Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Broomway

                                                                                                                                        By T Smith
READERS MAY have read my earlier posts about the Broomway, that fabled old byway, and its surrounding areas in my articles titled 'A Closer Look at Foulness Island', 'Broomway' or 'Islands And Creeks'. I have sailed over the Broomway on many occasions in two to four feet of water and over the years have walked parts of it at low tide, never completing the full length from Wakering Stairs to Fisherman's Head. Until now that is.  Although there is nothing new about the road as it has been a means of access to Foulness Island for centuries, possibly even being used by the Romans but what I have found from my sea rambling along the fringes of the East Coast in my small boat or my walks when clad in mud or ramblers boots is this stretch of coast evokes something more than just an appreciation of the wild and open spaces - far more for when alone on these vast planes one can become engulfed in the surrounding natural beauty. Wild, open spaces like the Maplin Sands give one an awareness of our total insignificance in the wider planet, something that the cruising sailor would already have a sound grasp of, and are, with their mile after mile of baron emptiness, a truly pure place where ones thoughts can run amok. For anybody who is yet to experience one of the great attractions of going to sea alone in a small boat then a very close simili can be gleaned here on foot in this wet-sand desert,

  There are two sea-forts visible miles away to the east, in the Thames Estuary, and gunning lookout towers are clearly visible along the shore of Foulness Island, so at the same time it is places like the Maplins that can show how we, 'mankind', can so easily do harm to it.  Is it not surprising then that I should choose to walk the Broomway alone? Not a very clever thing to do perhaps as the sands are fraught with danger and lives have been lost. But then perhaps neither is sailing a small boat along here during complete darkness at night alone working along the sands into gusting force winds and an erratic sea. A calculated risk it is, no different than running for a bus on a busy road or walking the seawalls at midnight in the foggy mists where the legends of ghosts run riot. But here is where a closeness to nature and adventure can be found on our doorstep.
Walking the length of the Broomway in both directions. Various posts of differing shapes and heights are on the 'way'. A camera was taped to this post for this image to be taken. I left the piece of paper intentionally beside - how it screams to be picked up. 

The evocative magic of the Broomway
   No brooms mark the 'way' as such although it is the use of similar woods in marking the way where the name has come from. Islanders placed posts (brooms) at intervals along the sands to mark the route and travelled along it on foot or cart. Today one needs to have a good sense of positioning awareness and skills of navigation, and a sound knowledge of the tides to take on the Broomway alone from Wakering Steps to Fishermans Head and back again in one go, as there are no posts that mark the way and the sands can be treacherously dangerous. The sands can sink underfoot and fatigue can cause all kinds of problems.   Therefore timing a walking window is crucial for any attempt at traversing the Broomway. Once past the obstacle of the firing range, which may have red flags raised closing of access to the sands, one needs to allow for the outward leg and also the return leg, roughly six hours of continual walking. The tide can appear suddenly. If I can offer one word of advice it would be prepare yourself physically by doing a walk across soft terrain for five or six hours in one session, a couple of weeks prior to see how your body reacts to it, then you will have the confidence that you can cope, for, lets be realistic, there is an amount of endurance involved. The last thing you would want while out on the sands is muscle cramp, in fact any unforeseen mishap disabling you for the tide awaits no-one and your calls are highly likely to go unheard.  When your preparation is done and you take the first step at Wakering Stairs to venture into the unknown on the sands, embrace the moment for it is truly magical.

For those that asked if I will be making the walk again the answer is yes I have already, the allure of the sands is all to much to resist, and will be back over the coming months.
Walking on the hard into Fishermans Head, Foulness Island


Vallypee said...

What a lovely post! I have a special fondness for mudflats, low water reaches and lonely trails like this although I don't think I have the physical fitness to walk on soft sand for so long. I would need to train for that. Beautiful scenery and lovely descriptions. Thank you!

John Griffiths said...

I’m really intrigued by the Broomway. I used to live in Tiptree but now live in Buckinghamshire and occasionally miss the walks along the sea wall at Heybridge and Goldhanger.

This post probably doesn’t convey the danger of the Broomway - I assume you were taking a fair amount of risk traversing the 12 mile return trip in one tide. The tide must have turned and you must have been fairly close to being caught out by the time you returned to Wakering Stairs. I’d love to do something like this as the peace and serenity (probably heightened even more so by the sense of controlled danger) makes it very appealing. I would also be intrigued to cover the Havengore Creek passage by small boat to get the other perspective and real respectfor the tides but alas I am not a sailor. The only time I sailed was in La Rochelle in my mate’s yacht with 3m keel; I remember the thrill of calculating the passage with depth charts but that was in 2008 and not been sailing since...