This is a website with information (and in particular information for walkers) on the Broomway, the notorious tidal path off the Essex coast.
Right of way
The Broomway is a Byway Open to All Traffic, which means that the public is entiled to drive any kind of vehicle over it, rather than traffic being restricted to certain kinds as would be the case with a public footpath or public bridleway.
This public right of way is important, not merely because there is no general automatic public right of way over the foreshore (i.e. the intertidal zone), but because Maplin Sands, the intertidal zone over which the Broomway passes, is a Site of Special Scientic Interest, and trespassing on such sites can have more serious consequences than ordinary trespass.
The fact that it is a public right of way is also important because, in a sense, that is all the Broomway is. It used to be marked with bundles of sticks tied to poles (hence its name), but it is no longer so marked, and there is no track. For much of its length, therefore, is is nothing more than the public's right to pass and repass over it.
Route and access
As with all public rights of way the route of the Broomway is marked on Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 maps. It leaves the mainland of Essex at Wakering Stairs, where there is a causeway out to Maplin Sands, which are separated from the coast by a band of nasty mud called the Black Grounds. Once out upon the sands the Broomway curls round to the north east, runs parallel to the coast, passes the mouth of Havengore Creek, continues to run parallel to the coast, and then crosses back over to what is (at this latitude) the coast of Foulness Island, by means of a series of further causeways.
In order even to get as far as Wakering Stairs, however, it is necessary to pass over Ministry of Defence land to which access is restricted. Generally speaking it is possible to drive through the checkpoint on Sundays, and sometimes on Saturdays. It is advisable to call QinetiQ (who manage the site on behalf of the MoD) in advance and ask if there will be public access to Wakering Stairs on the day of your intended visit. The number is 01702 383211 (0730-1630 Monday-Thursday 0730-1230 Friday), and there is more information here (pdf). Access to Foulness Island is also restricted for similar reasons, and so unless special arrangements have been made, a Broomway walk from Wakering Stairs involves reaching Foulness Island, turning round, and going back the same way to the mainland.
Safety and navigation
Walking the Broomway is exceptionally dangerous, because navigation in such self-similar terrain is difficult even in good conditions of visibility, and because the tide comes in extremely fast. It is quite easy to get lost on Maplin Sands, and if a walker gets lost out there he or she is almost certain to drown. So two things are absolutely crucial to a Broomway expedition: a compass, and tide times.
The tide times for Southend-on-Sea are suitable. Plan your walk to begin roughly three hours after high tide, after which time the sea has retreated from Maplin Sands, making them passable, but the tide is still going out and therefore does not represent an immediate threat. In theory this will provide three hours of safety before the tide starts coming back in again (it is not advisable to be still out on Maplin Sands after the tide has started coming back in again). Three hours is ample time to walk to Foulness Island and back in ordinary conditions. Do note that strong easterly winds can reduce the amount of time during which the sands are exposed.
It would be foolhardy to attempt a Broomway walk in poor visibility, but even in good visibility careful navigation is required. The route is not marked and there is no track. In addition, there are few features on the coast to use as navigational reference points, and the various objects sticking out from the sands (even the superficially distinctive "maypole" near the Wakering Stairs end of the Broomway) all look too similar from a distance to use reliably for navigation. The walker is therefore required to maintain a bearing and simply rely on dead reckoning to be sure of his or her location. Naturally a GPS device can offer support but it is not in itself enough; a person who does not have the necessary navigation skills should not attempt a Broomway walk.
It is tempting to stray to seaward from the Broomway because the environment of Maplin Sands is so enchanting, but it is not recommended. As well as the increased danger of drowning, and the fact that it constitutes a trespass over a Site of Special Scientific Interest, there is the risk of encountering unexploded ordnance from the firing on Foulness Island.
As regards clothing and footwear, it should be borne in mind that conditions out on Maplin Sands are extremely exposed. If it is cold and windy inland it will be much colder and windier out on the sands. So wrap up warm unless the conditions are very mild indeed. The walk out to the sands is not particularly comfortable underfoot, and so something like trainers, wellies or flip flops (or anything that you don't mind getting wet and muddy) are recommended for that part of the walk. Once you are out there, and if it is warm enough, the best way to go is barefoot.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I cannot accept liability for loss or injury resulting from reliance being placed on any of the above information. The Broomway is notoriously dangerous, and if you walk it you do so at your own risk.
About this site: my name is David Quentin and I grew up in Southend-on-Sea, which is just around the coast from the Broomway. I am a photographer, and I accompanied Robert Macfarlane on the Broomway walk described in his 2012 book The Old Ways (and pictured opposite). My photographs of the walk were published by Penguin Books, and exhibited in London gallery 4 Windmill Street, in March 2013. Further information may be found at www.silt-exhibition.com.