First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Frampton Marsh RSPB Reserve lies on The Wash, the great square estuary where the coasts of Lincolnshire and Norfolk meet. It’s a magical spot in winter for anyone who loves wild birds or walking. I tramped a circuit of the sea banks and reedbeds, seeing no-one, savouring the solitude and the enormous skies, while a rainy morning turned into a spectacularly sunlit afternoon.
‘Our resident glossy ibis is on the pools,’ advised the friendly Visitor Centre volunteers, ‘and look out for the rough-legged buzzard!’ I saw neither. But the pink-footed geese, winter visitors from the Arctic, were there in huge numbers, and squadrons of wigeon went racing by, whistling like corner-boys.
From concealment in a bird hide I spied on chestnut-headed pochard preening on mud islands. The ‘pop-pop’ of a wildfowler’s gun came from the marshes beyond the seabank, and suddenly the sky was full of dark little brent geese, a couple of thousand at least, flying low overhead in loose straggling vees, barking in tremulous voices like elderly hounds.
Up on the seawall a new world was revealed, mile after mile of green saltmarsh grazed by cattle, stretching away east to a streak of silver on the edge of sight where the sea lay low. The munching cows brought to mind Jean Ingelow’s epic poem The High Tide On The Coast Of Lincolnshire, about an aegre or mini-tsunami that overwhelmed these marshes in 1571, broke down the sea banks and drowned scores of people.
‘It swept with thunderous noises loud,
Shap’d like a curling snow-white cloud,
Or like a demon in a shroud.’
On the northern skyline rose Boston Stump, the 272-ft tower of St Botolph’s Church, seamark and beacon in this dead flat countryside, round which the dark waters had swirled during that historic disaster.
An ice-blue winter sky opened over Norfolk in the west, with a pink glow as a foretaste of sunset. Lines of geese hurried across the sky towards their evening roosts. The last sighting of the day was one of the best – a barn owl as pale as a ghost, beating along the furrows of a ploughed field on stiff wings, as careless of my nearby presence as though I had never been there at all.
Start: Frampton Marsh RSPB Visitor Centre, near Boston, Lincs PE20 1AY (OS ref TF 357390).
Getting there: Bus – CallCollect Service from Boston, Mon-Sat (0845-234-3344)
Road – Frampton Marsh is signed from A16 between Boston and Kirton. Non-RSPB members – £2 car park donation requested.
Walk (4½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 249. Leaflet map guide available at Visitor Centre. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Reedbed Trail (1.2 miles, surfaced), Wash Trail (2.2 miles), Grassland Trail (2.8 miles). Walk as described: From Visitor Centre, follow road towards sea. By seat, left through gate (359388, ‘Hides’) on path past 360 Hide, Reedbed Hide and East Hide. Near East Hide climb steps to sea bank (367391, ‘The Wash’). Turn right along sea wall. In 1¼ miles, right through gate with white arrow/WA (360379); steps down; follow Cross Bank inland. At end (350384), WA and yellow arrows (YA) point left, but turn right (fingerpost). From gate (351387) follow ‘GMT’ YAs, WAs to road (356391); right to Visitor Centre.
Lunch: Hot drinks, snacks at Visitor Centre
Accommodation: White Hart Hotel, High Street, Boston (01205-311900, whitehartboston.com) – solid, old-style, friendly.
Frampton Marsh RSPB: Visitor Centre open 10-4 daily – 01205-724678, rspb.org.uk/framptonmarsh.
Birdwatching cruises on The Wash, April-Oct – 01775-764777; southhollandcentre.co.uk