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The Broomway warning notice

The Broomway warning notice

The Broomway is a tidal byway out to Foulness Island over Maplin Sands at the mouth of the Thames estuary. The route is so called because it used to be marked by branches of Broom placed at regular intervals on the route. However these have long since gone and the path is now unmarked. The path is dangerous because the tide comes in as fast as you can run and there are quick sands and mud in places if you stray off the route. Foulness Island itself is part of a firing range and most of it is "out of bounds" to the public with the exception of the south east corner of the island, which has a couple of villages and farms. The only road to the island can only be used by MOD permit holders, so the only way for the public to reach the island is by boat or by walking the Broomway.

18-May-14 • JonCombe on Flickr

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The Broomway at Wakering Stairs

The Broomway at Wakering Stairs

The start of the Broomway as it heads out onto Maplin Sands.

18-May-14 • JonCombe on Flickr

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The Broomway at Wakering Stairs

The Broomway at Wakering Stairs

Heading out onto the Broomway at Wakering Stairs over the mud flats of Mapin Sands.

18-May-14 • JonCombe on Flickr

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The Broomway on Maplin Sands

The Broomway on Maplin Sands

View out over the vast expanse of mud and sand of the Thames estuary at low tide from the Broomway. The object on the horizon is a wrecked boat.

18-May-14 • JonCombe on Flickr

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The Broomway on Maplin Sands

The Broomway on Maplin Sands

18-May-14 • JonCombe on Flickr

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Asplins Head

Asplins Head

The jetty onto Foulness Island at Asplins Head.

18-May-14 • JonCombe on Flickr

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Broomway warning sign on Foulness Island

Broomway warning sign on Foulness Island

18-May-14 • JonCombe on Flickr

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The Broomway and Foulness Island Walk

Fabled tidal road off the coast off Essex across Maplin Sands to Foulness Island.

Dangerous Tides

Danger of death by drowning or exposure - do not do this walk without understanding the very real dangers!

There is no official 'safe' time of the tide when it is safe to walk The Broomway. The local Public Right of Way Officer's (PROW) advice is that it should ONLY be walked with a local guide.

Length 10 miles (16 km) out and back.
Maps OS Explorer Map: 176 (Blackwater Estuary, Maldon, Burnham-on-Crouch & Southend-on-Sea)
Toughness 3 (flat - depends on mud and depth of water)
Features

OS Map of the Broomway "The Broomway" is the historic route to Foulness Island, dating back to Roman times. It is a public right of way which starts at "Wakering Stairs" on the coast of Essex near Shoeburyness, and heads 300 metres out to sea onto the tidal flats of Maplin Sands. It then runs for several miles parallel to the coasts of Havengore, New England and Foulness Islands. There are several spurs back to farms (and public footpaths) on the the islands. There is quicksand, and the sea comes in faster than you can run. Its easy to get disorientated if a sea fog comes in, and a strong wind can significantly reduce the 'low tide' inter-tidal window. The Broomway was the original route to the island before the advent of a road bridge in the 1930's. Historically, the route was marked by brooms stuck in the sand, but they have long since gone.

Foulness Island is owned by the Ministry of Defence, and operated for them by a private company (QinetiQ) as a missile firing range. There is a road bridge to the Island, but it is closed to the public. There is a village on the island (Churchend), but the road to it has a Police checkpoint and is only open to residents. The only way to get to the Island (and its extensive network of public footpaths) is via the tidal Broomway. However, you have to go out and back via The Boomway during the intertidal 'low tide' window when it is safe to do so.

There is public access to Foulness Island from 12pm-4pm on the first Sunday of the month from April to October (providing you say you wish to visit the Heritage Centre. In theory, if the tide times were right, you could be dropped off at the centre, and walk back via public footpaths to the coast, then The Broomway. Note that the Island's pub is long since closed.

One problem with any potential walk is that out and back along The Broomway is too long. Ideally, it would be a linear walk to Foulness Island finishing in the village of Churchend, then a bus back to your car. While there is a bus to the Island, you must be a resident to use it - they check at the entrance to the firing range. Also, the bus does not run on Sunday, when the Heritage centre is open. QinetiQ/MOD are quite clear - you must go out and back via The Broomway. Note also that you cannot walk along the coast from Shoeburyness Station to Wakering Stairs - there is another MOD Range (Pig Bay) with no public access. The best public transport access is bus #14 to Great Wakering. The #14 route is: Southend-on-Sea - Great Wakering - Shoeburyness or (rarely) Foulness (Churchend).

