Wadden Sea, the northern part of Holland

It’s my birthday next month and every time on that day I have to think of the memorable trip to the Wadden Sea we made in 1996.

An unexpected adventure

mudflat hikingMy 43rd birthday was nearly my last one. As I slowly sank into the Wadden Sea I saw in my mind a tombstone with twice the same day and month on it. Funny how the mind works at a time like that.

I wasn’t the only one in trouble, our guide who had a 20-kilo backpack to attend to, had a hard time as well swimming against the waves. A friend rescued him; my husband rescued me.

This happened on my first Wad Walk and it didn’t stop me from going back year after year to this beautiful part of the Netherlands, the Wadden.

Mudflat hiking: Tours are from April until October and individuals can participate.
A tour consists of a maximum of 150 participants.

Mudflat hiking – we call it the Wad Walk

mudflat walking

In 1996 one of our friends asked us to come along on a tour. We wanted to walk from the coast of Groningen to Schiermonnikoog. And we really called it a Wad Walk, in English, and not the Waddentocht in Dutch because of our friend’s English wife.

Our group of 20 joined the regular tour to Simonszand, a sandbank between the islands Schiermonnikoog and Rottumerplaat, from where we would go on with our own two guides.
At one point we would cross the fairway by boat. The rest of the walk was supposed to be a piece of cake.

wading in the wadden sea
The depth of the water varies. The guides have to look for a wadable spot in deeper gullies

The sound on the Wadden is amazing. The cries of birds, the hustling of the wind. Even the people muffle their voices in this atmosphere.

guiding the tour on the Wadden
One guide – Mark – was always in the front, the other one in the back

Nature’s own will – you’d better be careful

Usually the purpose of Mudflat hiking is to keep in touch with the ground at all times. You might go chest deep through a gully but swimming is out of the question.

That weekend it was spring tide with a northwestern wind coming in. Two factors that pushed the water with great force from the North Sea into the Wadden Sea. On top of that we left late so the tide was against us.

After we were transferred by the boat and walked on in the direction of the island, we suddenly encountered another deep gully. We didn’t mind and wanted to swim to the other side, but the guide was against it because of the regulations. He tried time and again to feel how deep the gully was with his stick, making us lose several more precious minutes in which the water kept flowing in.

The boat that took us to the other side of the deep channel

wading too deep
One more shot before I had to go in too

A brand-new camera – keeping my belongings on my head

Eventually the guide had to give in and we were preparing to swim. Most of our belongings were in a plastic bag in the backpack and I was going to hold my sweater and my camera on top of my head.

still smilingI am a good swimmer, but at one point I felt everything sliding from my head and I was really afraid my new camera was going under and would be lost. That’s why I forgot how to swim and began to sink to the bottom.

Those were exhilarating minutes, but I survived.
My husband took everything from me, that why I am walking here with bare hands. 🙂

Should you ever have the possibility of going on a Mudflat Hikingtour then don’t let this story prevent you from doing that. It is absolutely great and an amazing experience.

Walking on water, who doesn’t want to do that?

Occupants of the Wad
How cute

We didn’t see any seals that first year. There had been a disease among the seal population and lots of them had died.
In Pieterburen is a seal crèche and thanks to the good care of those people the seals are back in large numbers.

Addition from the guide

When Mark read my story he send me this:

Wadden024“We walked to Simonszand and were on the west side of the eilanderbalg transferred by the Noordster. We were dropped on the eastern part of Schiermonnikoog, the Balg.
NorthWest wind was Beaufort 6. This meant that the Noordster was wobbling enormously. Skipper was the 16-year old son of the usual skipper.
Our group walked westward on the Balg and after half an hour we came to a deep gully running through Schiermonnikoog. Because of the NW-wind the water was heavily pushed up into that trench. My information from other guides was that you could easily walk through that channel. In hindsight you can conclude that information was not accurate, and it certainly was not accurate at that moment. My lesson was not to trust information I didn’t explore myself first.
After a few attempts trying to find a way to walk to the other side we decided to swim. We had to get over that gully somehow. I was relieved everybody knew how to swim.
My backpack was on my stomach and I swam on my back to the other side. But the backpack was getting heavier and heavier soaking up water and pushed me underwater more and more. Someone in the group that made it to the other side came back to help me.
Eventually everyone arrived in the village Schiermonnikoog safely. It is still the talk of the town and called the ‘mother of all trips’!
What struck me immediately after the swimming was that some participants were ecstatic that I had planned it this way and that they really had to swim. At the same time it had scared the shit out of me.
I have been a guide for 48 years on the mudflats. And I’ve had three really anxious and life-threatening moments.
Today, nothing bad happens anymore, everything is so regulated. But if I am talking with the older guides, we all have stories like that. It has made us good guides. We have faced danger and we survived.”

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