You can wallow in it, make pies with it, even smear it all over your face. But in The Netherlands they have a different use for mud. They walk across it for fun, striking out from the coast of Friesland at low tide to the Wadden Islands, a string of four islands between 10km and 20km offshore: an energetic pastime that goes right to the heart of the Dutch fascination with water and, well, primeval ooze.
It’s a tough but rewarding pastime, and one you’re not allowed to do on your own. Only experienced guides are allowed across the mudflats: the depth of the stuff is variable and the tides inconsistent – sometimes there’s not much margin for error between tides – and in any case despite all the mud there are always deep channels left behind, even at low tide, and it pays to know where they are. You also have to get up early: most group treks start around 6am, and can take anything from three to six hours to reach your final destination. You need to be properly equipped: knee-high socks and high-top trainers are a good idea, as is a warm sweater and cagoule; and a complete change of clothes stashed in a watertight pack. It’s freezing when you start and can be pretty hot by the time you finish, so dress in layers. But above all wear shorts; whatever happens you’re going to get covered in mud, so you may as well not weigh yourself down with mud-caked trousers.
Real hard-cases go to Terschelling, one of the prettiest and liveliest islands, but at 18km and six hours also by far the most gruelling choice, especially as for a lot of the time you’re wading through water rather than mud; in fact they don’t let you try it unless you’ve already completed the easier trip to Ameland, which takes about half the time and manages mostly to avoid the water. On the other side, a tractor will take you to a café in the main village where you can devour one of the best and most well-earned late breakfasts of your life.