The scary legend of the Broomway

I don’t know how true all this is – but it makes a damned good story… Keep out of the coffins folks!

Read more about it here, here, here and here.

‘For anyone who enjoys wandering out onto coastal flats during low-tide to explore the terrain, Britain’s Broomway has all the appearances of the perfect gateway. The tidal foot path, so-named for the hundreds of broomsticks that once marked its boundaries, has for nearly 600 years provided access from Essex, England to the farming communities of nearby Foulness Island.

‘The Broomway, however, is more dangerous than its name implies… For at least 100 people, and likely many more, it’s one walk they never returned from.

‘To access the Broomway, you must first leave the mainland of Essex at a point called Wakering Stairs. You then reach a causeway of brick and debris that takes you over the ominous Black Grounds, a kind of quicksand that locals refer to simply as “coffins.” Once on the Broomway, you’ll walk across a firm, silvery mudflat called the Maplin Sands.’

The sad sight of decaying sailing barges in the mud at Hoo

SBs Alan, Remercie, Spinaway C, Ethel Ada (Ipswich), Adriatic, Felix, Scotsman & Dannebrog at Hoo. 2013 2

These shots of sailing barges sinking into the mud at Hoo seem particularly poignant.

The creeks of North Kent are littered with the bones of sailing barges, but where most are interesting reminders of the distant past and add interest to the mud, these barges are an especially sad sight, not least because just a few short years ago many of them were either afloat or were in restoration and appeared to have good prospects.

The photos were taken by Mick Nolan of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust, which maintains and charters two sailing barges, SB Centaur and SB Pudge. Thanks Mick!

The TSBT has a Facebook page here. I have pals who are holidaying aboard one of their boats this very week.

Googleing reveals a little information about the barges in the photos.

The Mersea Museum list reveals that SB Alan was built in London in 1900 and was operated by the London and Rochester Trading Co of Rochester.

The site records that SB Remercie seems to have been built at Harwich by McLearon 1908 for Horlocks, became a motor barge in 1962 before being re-rigged as a barge yacht in 1972. She arrived at Hoo as rebuilding project 1994.

SB Spinaway C was at one time one of the last Ipswich barges still working, along with SB Cambria. She was built at Ipswich in 1899 by Orvis and became a yacht in 1967.

There’s a reference to her winning the 1963 Thames barge match in the hands of skipper Moggles Morgan here, and there’s a link including photos here.

I haven’t found much online about SB Ethel Ada (Ipswich) except that she’s a different boat to the London SB Ethel Ada. I don’t know anything at all about SB Adriatic, but SB Felix was built by Cann in 1893. Like many she became a motor barge and was sold out of trade in 1972 and became a yacht barge. Read about her here.

SB Scotsman was built at Sittingbourne by Wills & Packham 1899, became a motor barge in 1953 and was later a houseboat at Faversham Creek – where I remember seeing her. There’s more information here. reveals that SB Dannebrog was built at Harwich in 1901 by McLearon. She was de-rigged in 1955, then re-rigged  for a period in the mid 1970s before spending some time in St. Katharine’s Dock – there’s a striking photo of her looking scruffy but afloat in the dock on the website. She was sold in 1992 for restoration at Hoo. 

By the way – if you’re interested in caring for one of these splendid vessels and in the fortunate position of being able to do so, there is a short list of boats for sale here.

SBs Remercie & Spinaway C. Hoo 2013 SBs Ethel Ada (Ipswich), Adriatic, Felix & Scotsman at Hoo. 2013 SBs Alan, Remercie, Spinaway C, Ethel Ada (Ipswich), Adriatic, Felix, Scotsman & Dannebrog at Hoo. 2013 2
SBs Alan, Remercie & Spinaway C. Hoo 2013 SBs Adriatic, Felix & Scotsman at Hoo. 2013 2 SB Esther 5. Hoo 2013 SB Esther 3. Hoo 2013

Mud pattens – a tempting idea

Charles Stock and Dylan Winter are famous for being slow-sailing exponents of the Wellington boot – that is, cruising in small shoal draft boats without a tender but with a handy pair of wellies for getting ashore or just looking around. There are well known photos of both their boats with accompanying wellies.

It’s an appealing idea – but I don’t fancy its attendant dangers. Where the ground’s sandy there’s usually little problem, so long as the wellies you’re using are long enough and you’ve got your tides right.

But where there is mud, it can be a very different story. I think this is particularly so if you sail along the coast of North Kent. The Medway and the Swale especially have the gloopiest, glueyest brown stuff I’ve seen, and there are many places where even the finest Wellingtons in the land would not tempt me out of my boat. So depending on the circs I’m inclined to stay aboard, tie up to a quay, or bite the bullet and make sure I take a tender with me.

Could tieing flat pieces of wood to your wellies as demonstrated in this wildfowler’s video be the answer?

It will surely help in some places, but I fear it could be damned dangerous in others: for example, I swear it wouldn’t work at all in Faversham or Conyer Creeks, where the mud is much worse than the relatively friendly stuff shown in the video.

Also, walking on these things might not be as easy as it looks, and will need a lot of concentration. This is likely to be a particular issue after a good lunch or dinner – and isn’t that often part of the point of going ashore? For the lone sailor going back to his boat in the dark, I fear using mud pattens in the wrong situation could lead to a very bad outcome at worst and likely a boat full of mud in the event of even just a minor mishap.

The video includes the following ringing warning:

‘Remember that you’ve got them on. The one thing that you’ve got to avoid doing is stepping one patten on top of the other. That results in an immediate collision of your face with the surface of the mud.’


PS – Here’s some of our local mud. As usual, click on the small image to appreciate the full glory of it.

PPS – For a great mud-related story about canoe yawl and Albert Strange Association enthusiast Dick Wynne, click here.