An 18 mile along the sea defence banks from Fosdyke to Sutton Bridge
A fairly extensive walk into the wide open expanse of the Wash along defence banks that lead the way around the extremities of the reclaimed land. It is awe-inspiring, it is remote. An RAF bombing range occupies a length of the furthermost parts but this does not restrict the use of the path. The eastern side of this walk is said to be the area that King John lost the crown jewels in the 13th century when he attempted to cross the Wash.
Fosdyke to Sutton Bridge Walk - Essential Information
- Start point
- FosdykeView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- End Point
- Sutton BridgeView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Total Walk distance
- 11 miles
- Walk difficulty
- Easy walking but long with hard paths which is tough on the feet
- Footpaths along defence banks
- There are no amenities along the entire length of this walk so take enough supplies of water and food for the duration
Delph Bank Touring Park Camp site View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Five star family run site at Fleet Hargate just off the main A17 and a perfect location for walking the Wash footpaths. Peaceful and secluded site with easy access to local pub, village shop and a Chinese restaurant.
Brylaine - Bus Service
- Service Number
- G55 - Brylaine G55 service between Long Sutton and Boston. This only runs one service each way on schooldays only
- Brylaine G55
Stagecoach - Bus Service
- Service Number
- 505 - Stagecoach (formerly Norfiolk Green) Service 505 between Kings Lynn and Spalding
- Stagecoach 505
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 09:00 to 16:00
- Griffmonster, Kat
- Weather Conditions
- A blustery westerly breeze with persistent drizzle to start, brightening up later with a few brief glimpses of blue sky
A word of warning is needed for those who are contemplating this walk. It is 18 miles and there is no easy option for shortening this. Once one is out in the wilds, there is no chance of public transport, no pubs, no shops, no civilisation. There are some country lanes that lead back inland but the mileage would be little different to the entire route so little is gained. The flat landscape leaves one exposed to the elements, especially on the raised sea banks which the path uses throughout the route. Therefore it is imperative that one takes adequate gear for the duration and weather conditions, plus enough water and food along with other essentials.
Having said that, the walk does put one in awe with the remoteness and the wide open wildness of this marsh where the general public fear to stray. Not a soul in sight. One may catch an odd glimpse of a tractor on the landward side, or figures around the bombing range but there is little else of civilisation. The OS map indicates the public footpath diverting around inland defence banks on a few occasions rather than following the outer sea bank. In practice, the sea bank is all accessible, even to the point that public footpath signs point along the bank where the OS map indicates none exist.
For some 4 miles the path skirts the border of the RAF Holbeach Bombing Range. There are warning signs throughout and red flags flying when the area is in operation but the footpath is not restricted by such operations. Stay on the path that is on the landward side of the sea bank, which shields one from the range. There is a paved road for a good length of this section which makes for easy walking. Observation towers are located throughout, which are manned when the range is in use, and central to the range is the small RAF Holbeach which is more like a small compound rather than a base. At the Eastern end of the range are barriers that may prevent onward access. These are only in place when the nearby helipad is in use. If this is the case, simply wait until the craft has completed its manoeuvre and the barrier will be raised. On the seaward side are numerous scuttled vessels and targets. It is unknown if photography is allowed in this area. There are no signs warning against such activities, but being cautious all cameras were kept in cases along what appeared to be the most sensitive areas.
For this walk and for the duration of the walks around the Wash, a base at the Delph touring site in Fleet Hargate was chosen, this provided connection from Sutton Bridge with the frequent 505 bus service between Kings Lynn, Sutton Bridge and the campsite, and onwards to Spalding. However getting to Fosdyke from this base does present an issue. There is only one bus, the Brylaine G55 service between Long Sutton and Boston, that passes through the hamlet each morning, and only on schooldays.
This section is probably most renowned for what is thought to be the location of King Johns lost treasures which were swept away in the tidal waters when he attempted to cross the marsh in the 13th century. Most walk documentation, books and pamphlets deal with this legend and therefore I was only going to make a passing remark about it and nothing more. However, after reading the many contradictions and different claims and assumptions to the story without reference or citation, i was spurred on to conduct a little research which has become the main feature to this walk. It is fascinating. I could have spent weeks, months, years even on this. Please do read the feature and the references.
Flood defence banks lead the entire distance from Fosdyke to Sutton Bridge
Take the footpath on the eastern side of the River Welland, which leads on from behind the pub. Keep to this, through some woodland and then onto the paved road that leads up onto the defence bank. Keep to the outer footpath ignoring all other footpath signs. The OS map indicates the public access diverts around a creek although there is access right along the outer bank in all cases. Beyond Thimbleby sluice is the location of the RAF Holbeach bombing Range. When the red flags are flying do not walk along the top of the defence bank, but along the path just below on the landward side. This soon turns into a tarmacked track. The path is accessible at all times, although at the eastern end there is a barrier. If this is down, wait, as it is only to allow for helicopters to land at the nearby helipad. This will be raised once the aircraft has either landed or taken off.
