Opening Statement (updated 04 06 2020)
Some of the great features and pleasures of tidal cultures are what we call ‘low tide walks’. These are, as the name implies, walks that are done on intertidal areas when tides are low.
Any walk on a beach/shore when the tide is out is a low tide walk, and these have great pleasures in themselves.
There is a very obvious and literal way in which intertidal space feels new after the inundation of the previous high tide. Forvexample, on the sandy seaside beaches of Tenby (Wales UK), and so many other resorts, the footprints, the sand graffiti, the sandcastles, even the litter of one day are obliterated by the tide to leave the beach pristine again on the morrow.
This cleaning of the marks of past occupation, and the knowledge that for a while at least this space was aquatic, and deeply non-human, can make intertidal spaces feel fresh, new, and spaces of rejuvenation and even euphoria. This feeling is captured in the novel Angus Grey by Anne Bronte
“My footsteps were the first to press the firm, unbroken sands; nothing before me had trampled them since last night’s flowing tide had obliterated the deepest marks of yesterday, and left it fair even, except where the subsiding water had left behind it the traces of dimpled pools and little running streams. [ ] Refreshed, delighted, invigorated, I walked along, forgetting all my cares, feeling as if I had wings on my feet [ ] and experienced a sense of exhilaration to which I had been an entire stranger since the days of early youth.”
But there are other ‘types’ of low tide walk which are a bit more of an adventure. These could be called ‘extreme low tide walks’. These are walks which can only be done on a few occasions each season, or even a few times each year, at the times of the lowest tides. For example, a walk around a headland, from one bay or beach to another. These are walks are through potentially dangerous terrain, which need planning, research and, in some cases, guidance to undertake.
A favourite low tide walk, and classic example, is the walk north eastwards from Tenby North beach to Waterwynch, Monkstone Point, and on to the next seaside village of Saundersfoot; all along the hard level sand of the foreshore. The first part of this walk can maybe be done a dozen times a year, at each monthly low tide, but the full walk to Saundersfoot, without resorting to some rock scrambling or wading, all along the sand, can only be done at the very lowest tides of the year, maybe a handful of times a year. Two GPS tracked maps of this walk is below. As are a series of photos and some video while doing it.
In some instances, an extreme low tide walk allows a visit to places that are inaccessible by foot most of the time, or which is simply covered by the sea most of the time. Also, in some places, remote wrecks and archaeological sites are fleetingly accessible.
There are many low tide walks in the UK. Not least walks to the 40 or so tidal islands around the shores of the UK.
In the Wadden Sea there is a culture of ‘mud walking’ when the tide is out. This is a form of low tide walking. This is one of the examples that will appear below as we develop this page of the blog.
Thoughts and Memories of Low Tide Walking on Bahía Adair (Mexico) by Heather Green
I (Owain) asked artist and scholar Heather Green, a key collaborator in Tidal Culture matters, e.g. the project Tidal Timespace: Imprints & Palimpsests, the following three questions about low tide walking in Bahía Adair. Thanks for the lovely replies.
- In Bahía Adair do people do walking on the inter-tidal area? How far out? Is it dangerous?
- Are there any islands which can be walked to at low tide, but are surrounded by water at high tide?
- Are there any ‘low tide walks’, like around a headland, that can only be done at low tide?
Yes Bahía Adair is very walkable. The mudflats there go out quite far, during Spring tides the water recedes about 10 kilometers, but even more sometimes. It’s not soft like the Severn—stingrays filter feed on the bottom (a process called bioturbation), bringing up tiny shell fragments and compacting the soil, which keeps the seafloor there quite firm and stable. So it’s possible to walk endlessly, even at night, and not worry about running into soft areas. During spring tides I’ve walked out a great distance at night, about ankle or knee-deep in water, which never got any deeper! It made me uneasy after awhile because I couldn’t tell how far I was and what might happen if the tide came back in. The dangers in these low water areas are places where big fevers of stingrays gather, or if you’re barefoot, shells can be painful to walk on, but otherwise it’s safe to just walk and walk…
Hmm. not really. At low tide it’s possible to walk to the other side of Bahía La Cholla to a hill called Cierro Prieto. You can make it there if you set out as the tide is just starting to ebb, but the tide comes back in with such force, so it’s necessary to walk along the shore on the return home. There are tiny islands formed in the serpentine channels of the esteros… I had much fun playing there as a kid. Further north in Bahía Adair the formations are much larger with grand channels and islands. I’ve never been there! The only way to reach it is by boat.
Yes, below my family’s cabin there’s a rocky cove with fantastic intertidal explorations during low tide. There are margins of coquina (a sedimentary rock formed by mud and fossilized molluscs) that forms a reef and slight barrier. It’s only visible during the lowest tides. It’s possible to snorkel during low tide in fairly shallow water, and explore these mini reefs and canyons of boulders where colorful fish gather. Of course, not everyone likes walking on rocks. So this low tide walk is only frequented by people like myself that love rocks and exploring them.
Low Tide Walk Examples and Map(s)
Low Tide Walk #1: Tenby to Monkstone Point (Wales, UK); along the foreshore at low tide – return by coastal footpath; Oct 16th 2016.
Google Maps shows the tide as in, so the route along the foreshore appears to be in the sea! One headland, which is only passable on the sand at the very lowest tides, is marked.
Don’t forget you can zoom in on the Google Map to see more detail!
To scroll the page, have the pointer/cursor outside the map box. To zoom in – pointer/cursor inside the map box.
Low Tide Walk #2: Tenby to Saundersfoot (Wales, UK); along the foreshore at low tide – return by bus. Sept 29th 2015.
Tenby; Pembrokeshire; UK.
This is really a series of walks between beaches and bays and even coastal villages, which can only be done a handful of times a year.
The low tide walk examples above are on intertidal areas, which are, for the most part, hard sand surfaces. Surfaces of sand that have been compacted and smoothed by the flow and weight of the sea. But intertidal areas consist of a whole range of types of surfaces, including mud. Many estuarine landscapes are a mix of muddy areas, sandy areas, and even rocky areas.
There are traditions of ‘mud walking’ in many tidal areas. These are, or were, often associated with accessing intertidal areas for wayfaring, foraging, fishing and hunting (e.g. wildfowling). In some instances, where mud was soft and deep, forms of shoes where worn to enable mad walking. A video of a traditional form of mud shoe – or mud patten is here.
In even harder terrains devices like mud horses were used. E.g. here.
The above ways of mud walking are usually for fishing / hunting purposes only, not walking for recreation or wayfaring
In the Wadden Sea Holland and Germany) there has been a growth in mud walking, in this world heritage site, as a form of recreation, tourism and exercise. There are examples and adverts for tourism online e.g. here.
There are films of such mud walking which show people wading through deep mud, and wading through water, sometimes at chest height, to cross a channel to get from one sand/mud bank to another. Obviously one needs to know what one is doing, or be with a guide, to do that safely. See here.