There is nothing more relaxing than a walk on the soft ground underneath a big big sky, feeling the wind and watching out for all those little animals that live in the mudflats - and, which is singular for Cuxhaven, watching the big ships entering or leaving the river Elbe. The mudflats are part of the "Nationalpark Deutsches Wattenmeer", thus a protected piece of nature.
10-15 kms of dry sea bottom can be walked at low tide. You can walk out from the beaches outside Duhnen and Döse and also from Sahlenburg. There ground is solid. However, avoid the part between Duhnen and Sahlenburg where the salt meadows are, there it is soft and muddy and dangerous.
Wind and sunlight and clouds put on a show for free over the tidelands. The sky looks always different, often dramatic. The photos here are just random examples. I carried my camera whenever I was walking to the seashore...
What is so fascinating about walking the muddy tidelands? A question I am often asked. Isn’t it boring?
No it isn’t, at least to me. It is one of the most relaxing activities on Earth. It appeals to all senses.
Looking at the big big sky and the often dramatic clouds, and the endless horizon. Feeling the wind and the splashing shallow water that quickly warms up with the sun.
Smelling and tasting the fresh salty sea air. Feeling the ground around your feet – sometimes soft and muddy, sometimes sandy, sometimes more solid with a pattern of little ripples or waves, sometimes a tickle from a baby fish or shrimp.
Hearing the wind and the screams of the birds.
The tidelands tell of eternal change. Panta rhei, everything is flowing.
The water is constantly rising and falling and changes the structures of the ground and the water currents within minutes. Animals move with the changing tides. The only permanent structures are those that humans built. In the nature of the tidelands, nothing ever stays the same.
Walking the mudflats is safe during low tide and good weather if, and only if, you observe a few rules:
Tide calendar on the beach promenade
1. Check the tide calendar, take a watch and observe the hours!!! The time of the next high tide (Hochwasser) and low tide (Niedrigwasser) as well as the hours for swimming/bathing (Badezeit) and tideland hiking (Wattlaufzeit) are displayed on blackboards as in photo 2 everywhere at the entrances to the beach. Check because the hours of the tides change daily.
The end of walking time the calendar states is the hour of the lowest tide. You've still got some time till the water returns, but get back to the land side of the last Priel soon. The water comes faster than you imagine. Printouts of the tide calendar or blackboards with the up to date information are on display at all beach entrances. Make sure you understand what it says.
2. If the ground feels too muddy, turn around. Avoid the area outside the salty meadows between Duhnen and Sahlenburg.
Priel at low tide
3. Take care when crossing a Priel, the waterflows where the water leaves last and comes back first. Take care when crossing a Priel (water current), the current may be strong. If the water becomes too deep, better not continue.
3. Watch your steps. Broken shells have sharp corners, and some crabs might show a nasty sense of humour.
4. Do not set out on foggy or rainy days with bad visibility or if a thunderstorm is approaching.
5. Don't go too far unless you're with a local who knows.
When the red balls on the beach are pulled up, it is time to turn back towards the shore. At the life-saving stations on the beach, a red ball is pulled up when the tides change to call tideland hikers back to the shore. They pull it up right after low tide has reached its lowest level. If you are far out, this means it is time to turn round and return. Close to the beach you can still keep walking for a while, but don’t go too far, don't cross any Priel in outward direction any more.
The red ball can also indicate dangerous weather conditions that do not permit bathing or tideland walking. It is the official warning.
Just in case...
Pricken (bushes of birch twigs) mark the route towards the shore.
Big signpost by a main Priel pointing the directions to the shore and to the rescue baskets
Rescue baskets are put up far out, in case someone gets stuck beyond the Priels. The water out there will go up to the red or even the green ring on the pole! The basket is supposed to hold up to 7 people. Not exactly comfortable!
The life saver guys are on the watch. But if they have to come and get you and it's your own fault, you'll face a nice big bill!
The Flood Rolling In
The effect of the rising flood is rather impressive. The water pulls in at the speed of a walking person. This isn't dangerous close to shore as the water is still shallow and you can easily walk back to the beach with the flood.
However, you cannot see how deep the water actually is. In the sandy water you do not see Priele or holes any more, and stumbling into these deeper water currents can cause distress or even drowning.
So turn around in time, and make sure you are landside from the last Priel before the water rises.
After observing the rising of the flood once, you'll understand why it is so important to know the times of the changing tides.
Wildlife in the Mudflats
Don't step on me!
There is always something for hungry beaks
At first sight, the mudflats look like a boring patch of flat brownish mud, and nothing else. But they are full of life. Worms and shells, little snails, shrimps, fish larvae, crabs, jellyfish populate it. Various specieses of water birds feed on them. In spring and autumn millions of wandering birds use the tidelands for a rest during their long journey. Guided tours in the mudflats (Wattführungen) are a great way to learn more about the amazing variety of life in this delicate ecosystem. There are guided tours of all kinds, for kids, families, or adults, and even guided hiking tours across to the island of Neuwerk. Visit the tourist information office - there is one in each suburb - for details and times.
You will notice all this life very soon. During your first walks in the mudflats you will probably, just like I did, panic when something tickles your feet. The idea of a crab catching your toes with its pincers isn't too pleasant. In 99% of the cases, the causer is completely harmless and almost invisible. The shallow waters near the beach are full of tiny baby shrimps in late spring, and hardly bigger baby fish during the summer.
Look carefully - there are four baby shrimps in this picture
The ancient law of the sea says: finders keepers. Stranded goods belong to whoever finds them. Modern legislation has a different approach concerning the load of stranded ships. Most likely you won’t find a whole super tanker full of petrol on the beach, though. When small items are concerned, this old law is still common usage and opinion. Our Wattwagen coachman told me that he has a whole collection of hats and baseball caps that he picked up on his regular rides to Neuwerk. My own best find was a watch. Quite far out in the tidelands I spotted something glittering among the mud. There was no one in sight who could have lost it, so it must have been there since at least the previous low tide. It is a pretty watch, a standard brand and not too valuable, and it kept running perfectly, and since then I have been wearing it almost every day for more than ten years.
The Salt Meadows Nature Reserve
The stretch of sea shore between Duhnen and Sahlenburg has no beach but salt meadows. At high tide they are partly flooded, at low tide they fall dry.
Queller, a typical plant
that grows between land and sea
The plants that grow here are specialists for salty water and ground. They are a favourite nesting area for many sea birds and a protected nature reserve. In spring and summer, during nesting season, they are totally closed off with fence and gate to have a quiet zone for the birds and their chicks. The paved bike trail that leads through them is not accessible then, you have to take a detour behind the dyke.
Do not try to approach this area from the tidelands either. While the sea bottom outside both Duhnen and Sahlenburg is solid sand, in this area you have pure Schlick, deep soft mud, which is really dangerous. Keep out of the mudflats here.