The Riverside Bar, Sutton Bridge View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Bridge Road, Sutton Bridge
A bar rather than a pub, and a guest house. Basic food and beer. Ales a limited to a single pump.
This is a bar rather than a pub, appealing to those who are not fussy about their drink. On this occasion there was a token ale but it was very lacklustre. This may not be down to the barstaff but one distinctly gets the impression that they do not sell much ale and consequently this was a drop that had been stagnating in the pipes.
The Lost Treasures of King JohnView in OS Map | View in Google Map
The Wash is renowned for the legend of King John losing his treasure, including the crown jewels, in the marshland that once covered the area around the Wash during the 13th century. The legend has resulted in many searches, digs and speculations for this lost bounty over the centuries. Each year seems to bring fresh new speculators, with new evidence and even more determination that they will find the treasure aided with a mixture of new technology and esoteric new age techniques that border on the paranormal. Thus far, these searches have been fruitless and the mystery still stands as to where the hoard lies.
The basic story, as told in many books and published in even more websites, briefly tells a tale of King John during the last days of his life in October of 1216. He had travelled south from Lincoln to what was then called Bishops Lynn, presently known as Kings Lynn, where he was taken ill and needed to return back to Lincolnshire. He set off on the long journey northwards on 12th of October taking the route via Wisbech whilst his entourage and baggage train took the more direct route through the hazardous marshes of the Wash. Unfortunately they mistimed their crossing and were caught out by an incoming tide which resulted in both the loss of the Kings valuables plus many lives of those transporting his goods. The King remorsefully carried on his journey to finally die at Newark on 19th October from ill health. The treasures have never been found and although many conspiracies have surfaced over the centuries, the common legend is that they lie beneath the soils of the present day fields that were once the marshland.
There have been many interpretations of this basic story with additional content from unknown sources to outright exaggeration. The earliest records of the incident date from the same period of the tragic event, being written down in works attributed to three different authors, namely Matthew Paris, Roger de Wendover and Ralph of Coggeshall. It is worth quoting these extracts as we cannot get any closer reference in time. Although these accounts were written in Latin, the translations presented here have been garnered from a publication titled The Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Volume XLVI which dates from 1952 and is worth reading for its own interpretation of the events.
The latest of the chronicles was written by Matthew Paris, a Benedictine monk who was based at St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire. He took over the chronicle from Roger of Wendover, who we shall look at next. This record was part of Historia Anglorum, A history of England, which was started in 1250 and thought to have been completed around 1255. Although a generation apart from the actual event it could be said it was close enough to bear some direct knowledge
Afterwards King John journeying towards the north while all the inhabitants fled from his face, as from a rapidly approaching storm, ventured to cross without a guide the seawater mixed with river water, which place is called Welstream, barely escaping, he irrecoverably lost at the same spot the carts and sumpter horses carrying his booty and spoils, and all his treasure and furniture. For the ground was opened in the midst of the waves, and the sand, which is called quick, swallowed down everything, horses and men, arms and tents, and victuals, and the things which the King, next to his life, held too dear in the world. The King therefore, having barely escaped with the rest of his army, passed the following night at the Abbey of the Cistercian Order at Swineshead, exceedingly sad and consumed with grief.
The second account, which was recorded at a time closer to the event, is attributed to Roger de Wendover, in Flores Historiarum. Roger de Wendover was also a monk at St Albans Abbey and died in 1236 after he had contributed to the chronicle in the years leading up to his death. This was certainly a more contemporary account of the incident.
John with a large force had been committing terrible ravages in the Counties of Suffolk and Norfolk. At last he took his way through the town of Lynn, where he was received with joy by the inhabitants, and received large presents from them. Then, journeying towards the north, in the river which is called Wellstream, by an unexpected accident he lost all his wagons, carts, and sumpter horses with the treasure, precious vessels, and all the other things which he loved with so much care; for the ground was opened in the midst of the waves, and bottomless whirlpools, which swallowed them all up, with the men and the horses, so that not one foot escaped to announce the disaster to the King. The King nevertheless, having barely escaped with his army, passed the following night at the Abbey which is called Swineshead.
