Worst hike ever

I’ve hiked hazardous routes along the Washington coast — it’s a beautiful place with these gorgeous crescent beaches separated by spectacular rocky headlands — and before you set out you have to heed all the warnings. If you get caught on those headlands when the tide comes in, you may have to choose between going straight up a jagged, overhanging cliff or swimming out to sea in a swirl of complex currents. There are also bears.

I don’t think I’d want to hike the Broomway in England, though.


For one, at low tide, it’s a long gray mudflat. It’s not exactly scenic.

For another, the destination of your walk is a place called “Foulness Island”. This is not a name that would have been chosen by any tourism board. Saying you live on Foulness Island conjures up images of surly, decrepit villains hiding out in hovels and scheming bitterly to murder visitors and steal their shoes to enable escape. It sounds like a place infested with ticks and anthrax.

It’s worse. It’s deadly.

Depending on the time of year, you have a window of three to four hours to explore the Broomway before the tide returns. Unlike other tidal flats where the water gently rises, the speed of the incoming tide is described as faster than a person can run. Even worse, the rising waters interact with outflow from the nearby Crouch and Roach rivers to create deadly hidden whirlpools.

Nearly every site I’ve visited warns that no matter how good a swimmer you are, if you’re caught on the Broomway when the tide comes in, you’re likely to perish.

Still interested in taking a jaunt down the Broomway? You’ll first need permission from Britain’s Ministry of Defence. The military took over much of Foulness Island in the early 20th century for artillery exercises and still controls access. Adding to the path’s notoriety are large signs near the entrance warning “Do not approach or touch any object or debris as it may explode and kill you.”

In case you’re wondering, it’s the first week after Spring break, and I was already fantasizing about exotic island getaways, and this was one of the places that turned up in my google search. I think I need to come up with better search terms. Or erase my contaminating search history somehow.


  1. says

    “extreme bird-watching” now on ESPN!
    Watch as these highly fit athletes sprint across dangerous tidal plains lugging huge optics and traditional gnarled-branch walking sticks, pause for a spot of tea, and then try to get to high ground before the water comes in… Content warning: not for the kids, there may be drownings, compound fractures, or warblers.

  2. blf says

    Looking at the map, I realised that is not too far from the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery, a WW ][ “liberty ship” still loaded with c.1400 tonnes of high explosive ordinance, some of which is known to be fused. Basically, there’s a primed kilotonne bomb only a few kilometres away.

  3. Rich Woods says

    @blf #4:

    We’ve got megatonnes of high explosives and incendiaries stashed away all over the country. Under buildings, under farmland, in rivers and on the seabed; it’s everywhere. It gets dug up all the time but it hardly ever goes off.

    If Germany would like it back they’re going to have to ask very nicely. It’s ours now.

  4. says

    Maybe it can be marketed as a new spring break spot for all of those wonderful tourists who were shouting “BUILD THE WALL!” in Mexico recently?

  5. blf says

    We’ve got megatonnes of high explosives and incendiaries stashed away all over the country.

    Rather little of which is in a conveniently-packaged kilotonne-scale pile.

  6. numerobis says

    Rich Woods:

    If Germany would like it back they’re going to have to ask very nicely. It’s ours now.

    I’m sure Germany is quite happy to call it fair’s fair what with all the ordnance left there.

  7. jacksprocket says

    My Dad spent part of his WWII at the radar station at Canewdon, just behind the marshes- he was a radar technician. The job at the time was mostly to spot incoming V1 flying bombs, plot the course and alert anti- aircraft batteries or the RAF to intercept them. They noticed that, a few minutes before they saw the blip of a V1, they saw a phosphorescent scatter on the radar screen. Many theories were discussed about this, but it wasn’t until he and a mate were off duty during the day, and (there being F all to do in Canewdon) idling on the hill- well, slight rise- near the radar station, and looking out over the marshes. Suddenly, thousands of birds rose at once, and flew off. A few minutes later, a nearby ack ack unit opened up, all guns blazing at the V1 flying over. Emergency over, and the birds drifted back. They could hear the V1’s pulse jet before it came in radar range, and got out of the way before all hell let loose.

  8. Rich Woods says

    @numerobis #9:

    Agreed. I’d hate for any local museum in either country to be without a new item of interest every decade or so.

  9. coragyps says

    No tides worth noticing out here, but Slicknasty Creek and Dead Negro Draw are both within an hour’s drive of my house.

  10. tbtabby says

    Mudflat hiking is a popular recreational activity in the Netherlands and surrounding areas. There’s no unexploded bombs to worry about to my knowledge, but it’s still dangerous enough that hikers are strongly encouraged to bring a trained guide along.

  11. Ichthyic says

    There are also bears.

    DeVoss was right! won’t someone think of the childrens!!11!!

  12. DLC says

    I discovered the broomway one night while semi-randomly wandering around with Google Earth. I was fascinated by the idea of a sidewalk of sorts that’s covered at high tide. I think it would be interesting to try.

  13. shelly says

    Robert Macfarlane wrote about the Broomway in his book The Old Ways. Absolutely recommended (the book, not the track!) for anyone interested in walks in the UK.

  14. quidam says

    If one only went on hikes in perfectly safe, conventionally scenic places, life would be very boring. Foulness is not ‘foul’ it’s ‘fowl’. A fantastic spot for birders and for experiencing a place like no other.

    With “more than 100 people (deaths) over the centuries” it isn’t even very dangerous. Provided one can read a tide table and stay on the marked path the dangers are minimal. Fog used to be the main danger, now with GPS, that isn’t even an issue.

    I’d recommend the track, there’s nothing else like it and it’s not going to be there much longer. The headways are disappearing rapidly due to sea level rise and Foulness Island itself will be underwater in a few decades

    The “headways”, or access points leading from the Broomway to farms on the shoreline, were mostly constructed of Kentish ragstone or gravel.[23] Although a number are still marked on maps, the majority are currently impassable. From south to north, the main headways are or were:

    Suttons Head or Kennets Head, near Shoeburyness East Beach, which fell into disuse in 1867 after the reopening of Wakering Stairs
    King’s Head, near Pig’s Bay, also lost
    Wakering Stairs, the current access point
    Havengore Island; three former headways including Havengore Head and Sharpsness Head[23]
    New England Island, now lost
    Shelford Head, now lost
    New Burwood Head, now lost
    Asplins Head
    Rugwood Head, now impassable[23]
    Eastwick or Pattisons Head

  15. Rey Fox says

    I think Bill Bryson wrote about this in Notes From A Small Island. Something about the tide coming in from all directions at once.