I doubt many visitors to The Netherlands stray far beyond the amazing museums, canals and liberal attractions of Amsterdam. So it was perhaps unsurprising that I was met with quizzical looks when I announced that I was off to The Netherlands to go Wadlopen. Wadlopen, the art of walking on mudflats exposed at low tideby the Wadden Sea, was something that until recently I had never even heard of, let alone considered doing. When I read about it in my guide book, however, I was very keen to try this unusual activity.
Websites and locals warn against attempting this niche sport without a guide. Not only is it important to minimise ecological disturbance, but the tide can turn quickly, leaving you stranded out at sea. However, since the local guided tour costs a hefty forty Euros and included the dubious pleasure of spending three hours in a fishing boat, the five of us decided to go it alone. How hard could it be?
Staying in the vibrant university city of Groningen (which, incidentally, boasts a truly excellent children’s play ground), we found that our nearest entrance to the Wadden Sea was due north, near Usquert. On arrival, however, although we could see the sea (indeed tantalisingly close), there were many muddy fields between it and us, hampering our advance. Not to be deterred, we took off our shoes and started our Wadlopen there and then. But within two hours we had moved a total displacement of 20 metres; the tar-like mud was deep and treacherous, and getting stuck in it was an all-too-likely possibility. When we happened upon a single shoe abandoned in the mud, we realised that our efforts were futile and that we would never even reach the sea. Exhausted and humbled by nature, we turned back to firm land.
For those defeated by, or uninterested in, mud, the North thankfully has lots more to offer, primarily beautiful windmills, castles, and a rare star-shaped fort at Bourtange: our trip was by no means a disappointment.
Would I advise you to try Wadlopen yourself? Definitely. It is an opportunity to try an extraordinary sport in some beautiful scenery far away from the tourist trail. Pack warm old clothes which you don’t mind getting muddy. And above all, be sure to bring a good book for the three hours’ ride in the fishing boat.