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Coastal stories

One of the world's most important and romantic sites in environmental conservation: the east lighthouse at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire.

Changing the world after a lonely lighthouse sojurn

Its wonderful when, after stumbling along mile after mile of sea bank along the Lincolnshire coast, you come across a heart-warming story. This lighthouse, on the east bank of the Nene river, and set deep into the tidal marshlands of the Wash, was home to Sir Peter Scott between 1933 and 1939. He was the son of Robert Scott ("Scott of the Antarctic"), who perished on his journey to the South Pole when Peter was just two. In 1933 Peter, aged 24, moved to the lighthouse to decide what to do with his life. Over the next several years he decided to focus on becoming a wildlife artist and writer. A friend, Paul Gallico, visited and wrote "The Snow Goose" based on Peter Scott's experience. The illustrations of Fritha, the local girl in the story, are based on Scott's wife. After the war, Peter Scott went onto become one of the world's most important fathers of the environmental conservation movement, by starting - together with friends - The World Wildlife Fund and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. He designed WWF's iconic panda symbol and for the first 20 years was the public face of the organization. A life well-lived, influenced by his six years in this lonely lighthouse, set among the marshes of the Fens.

My friend Chris checking out the main drag in Mablethorpe...

Mablethorpe and taxis

Chris and I arrived in Mablethorpe at 3.45pm on a Sunday afternoon, ready for some refreshment. But first there was the matter of finding transport back to our starting point, Saltfleet - a tiny hamlet about 7 miles up the Lincolnshire coast. No buses run on Sunday. The waitress kindly gave us three numbers for taxis. First one said that their drivers finish at 4pm, and the journey would go over that limit. I asked if there might be one driver willing to go a few minutes over the 4pm deadline for an extra fee. Nope. Onto the next one. He mentioned that he only had one taxi. I confirmed that we only needed one taxi. No, he explained, he had to stay around Mablethorpe in case someone wanted a taxi. I was about to mention stuff about birds in the hand, but decided against it. Astonishingly - or perhaps not - the third taxi driver gave the same answer about only having one taxi. Hmm, this wasn't looking good. I asked the server if any of the workers in the cafe were due to get off work soon and might wish to earn a little cash by driving us a few miles up the coast. No, they had several hours to go, and anyway they didn't have cars. But, she helpfully suggested, why don't you walk round the corner and talk to the taxi company in person. Amazingly, that worked - presumably this was the company with the 4pm deadline, but for whatever reason the lady who opened the door said of course she could drive us up the road to Saltfleet, we just needed to wait a few minutes while she found her husband and son. Salvation!

Twenty minutes later, we were swaying in the back of the van, chatting to the woman's 11-year-old son. He was telling us that things were hard in the family, because there weren't enough customers in Mablethorpe and too much competition from the other taxi companies. Somewhat at odds from our experience that afternoon. He explained that his dad was usually the driver. We held onto the straps and wondered why his mum was driving that afternoon. You could say that we were smoothing out the bends in the road, at a very good pace. And hoping that no one else was doing the same in the other direction. The van had an intercom system, so presumably his parents couldn't hear the conversation. We asked him why his mother didn't drive for the taxi company. He looked at us solemnly, and explained: "My mum suffers from road rage." No arguing with that.

A couple of days later I mentioned to someone that I'd been in Mablethorpe - a seaside town which doesn't appear to have changed its main offerings since the 1970s. The guy said, ah, did I know, Mablethorpe is the only town in England which has a dedicated lane for mobility scooters, there are so many disabled people there. He said you have to be careful, because some of the mobility scooter drivers suffer from road rage... I'm pretty sure that this isn't actually true, but it does suggest that Mablethorpe needs to work on its branding.

Fountain in Hull, fully restored, bringing beauty to the city.

Its the people you meet

In Hull we stayed with Simon and his family. And heard a remarkable story. The house was in a deprived part of the city. Simon had a vision: to restore a beautiful Victorian street fountain which had been knocked over in 1928. To revitalize civic pride and bring back some beauty to the neighbourhood. He approached the town council, who said that there wasn't enough money, and that fountains weren't a priority. So Simon set to work. He wrote a catchy song about being proud to live in the town, and taught it to children at local schools. (He mentioned that he offered to bring the song to morning assemblies at the schools, and the teachers were delighted.) He initiated a“name-a-brick” scheme for brickwork around the proposed fountain. Gradually the pupils began to get excited about the idea. Their parents responded. Local businesses offered to help. Others volunteered to sponsor a brick. The councillors realized that something was afoot, and the community was mobilizing. Suddenly they found some funds! Then the National Lottery chipped in. Two years of hard work and lobbying later the grand re-opening of the fountain was celebrated, to everyone’s delight. There was enough credit around for everybody to say that they’d had the idea and made it happen!

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