Next weekend...

...try wadloping
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The ultimate dirty weekend involves mud and lots of it. Wadloping is an increasingly popular Dutch sport. A "wad" is a coastal mudflat, and wadloping is yomping across them, knee-deep in ooze and sometimes waist deep in water. The wads are located in the northern province of Friesland, and the walkers sloosh from the coast out to various islands made accessible by low tides, keeping a watchful eye on the returning waters over the horizon. These islands are at varying distances from the coast. Novices can schlep out to the Engelsmanplaat, a mere four hours of squelching, intermediates do the 10km slog to the island of Ameland, and the experienced can slosh off to Schiermonnikoog, 17km offshore. On the way, there are seabirds, oyster beds and sea-shells to be seen.

Who are the wadlopers?

The originals were monks who walked their cattle on the flats in the middle ages. An escaped servant fleeing from an island castle across the mud was the first modern wadloper; now mud-loving Dutch people and foreign tourists pay to do it. Tens of thousands give it a go every year. Many of them feel that it's a traditional sport they should try at least once; like going to Alton Towers or morris dancing or eating jellied eels for the British. Lots don't go back for a second trip.

When's the wadloping season?

Mid-May to mid-October every year.

How to get there

Fly to Amsterdam, then on to the airport of Groningen-Eelde in Friesland. Leave Heathrow on Friday at 3.20, and you can be in Friesland by half past seven that evening, and up to your waist in cold mud the next day. KLM Airlines (0181 750 9000) through ticket is pounds 288 return, but booking a London-Amsterdam return is from pounds 135, and a return flight on to Groningen- Eelde is pounds 105.

Where to stay

The Netherlands Board of Tourism, PO Box 523, London SW1E 6NT, tel 0171 931 0661, publishes a hotel guide for pounds 1. Or if your Dutch is up to it, contact the local tourist office direct: Provinciale VVV Friesland, Stationsplein 1, 8911 AC Leeuwarden, The Netherlands (tel 00 31 58 131343, open 9am till 2pm).

How to get out onto those mudflats

Book well in advance - wadloping is a popular Dutch family day out. Determined Dutch enthusiasts book in January or February to secure the trips of their choice for the following season. Contact the Mudwalking Organisation, at VVV Dongeradeel, Hoofdstraat 68, 9968 AG Pieterburen, The Netherlands, tel 00 31 5952 8300 for details of walks at seven different centres; costs from 13 guilders to 40 guilders.

What to wear

Sturdy high-top trainers, socks, shorts and a strong rucksack with a change of dry clothes. Make sure laces are well-tied: the mud can be shoe- suckingly tenacious. Those who are sensitive to cold can do it in a wetsuit.

Isn't it dangerous?

Unwary wadlopers have been known to drown or need rescuing by helicopter. Solo mudwalking is now forbidden, and they venture out in groups only, led by trained guides equipped with compasses, maps, two-way radios and rescue equipment. Wadloper guides keep detailed records of tidal and weather patterns. Being out on the vast expanse of mud can also lead to attacks of agoraphobia. If you get stuck in the mud your fellow wadlopers will have to haul you out.

What about an alternative if I get there, see the oozing expanse of glistening mud and lose my nerve?

You could try the ancient Dutch sport of Fierljeppen - canal vaulting. Might be equally muddy, but at least there's no danger of the tide sweeping in and carrying you off over the horizon.

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