepson Bill came as well and I remember it was very muddy.

“It can be a nice experience but also a blooming awful experience. I’ve done walks with diabetic people who had minders carrying glucose.

“One of them went a bit faint in the river but he came round.

“One fellow died on a walk. He was elderly and his hobby was walking in the Lakes.

“His ambition in life was to cross the bay. It couldn’t have been a worse day with squally showers. Suddenly in the river, the man was taken seriously ill. I ran back but he had had a massive coronary and was dead.

“I took a short cut back to the farm to ring the police and the ambulance. They picked him up and put him on a back board. The worse thing was his relatives were waiting for him on the shore and they didn’t know he was dead.

“That incident did upset me for a long time.

“One time Blackpool Tower circus called me and asked if I would take an elephant and two camels across Morecambe Bay, but it never happened.

“Another time a man with a wind powered wheelbarrow did the walk.”

Famous people including Prince Philip, Sir Chris Bonington, Melvyn Bragg, Victoria Wood and Bill Bryson have completed the cross bay walk.

Cedric said: “Prince Philip did the cross on horse-drawn carriage in 1985. I sat aside him for a short while on the carriage.

“He has written the foreword to one of my books.”

Cedric was at an awards ceremony on the night of the cockling disaster in 2004.

He said: “I was told there had been some people who had drowned and four or five tv crews wanted to interview me.

“I never slept a wink that night, it was a bad night, windy and cold. None of them were fishermen. We were aware there were so many on the bay. At one point 600 people were working on the sands.

“I was asked to go to court to give evidence (at the gangmasters trial). The first day I gave evidence about the area and how you would get drowned.

“The jurors also went out on the bay to see it for themselves.

“It was a bit nerve wracking but I just told the truth and told them what happened.

“The cockle beds have been closed for five years now and its £500 per license. There was an ill feeling about the poor Chinese people but it’s too late now.

“It was an accident waiting to happen. The sands are now more dangerous than ever for people so everyone should beware. You have to take what the bay gives you and make the best of it, because it changes every time. There have been no sad days out there apart from the cockling disaster.

“I enjoy it every time. I want to carry on doing the walks for ever. I’ll carry on eating sensibly and eat lots of fish. That’s my secret to a long life.”

Order a copy of Cedric Robinson’s forthcoming book, Time and Tide, before March 15 and have your name printed in the subscriber list at the back of the book (publication June 2013).

To order, visit www.greatnorthernbooks.co.uk or call 01274 735056.