Essex Council's Public Right of Way Office have declined to give advise on 'safe' tide times to use the Broomway Path. Their advice is that it shouls only be used with a guide. Due to the above restrictions I have not done this walk. Until the local PROW Officer provide definitive advice on tide times, I do not recommend you do either

Other than a short walk out on to the sands from Wakering Stairs (on a falling tide!), this walk is only possible if you have local knowledge, or with the 'Nature Break' tours referenced below.

Note that Wakering Stairs (and the road to it) is also inside a MOD range, and access to it is sometimes restricted for firing. Contact the range officer ( 01702 383211, 0730-1630 Mon-Thu, 0730-1230 Fri) before hand

MOD/Qinetiq's advice

  • The Broomway is not maintained or waymarked. It is wet mud, not sand.
  • The route is not always accessible for the amount of time that the tide tables suggest.
  • The intertidal time can be shortened by an on shore wind or the tide height.
  • Avoid the sands on the seaward side even though they seem firmer as a) potential for unexploded ordnance, and b) unmarked soft sand shell craters (created by explosions).
  • Take a compass and mobile phone
  • "You should ensure that you have sufficient time to return to Wakering Stairs via the Broomway, as (there is no other public rights of way off the island)"
  • Essex County Council Pubic Right Of Way Officer ( 01268 297500 ) for current advice
  • HM Coastguard (01255 675518) - for guidance on tide times.
  • Range Control Office (01702 383211) 0730-1630 Mon-Thu, 0730-1230 Fri. - to check the range is open

Other than by walking

You can visit Foulness by boat if you then keep to the public footpaths

You can use cars, cycles or motorbikes on The Broomway, but besides the tides (it not a place to break down or get stuck!), do be aware of the corrosion sand and salt spray cause.

Links
History

THE HISTORY OF ROCHFORD HUNDRED, By PHILIP BENTON, 1867

Page 219 - 220

It is extremely perilous for any stranger to attempt the passage to or from this island without a guide, but the dangers attending it have been a pleasurable excitement to many. Some farmers would stay to the last, and then race the tide, and swim the creeks. Some of those who have been used to the sands all their lives, have there yielded up their breath, and many hairbreadth escapes are recorded. The present Charles Miller, late surgeon at Great Wakering, who, during his professional duties, occasionally lost his way, formerly possessed an old horse, which upon such an emergency, when the reins were thrown up, her instinct never failed her. Fogs are liable to come on, the tide out of course, and other accidents occur, so that the most experienced may lose their way. Those on foot who attempt the passage through the creeks, should be cautious, as dangerous holes exist; one called Shagsby's (from a man lost there) is on the edge of the saltings at Great Shelford.

The writer was once lost in a fog whilst wild fowl shooting on the sands, and, but for timely assistance, must have lost his life. These fogs at a little distance appear to be a bank, and upon turning round you lose all idea of north, south, east, or west. As a hint to future sportsmen, the author entertained the idea of tying his arm to the muzzle of his gun, (burying the latter in the sand) to simplify the search for his body.

Amongst those who have been drowned upon these occasions was Thomas Jackson, an apothecary, in the year 1711, who was buried at Rochford. Thomas Miller, surgeon, of Great Wakering, son of Morton Miller, of the same place, was likewise lost coming from Foulness, August 21st, 1805, aged 45. He was on horseback, and was discovered swimming in the haven by some men in a barge, who conducted him to Land Wick blackgrounds, and it is supposed his horse afterwards threw and kicked him, as a mark of the shoe appeared on his temple.

One of the most distressing events of this nature occured in 1836, when two poor girls named Chittocks and Bates were found dead, not drowned, but exhausted from cold, wet, and fright. Although entreated to stay at Wakering, they refused, as they expected to meet their sweethearts on the opposite side. The night was a frightful one, incessant rain, with frequent flashes of forked lightning. Nearly all Foulness attended their funeral.

In 1857, William Harvey, a shepherd, was drowned, in consequence, it is thought, of having been led astray by the Horns light. Another of these victims was Gardner, of Havengore, Mr. Archer's son in law. He was extremely deaf, and being set down from a cart near his own head-way, wandered from the track. His cries were heard from the shore, but on account of his infirmity he did not hear his would-be deliverers. It would have been dangerous to leave the land in total darkness, and the shrieks of lost persons have been imitated.

One of the most recent casualties was that of an unfortunate Irish policeman, who, from a sense of duty, having a paper to deliver, remained too long in the island, and though warned, would attempt the passage, and was overtaken and lost his life, by the raging water at the first creek.

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Start: Stairs Road, Great Wakering, Essex, SS3 9XE Directions

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National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234

Version

Feb-17

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