Meet Michael Wilson - the Queen’s Guide to the Sands on Morecambe Bay
PUBLISHED: 11:22 12 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:22 12 October 2020
It’s been a frustrating year for the new Queen’s Guide to the Sands who hasn’t been able to lead any walks, but has spent plenty of time in Morecambe Bay.
Michael Wilson is following in illustrious, and ephemeral, footsteps as the Queen’s Guide to the Sands.
Michael took over the role last year from Cedric Robinson who guided people safely across Morecambe Bay for 56 years. In that time Cedric, who received a CBE for his work, helped hundreds of thousands of people experience the fascinating landscape of the bay – and raise millions of pounds for charity at the same time.
In April last year Michael became the 26th person to hold the title since the first Guide to the Sands was appointed in the mid-1500s. Michael was selected by Cedric after the Duchy of Lancaster stepped away from making the appointment.
Michael, who turns 48 this month, was chosen because as a fourth generation fisherman in Morecambe Bay, Cedric knew he would understand the ever-shifting sands and the changing nature of the landscape, where over his five-plus decades in the role Cedric saw the river channels deepen and the rivers run faster.
Michael, who lives on the shores of the bay at Flookburgh, said: ‘You can’t really prepare for a role like this. I’m a fisherman, my father was a fisherman, and my grandfather and my great-grandfather were fishermen so I have known the sands all my life.
‘Cedric and I have always got on well and I think he recommended me because of my character. I like talking to people.
‘Cedric came out on his tractor and accompanied some walks last year. My style is maybe a bit more outgoing and I’m perhaps a little quicker than Cedric.’
But after his first season as the official guide, coronavirus wiped out the 2020 series of walks and have left a question mark over the programme for next year. Michael had 20 walks fully booked for this year, with about 500 people on each – a total of almost 10,000 – and he is hoping to re-arrange them all for an equivalent date next year.
‘In terms of coronavirus, the walks themselves are pretty safe,’ said Michael who spoke to Lancashire Life after a fishing trip that had begun at 4.30am. ‘It’s how people get there – on coaches or trains – that’s a worry and how they gather together at the start and the end of the walk.’
Although he hasn’t been able to lead any walks this year, Michael has spent a lot of time on the sands, fishing for cockles, muscles and the shrimps that make their way to the Queen’s dining table.
The walks, which regularly attract people from across the country, lead from Arnside to Kents Bank, following a zig-zagging route marked by boughs of laurel through other-worldly scenery of 120 square miles of sand and mud.
It’s a spectacularly beautiful landscape but Michael is well aware of the dangers – just days before our conversation, a friend had drowned after his boat hit a sandbank.
‘I’ve seen one or two accidents and found a few body parts over the years,’ he said. ‘The sands are dangerous and being out there and seeing things like that makes you realise how suddenly life can be taken away.
‘A lot of the dangers are taken away on the walks – we only walk when there’s a low tide and we only walk in the day.
‘But you do still see idiots who take no notice. People who just wander about in the bay and ignore you when you tell them how dangerous it is. There will be more tragedies, it’s inevitable.
‘Part of what we do on the walks is to educate people about what a dangerous environment it is. You only need to stray about 50 yards from the path over the sands and everything changes.’