What is most striking about Cedric Robinson is not that he has an unusual job (and an even more curious job title), or that this humble fisherman from Lancashire should have met so many famous people. But it is his contentment with life that stands out.
For someone who earns just £15 a year, he has a remarkably high level of job satisfaction. “It’s a wonderful life and I wouldn’t have liked to do anything else,” he says four times during our interview.
But then, wouldn’t you feel this way if your daily grind involved walking barefoot in the sand alongside hundreds of jolly ramblers, and if your job came with a 700-year-old cottage overlooking one of the most beautiful bays in Britain? That’s not to mention bonuses such as being invited to the Queen’s Garden Party.
Steeped in history
The role of Queen’s Guide to the Kent Sands of Morecambe Bay was introduced in 1536 to help locals cross the perilous 120-square-mile bay, which is famed for its strong currents, fast tides and quicksand. Today, people make the journey for leisure. From March to October every year, around 10,000 people complete the now famous Cross-Bay Walk with Cedric leading the way with a staff and a whistle.
Because of the increased human traffic on the bay, Cedric’s knowledge of the sands is more vital than ever. “There has never been a time during the existence of the role when there has been so great a need to know the sands,” he claims.
Cedric has beenin the post for nearly 50 years – longer than any of his 24 recorded predecessors. “Being brought up on the sands, I can read them. I can see where there is movement or where there is water under the sand,” he says.
Before each walk, Cedric finds a safe route through the sands with some friends he calls the Three Musketeers. “We spread out in a line and bang the sand with sticks, testing it for firmness. Sometimes the stick goes right though. Quicksand is like jelly and it can be really dangerous,” Cedric explains. “As a fisherman you take risks, but you do not take risks with people.” I find this reassuring when later he takes me on to the sands and we encounter a soft patch. It wobbles beneath my wellies like a waterbed, and I stand there gawping until he reminds me that staying still on quicksand is not a good idea.
Cedric’s knowledge of the sands was gained from years spent fishing on the bay. “When I left school, I didn’t want to be anything other than a fisherman like my father,” he says. “Dad taught me where to fish, how to set nets and how the river changes. This stood me in good stead for the position I now hold.”
Listening to Cedric talking about fishing in the bay is, in many ways, more intriguing than his tales of escorting royalty and the likes of Bill Bryson and Alan Titchmarsh across the sands. This is also true of his new autobiography, in which he describes wonderful scenes of men trawling for shrimps on clear summer nights using horses to drag nets in the shallow water.
As we reach the edge of the bay, we meet a walker who immediately recognises Cedric. “I saw you on telly last night,” he says enthusiastically. “It was on last night, was it?” Cedric responds casually. Despite being a local celebrity and netting a string of accolades (including an MBE and two honorary degrees), he remains the quiet, modest fisherman who has never been abroad and enjoys living and working on the bay, playing the trombone and keeping hens.
Before leaving, I ask Cedric who will replace him once he retires. “I still feel good,” he responds. “And as soon as spring comes along, I can’t wait to get out on those sands.” The 25th Queen’s Guide to the Sands clearly has no intention of hanging up his stick and whistle for some time.