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Wadlopen | © jose1964/Pixabay
Wadlopen | © jose1964/Pixabay

Wadlopen: the Strange Dutch Sport of Mud-Walking

Picture of Tom Coggins
Updated: 31 January 2018

During certain times of the year, groups of hikers traipse across mudflats located in the Wadden Sea in order to experience pristine, stretches of coastline, or reach islands that are usually cut off from the Dutch mainland. This unusual sport is known as Wadlopen and is recognised as a national pastime in the Netherlands.

Due to the region’s unique geography, in the northern reaches of the Netherlands it is possible to walk between large tracts of land that are usually covered by the sea in the northern reaches. These areas mainly run alongside the coast of the country’s two, most northerly provinces, Friesland and Groningen. Both of these provinces are famous for their stunning, rugged coastlines, which were recently inscribed onto UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Although it might seem simple enough, hiking across mudlflats is actually quite perilous. For instance, the weather can become severe very quickly and hikers must pay close attention to changing tides. In fact it is illegal in the Netherlands for hikers to chart courses across the mudflats without a certified guide and many routes are usually off limits to the public.

Fortunately, there are several government approved foundations in Groningen and Friesland that organise excursions over the mudflats, which welcome hikers of all stripes. Popular treks include a three hour, 12 kilometre excursion from Friesland to Ameland island which trails over mud, sea and sand, and several stunning routes that head north from Pieterburen in Groningen, which can be undertaken at night.

Most routes call for reliable footwear and other, durable clothing that is able to withstand the elements. However, every route is different and sometimes hikers only need to turn up with sandals, a t-shirt and shorts, whereas at other times it is necessary to wear heavy-duty waterproofs and sturdy, wellington boots. As such it is always important to research a route before joining an excursion.