Tuesday, 1 September 2009


When the tide is out my boat, Poppy, lies on her side happily enough on the black mud at Lympstone. This Exe mud has a distinctive smell which I find not altogether unpleasant. Once it was even believed to be wholesome and beneficial and visitors came to the Exe to enthuse about the mud and to smell it for the sake of their health. But the wind of change has blown and these days visitors tend to say only rude things about our mud and the smell of it. When someone has been working on the mud, laying a mooring or checking a mooring or scraping off a few midseason barnacles, the smell follows him wherever he might go and, despite scrubbing, it hangs about for a few days.

To walk for any distance across this mud in long boots requires practicing a simple skill., a description of which is in danger of sounding like the truly odious Augustus Carp’s description of how, soon after he was sixteen, he learned how to descend from an omnibus in motion without the sacrifice of an erect position. Here, however, goes! The serious mudwalker must stride or slide confidently and flatfootedly forward and then withdraw his rear foot from the mud exaggerating the pointing of the toe of the foot downwards into the ooze before pulling the boot out in such a way that leg and foot are as near as possible aligned. Moreover the walker must walk somewhat bowlegged and so that he places his feet a goodly distance apart. Once this knack has been mastered it is there for life. The mudbanks of the kingdom become the healthy playground of the intrepid, bow legged mudwalker.

To stand still on the mud for more than a few seconds is to invite disaster. If stopping and staring is absolutely necessary then great care must be taken before moving off . It is at this point that many a man loses his balance much to the amusement of those that witness the fall. I might have written ‘man or woman’ except in all my years of mudwalking I have not yet met a woman walking on the mudbanks. There is, however, hardly a square foot of mud where a woman’s foot has never trod. A century ago these mudbanks were wandered over by an army of women and children who went down to the tide dressed fantastically and clutching rakes and baskets to collect the shellfish.

Coming soon: More mud.

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