The Wash

The Wash shows as a large indentation in the coastline of the map of Eastern England, separating the curved coast of East Anglia from Lincolnshire. It is formed by a large bay with three roughly straight sides meeting at right angles, each about 15 miles (25 km) in length.

The Wash and North Norfolk Coast was formerly lodged by the UK on Tentative UNESCO World Heritage List.

The eastern coast of the Wash is entirely within Norfolk, and extends from a point a little north of Hunstanton in the north to the mouth of the River Great Ouse at King’s Lynn in the south. The opposing coast, which is roughly parallel to the east coast, runs from Gibraltar Point, near Skegness, to the mouths of the Haven (downstream from Boston), and the River Welland (downstream from Spalding), all within Lincolnshire. The southern coast runs roughly northwest-southeast, connects these two river mouths and is punctuated by the mouth of the River Nene (downstream from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire). The protected North Norfolk Coast extends just past Wells-next-the-Sea.

Inland from the Wash the land is flat, low-lying and often marshy: these are the Fens of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

Owing to deposits of sediment and land reclamation, the coastline of the Wash has altered markedly within historical times; several towns once on the coast of the Wash (notably King’s Lynn) are now some distance inland. Much of the Wash itself is very shallow, with several large sandbanks—such as Breast Sand, Bulldog Sand, Roger Sand and Old South Sand—exposed at low tide, especially along its south coast. For this reason, navigation in the Wash can be hazardous for boats. A lightship marks the entrance to the Lynn Channel, the one safe channel from the North Sea to the Wash’s south coast.

The Wash is a Special Protection Area (SPA) under European Union legislation. It is made up of very extensive salt marshes, major intertidal banks of sand and mud, shallow waters and deep channels. The seawall at Freiston has been breached in three places to increase the saltmarsh area, to provide an extra habitat for birds, particularly waders, and also as a natural flood prevention measure. The extensive creeks in the salt marsh, and the vegetation that grows there, helps dissipate wave energy thus improving the protection afforded to land behind the saltmarsh. This last aspect is an example of the recently developing exploration of the possibilities of sustainable coastal management by adopting soft engineering techniques. The same scheme includes new brackish lagoon habitat.

On the eastern side of the Wash, one finds low chalk cliffs with their famous stratum of red chalk, at Hunstanton, and gravel pits (lagoons) at Snettisham RSPB reserve, which are an important roost for waders at high tide. This SPA borders onto the North Norfolk Coast Special Protection Area.

To the northwest, the Wash extends to Gibraltar Point, another Special Protection Area.

The partially confined nature of the Wash habitats, combined with the ample tidal flows, allows shellfish to breed, especially shrimp, cockles and mussels. Some water birds, e.g. oystercatchers, feed on shellfish. It is also an important breeding area for common terns, and a feeding area for marsh harriers. Migrating birds, such as geese, ducks and wading birds, come to the Wash in huge numbers to spend the winter, with an average total of around 400,000 birds present at any one time. It has been estimated that around two million birds will use the Wash for feeding and roosting during their annual migrations.

The Wash is recognised as being Internationally Important for 17 species of bird. This includes pink-footed goose, dark-bellied brent goose, shelduck, pintail, oystercatcher, ringed plover, grey plover, golden plover, lapwing, knot, sanderling, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, bar-tailed godwit, curlew, redshank and turnstone.

It was featured on the television programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

The most famous incident associated with the Wash is King John losing the Crown Jewels. According to contemporary reports, John travelled from Spalding in Lincolnshire to Bishop’s Lynn, in Norfolk, was taken ill and decided to return. While he took the longer route by way of Wisbech, he sent his baggage train, including his crown jewels, along the causeway and ford across the mouth of the Wellstream. This route was usable only on the lower part of the tide. The horse-drawn wagons moved too slowly for the incoming tide, and many were lost.

The present-day location of the accident is normally supposed to be somewhere near Sutton Bridge, on the River Nene. The name of the river changed as a result of redirection of the Great Ouse during the 17th century and Bishop’s Lynn became King’s Lynn as a result of Henry VIII’s rearrangement of the English Church.

Astronomical study, however, permits a reconstruction of the tide tables of the relevant day and it seems most likely, given travel in the usual daylight hours, that the loss was incurred in crossing the Welland Estuary at Fosdyke.

There is also a suspicion that John left his jewels in Lynn as security for a loan and arranged for their “loss.” This looks likely to be apocryphal. However that may be, he passed the following night, that of the 12th to 13 October 1216, at Swineshead Abbey, moved on to Newark-on-Trent and died of his illness on 19 October.

No reviews yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.