Amongst the castles, gardens and other historic sites that make up the tourist attractions of Great Britain there lie other quirky and eccentric historical stories that also contribute to our heritage. One of these is the Queen’s guide to the Sands.
The Queen’s Guide to the Sands is a very romantic title for a very practical job. The post of “Royal Guide to the Sands” has existed since the 1500s with the brief of guiding travellers safely across the desolate expanse of Morecambe Bay, 120 square miles of sand on the north west coast of England that contains dykes, a river, quicksands and dangerous tides that are said to come in “as fast as a horse can run.” To the north of the bay lie the mountains of the Lake District, cutting off the coastal land and making this one of the most isolated spots in England. Morecambe Bay apparently first got its name in 1771 when the historian John Whitaker suggested that it was a tidal flat described by the Greek geographer Ptolemy in the second century AD.
Prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the job of guide had been done by the monks of the nearby Cartmel Priory. The priory was founded in 1190 and it’s original gatehouse dating from 1330 still stands. After the Dissolution, however, there was no one to guide travellers over the four mile crossing and so local villagers petitioned King Henry VIII for help and the post of Royal Guide was created. Despite this, the dangers of the bay are legendary. In 1725 the Rev John Lucas wrote of a sandbank collapsing to reveal “the corpse of a man dressed in clothes from an earlier age, still clutching his whip in his hand.”
There have been 25 Royal Guides since the post was invented and the job comes with a cottage, Guides Farm, and a salary of £15 per annum which is paid by Lord Cavendish of Holker Hall. The Hall is open to the public to visit, as is Cartmel Priory.
Picture credits:The Tate Gallery and geograph.org.uk.