The last account comes from Ralph of Coggeshall, an English chronicler, a monk and later the sixth abbot of Coggeshall in Essex and who died in 1227. He contributed a continuation to Chronicon Anglicanum which had been started in 1066 and provided historic details from 1187 up to the time of his death.
Besides this a very great distress troubled him, because he had lost on that journey at the Wellstream his Chapel with its relics, and certain sumpter horses with various household stuff, and many of his household were drowned in the sea waters and swallowed down in the quicksand in the same place, because incautiously and precipitately they had passed over before the tide had receded.
These three accounts are notable in that they do not provide specific locations of the crossing or details of the journey other than the tragedy that enfolded. Therefore all the accounts which suggest the various locations and the supposition that the King had travelled separately to his entourage are either speculations, garnered from later unreferenced publications or folklore handed down by word of mouth.
The location is the chief concern of most treasure hunters who set out to rediscover the lost hoard. The only clue in the records relate to a landmark known as the Welstream, alternatively spelt Wellestream or in some cases Well Stream. The area around the Wash and into the fens looked very different in centuries past. Early maps from the 16th century clearly show that the course of the rivers and the marsh being a vastly changed landscape from the present day, with a large estuary that started at Wisbech and widened out to reach the sea covering much of the present land between King Lynn and Long Sutton. Such marshland is renowned for changing over the years and in this case there are many reports that the course of rivers and the sandbanks have constantly shifted. With regards to the Welstream, there is some debate over exactly where this watercourse flowed although the general consensus is that it was the river through Wisbech, presumably the present day River Nene, and was the basis of the later Wisbech Canal which linked the Rivers Nene and Ouse.
One source that can offer a clue to the Wellstream is The Transport System of Medieval England and Wales, a 1987 thesis presented for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, where the author, James Frederick Edwards, quotes an extract from Public Works in Medieval Law,a 1923 publication by C.T. Flower which states
...in the reign of King John the Ouse and Nene followed in their lower reaches the course of the present River Nene and that by the time of Edward I [1239 to 1307] the present lower course of the Ouse had come to be regarded as the estuary of both rivers. Although the changes may have been to some extent of nomenclature and not physical, it is obvious that the course of these two rivers through the marshland area has always been liable to diversion whether by man or the forces of nature.
James Edwards enlarges upon this with another quote from a 1973 publication The Great Ouse - The History of a River Navigation
...at Outwell there was the outlet to The Wash via Wisbech. However, by the time of Edward I, it appears that the outlet to The Wash via Wisbech was silting up and that at this same time, a small stream which had connected the Great Ouse with the River Cam south of Ely, developed into a larger channel which could be navigated.
If we take the assumptions of these quotes, that in King Johns reign both the River Ouse and the River Nene flowed out to sea from Wisbeach, then this watercourse would have been the river that travellers would need to cross when travelling between Norfolk and Lincolnshire. It could therefore be a valid assumption that this was the Wellstream and soon after the death of King John the course changed due to silting up.
The idea that the Welstream flowed through Wisbeach has led some to conclude that the King and his entourage crossed the river at Wisbech where a narrow ford was said to provide an easier crossing. There is nothing to suggest that this was the case and the crossing may have been anywhere along the estuary. Having said that, Fadens map of 1797 does depict a ford at West Walton just north of Wisbech, and although this is much later depiction of the area, it can nonetheless suggest that this may have been an ancient crossing place. The history of Norfolk, dating from 1837, in reference to this crossing, adds that
at certain times of tide, [the ford] can be crossed on horseback. The width of this crossing, including the marshes, during the middle ages was probably a lot less than would have been encountered in the 13th century. We can take a calculated guess from the so called Roman Bank that is depicted on old maps and which is presumed to date from times before King John. A quick measurement using Google maps produces a crossing distance of about a mile between the banks, still a sizeable distance.
Another location theory has been proposed from the reconstructing of the tide times of the day which suggests the location of the crossing was at Fosdyke where the river Welland flows. Although this idea has been repeated in some modern day books and websites there appears to be little to back the facts up and no support from local folk lore or tales. This is a modern theory which appears to be little supported.
The most popular location that appears in most local folklore is that the crossing was made between Cross Keys and Sutton (present day Long Sutton). This was a well known crossing point throughout the middle ages and was used up until the 19th century when the present embankment that carries the modern day A17 was constructed, along with the construction of a new straight cut for the River Nene. The marsh at this location was known as the Sutton Wash or alternatively the Cross Keys Wash depending on ones affiliation to Lincolnshire or Norfolk. The journey was said to have been up to 4 miles prior to the 17th century but was reduced by land reclamation with The Vermuyden embankment cutting the journey to 2 miles in 1640.
