Mud larking

Tidal walks over the last 2 weekends have got me thinking about tidal muds, experiencing that once cooling, encapsulating and encasing feeling of bare feet on warm, still wet mud exposed at low tide.

Low Tide at Bulmer, Northumberland

Then a friend asked are tidal muds used for earth building or is their salinity a barrier to their use. I’m not sure but when you look at histories of building with earth and the distribution of earth buildings it tends to be more associated with river muds, and subsoils excavated at or nearby to building sites.

But tidal muds seem to be aidemémoires or produce a more reflective response – here are some I’ve noticed.

In a recent interview in the Guardian to celebrate the opening of his exhibition at the Hepworth in Wakefield the artist Richard Long described himself as a, “connoisseur of mud”, he works in around his birthplace on the Avon, and notes that tidal mud is best for his art as it is “viscous”, whereas “mud in a field is not real mud”. He uses mud for making patterns and prints, and the drying out of mud and clay (and the cracking and flaking that accompany that process) are important parts of his work.

In ‘The Old Ways’ Robert Macfarlane describes a trip across the Broomway which extends across the Essex tidal mud for 6 miles from Wakering Stairs to Foulness Island across Maplin Sands.  The tidal patterns of the Broomway make it extremely dangerous with the path submerged for 3 hours at high tide, and the flatness of the expanse meaning the tide comes in quickly and unexpectedly. Macfarlane uses his walk across the Essex mud to reflect upon changing patterns of landuse at the end of the last ice age when Doggerland (which connected Mainland Europe and the UK across the current North Sea) was submerged. What is striking is that if we do have any island mentality (that notion of superiority) it is in human terms a fairly recent phenomenon and it is rooted fairly firmly in those muddy footprints across tidal waters.

Danger, deep mud. Maldon, Essex

And some other uses of tidal muds:

The Maldon mud race. Since 1973 this is an annual race at low tide across the river Blackwater in Essex (and back again).

Mud larking (most famously on the Thames in London in the 18th and 19th century) was searching the tidal muds at low tide for anything that could be scavenged.

(and a quick google gives  whole set of other ‘mud’ or wild races – and a whole world of weird things to do with mud wrestling as well (several of which are clearly NOT Olympic sports!).


Richard Long in the Guardian:

Richard Long is at the Hepworth until 14th October 2012.

The Maldon Mud Race

The Old Ways – a journey on foot. By Robert Macfarlane is available in bookshops.

About Louise Cooke

conservation, heritage, landscapes, earth buildings and other interesting things
This entry was posted in archaeology, Earth Building, Heritage, landscape and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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