Friday morning at Carts Farm on the edge of Morecambe Bay – Cedric Robinson’s domain – and there’s plenty going on, writes Tony Dewhurst.
Thread your way past a brood of clucking hens, his friendly cats, Louisa and Ginger, and a couple of menacing stone herons standing guard in a pond, and you will find the Queen’s Guide to the Kent Sands of Morecambe Bay.
Robinson, who has guided half a million people across the bay’s shifting and treacherous sands since 1963, is 84 now and in blinding good order.
“I was 14 when I first set foot on the sands and I never want to leave them,” he said ahead of his visit to Clitheroe on Wednesday (November 22nd) to talk about his colourful life as the Queen’s Guide at the town’s Grand Theatre.
“It is what keeps me going is this.”
He points towards the picturesque bay that divides Lancashire and Cumbria, adding: “It is the most dangerous bay in the world out there.
“The tide comes in faster than a galloping horse.
“Sometimes, on a sunny day, it is like Blackpool beach.
“The sand is so firm it wouldn’t mire a cat, but get in that quick sand then it would take a tractor down in 10 seconds and I’ve seen it happen.”
Robinson draws no salary apart from an annual cheque for £15, but is allowed to live rent free in his small-holding near Grange-over-Sands with his wife Olive (93), a former Miss Leeds.
But if you want a measure of Robinson the man then look around his modest lounge, and in the various nooks and crannies, messages from every corner of the land, young and old and the rich and famous, thanking him for enriching their lives.
“When people come here (to the farm) they say it feels like they have gone back in time and that’s the way we like it because the world moves so fast now.”
He smiles broadly when he recalls one of his most memorable crossings, from Silverdale to Kents Bank in May 1985.
An historic event too, the first attempt in a century to drive horse drawn carriages across the bay – with the Duke of Edinburgh and Cedric at the helm.
“When I got to Silverdale the carriages were going round in circles, ready to go, and suddenly a hand went up in the air and a posh voice shouted, ‘Mr Robinson, hurry up, we are going to be here all day man.
“It was the Duke, but he soon found out when he got out on the sands, and could clearly see the great dangers.
“The river was running quickly and it was soft, and he said to me, “I don’t know how you keep an eye on all this Mr Robinson.
“When we got to the other side thousands of people greeted us, running along by the carriage attempting to speak to Prince Phillip.
“To celebrate the day a brewery gave tankards to the local dignitaries who had gathered at the finish.
“Suddenly, though, there was a silence and the Duke said, ‘Isn’t there one for Mr Robinson?’
“'Here', he said, ‘Have mine'.
“I thought that was wonderful. I wrote to the Duke of Edinburgh many years later and asked if he would consider doing the foreword for my book and he did.
“And when I went to Buckingham Palace (he was awarded an MBE), Her Majesty the Queen said, ‘I believe you took my husband across the bay Mr Robinson'?”
“That was one of the proudest days of my life.”
Cedric has led thousands of people over the sands, including Melvyn Bragg, American author Bill Bryson, the late comedian Victoria Wood, Hayley Cropper from Coronation Street, Simon Groom from Blue Peter with his dog Goldie and 27 geese for a lady who was driving them from Furness Abbey to Whitby to raise money for charity.
Weather plays its part in most people’s daily lives but none more so than in Cedric’s job of plotting a safe passage across the bay.
“My father lived to 102 and he’d say, ‘It never blows hard on a high tide, lad’
“That was in his day, but it does now.
“Last summer was the worst I’ve known for wind and rain and I’ve never seen water like it in the river.
“I rarely cancel a walk but I had to postpone four last summer.
“I believe in global warming because the evidence is there right outside my front door.”
Cedric marks the route with "brobs" – laurel branches cut close to Guides Farm and each walk sees 500 people make the beautiful cross bay walk from Arnside to Kents Bank on the Lake District side of the bay.
“Before I go out on the sands I write the tide times on my hand, and although it can be a very dangerous place I can read the sands like someone can read a newspaper.”
Twelve years ago, 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned after becoming trapped by rising tides in Morecambe Bay and Cedric is still haunted by the tragedy.
“Those poor Chinese people, I know that area so well,” he said.
“They didn’t stand a chance in those conditions on that terrible winter’s night.
“Some years ago a chap got stuck in the marsh, up to his waist in quick sand, quite close to there.
“With the wind blowing into the bay, his shouts for help went unanswered until a farmer and his wife tending their sheep next morning heard, ‘Help! Help!'
“He was saved at the very last minute by the coastguard.”
BBC TV re-created the rescue for their 999 series, hosted by Michael Buerk, and asked Cedric to advise them.
“We went a quarter of a mile out on the sands, and the plan was to dig a giant trench, and the stunt man would lay in it as the tide came in.
“This guy, who was built like an oak tree, jumped in, but when the water started coming in like a roaring waterfall he was out like a flash.
“He said that he had worked all over the world but there was no way he was going to do it because he had never been so frightened in all his life.”
But well over half a century into the job, Cedric has no plans to retire or hang up his waders.
“Do you know, I never look out of my window at Morecambe Bay and think ‘Oh Heck’ I’ve got to go out on those sands again.
“There must be something special about them because all the years we’ve been here, people from all over the world keep coming to walk over them.
“I’m just a simple fisherman, but it has been such a pleasure.
“I shall carry on as long as my legs will carry me.”
Cedric Robinson: My Life on the Sands. Grand Theatre, Clitheroe, Wednesday, November 22nd. For tickets call 01200 421599.