Although hazardous, the journey across the marsh could be completed with the assistance of a guide, which was probably a profitable business for those who knew the marsh. For those who didn't have the experience of the marsh it was a very dangerous place with many reports of fatalities and loss including a close escape for the 19th century engineer John Rennie, who very nearly drowned when his carriage was caught out by the tide. The soft ground was also an obstacle for horses and carriages which would sink in the mud and sand, and the river crossing itself was said to be waist height even at low tide. Despite these risks, the short-cut would save up to 15 miles from the alternative route via Wisbech and, no doubt, many would set out with careless abandon across these innocuous looking marshes without the assistance of a guide.
There is little evidence to suggest whether the Cross Keys Wash was used as a crossing in the centuries prior to the 16th, although there is nothing to state that it wasn't. Therefore we could imagine that, being in a rush, in need to get to Newark, the King and his entourage may have taken the risk to use the direct route across the marsh. Matthew Paris states that the king had
ventured to cross without a guide which would most certainly have compounded the risk and does suggest that the crossing warranted a guide. I have thus far found no reference to a guide being used for the much shorter Wisbeach crossing.
Local folklore also supports this crossing point, and was regularly told to travellers across the new embankment that linked Cross Keys with Sutton. Such a story was recorded in the Notes and Queries from 1858 where a correspondent signing himself as X.B. states
As a boy I often went from Norwich to Leicester by the Yarmouth and Birmingham mail, and have had a spot pointed out to me as the exact place by the coachman and guard with whom I travelled. It is on the left hand side of the road from Lynn to Long Sutton and about halfway between the two places. It is a dark looming stagnant pool of water, and I always knew it by the name of King Johns Hole. I can also very well remember that it was said that some of the treasure had been dug up while draining the land on the banks of this pool.
There is indeed a pool on the left hand side of the embankment at a grid reference of TF4914320536 which is surely a likely suspect for this pond. A similar tale is echoed in William Dutts 1909 publication, The Norfolk and Suffolk Coast in which he enlarges on page 400 with
The scene of the disaster to King John's baggage train is believed to be a mile or two westward of Terrington, where an arm of the Wash, known as Cross Keys Wash, formerly extended some distance into Marshland, and, in comparatively recent times, could only be crossed at low water by a dangerous ford. There was a tradition that the lost treasure lay hidden in a dank pool, known as King John's Hole, on the left-hand side of the road from Lynn to Long Sutton, and in the coaching days the drivers and guards of the mail coaches frequently pointed out the spot to their passengers. From time to time curious relics found in the neighbourhood have been said to be part of the treasure, but notwithstanding all the delving and dyking done in this part of Marshland King John's crown jewels and gold pieces have yet to be brought to light.
Other notable landmarks in this area are King Johns Farm and Kings Creek. King Johns farm would probably have been in the marsh at the time of King John so it is debatable whether this is a site of an ancient building although there are old references to a so called 'Kings House'. The 1725 publication of The History Of The Ancient and Present State Of The Navigation Of The Port of King's Lynn states that Kings Creek was said to be the
ancient outfall from the Wisbeach river (the Welstream). The creek still exists as nothing more than a drainage ditch but it is more substantial on the maps from the 17th century. Some commentators have made a connection to such landmarks as being named after John O'Gaunt who was said to own land in the area although there appears to be little other connection and no record that John O'Gaunt was a visitor to the area.
The second aspect of the commonly told story is that the king had travelled separately and was the reason why he escaped the accident. There is nothing to actually substantiate this assumption other than his survival. One could speculate that he was merely at the head of the baggage train and had crossed before the tide had deluged the rest of his entourage. Charles Dickens, in fact, used this idea in his A Child's History of England where he wrote
Crossing a dangerous quicksand, called the "Wash, not very far from Wisbeach, the tide came up and nearly drowned his army. He and his soldiers escaped; but, looking back from the shore when he was safe, he saw the roaring water sweep down in a torrent, overturn the waggons, horses, and men, that carried his treasure, and engulf them in a raging whirlpool from which nothing could be delivered.
In conclusion it is unclear where King John crossed the Wash or where his treasures may have ended up. Judging by the debris that was washed across the marshes of North Norfolk after the 2013 storm surge then we can probably safely say that they were swept across the entire estuary and any local marshmen would no doubt have laid claim to such treasures in silence over the years that followed. This has been just a short discourse following some simple research but in doing this it is easy to understand how this legend captures the imagination in the search for where the event unfolded and where the treasures may lay. One could spend a lifetime researching the history and some actually do. But for me, I will end this here and allow the intrigued reader to carry on their own investigations
Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information
Summary of Document Changes
Last Updated: ... 2016-09-02