Mud walking (in Dutch: wadlopen) is an exciting and adventurous way of acquainting oneself with a unique nature reserve, the Wadden Sea, also the largest continuous national park in Europe. During low-tide, shallows fall dry making it possible to cross the bottom of the sea. These shallows consist of sandbanks, criss-crossed with trenches and gullies. During a typical mud walk, hikers wrestle through miles of mire and thigh-deep brown mud, wade through channels of waist high water before arriving on one of the islands in the Wadden Sea.
The very fact that the hikers have to sometimes fight their way through layers of mud, surrounded by nothing else but sea, sand and wind, makes it a very arduous expedition. Mudwalking is also called ‘horizontal alpinism’ and it is definitely not something for the fainthearted.
All groups are accompanied by experienced guides. They take the group across the seabed, pointing out the birds, fish and plants along the way. Occasionally one stumbles on a group of seals resting on a sandbank, or spots a jellyfish draped on the sand. All guides have to go through three years of rigorous training on weather, tides, emergency aid, flora and fauna.
Walk a mud walk
Usually the tours start from one of the dikes along the sea. The first part takes you across the salt marches, which are quite muddy. This normally takes an hour. You then continue along the bottom of the Wadden Sea, sometimes crossing gullies, which can be anything between knee and chest deep. The entire walk can take anything from 3 to 5 hours, depending on which tour you chose. Generally the tours end on an island, but can also end on a shallow or back on the dike again (depending on the weather and the tides).
- proper fitting shoes (preferably high-top ones) and wool socks
- shorts or tracksuit bottoms/leggings (jeans are definitely a no no!)
- warm sweater, jacket(windproof)
- woolen hat/hood and scarf, plus gloves
- backpack with a the following packed in a watertight compartment: dry clothes to put on after the hike, towel and plenty of food and drink (no alcohol)
- sunglasses and suntan lotion
Mud walking can only be carried out in good weather conditions. Usually, the organization will decide the day before the hike whether the mud walk will take place. To avoid disappointments, it is best to call the organizers the day before your walk, preferably after 6:30 p.m., to check whether the walk is going to go ahead or not. Be prepared, if the weather conditions are bad, the hike will most likely be cancelled.
Only undertake a mud walk if you are fit and healthy. Once you have started out timing is everything, as the mud flats fill up again with water once the tides start rising. In addition, the Wad is treacherous, and mud walking without an expert guide is perilous.