This Disorienting Path Is Known As The Deadliest In Britain

Brilliance | Dec. 13, 2017

"Deadly footpath" may sound as paradoxical as "murderous golf course," but danger definitely mixes with leisure on one English trail. That trail is known as the Broomway.

Why It Exists

According to the Saturday Walkers Club, the Broomway dates back to Roman times. It was the original route to the aptly named Foulness Island before a road bridge went up in 1932—though that bridge has since been closed to the public. That's because Foulness Island is owned by the UK Ministry of Defence, which uses it as a missile firing range. As a result, there's only one way to get to the island: the Broomway, which extends out to sea and runs for 5 miles (8 kilometers) along the tidal flats of Maplin Sands.

If The Tide Doesn't Get You...

It's that coastal terrain that makes the path so risky. The Broomway gets its name for the hundreds of brooms once placed along the route to delineate where it was safe to step—that is, where there was sturdy, hard-packed sand and not black mud or quicksand ready to swallow you whole. The brooms have since disappeared, leaving a large expanse with no discerning characteristics to keep a walker on the path except for a lone maypole near one end (and even that, according to the Broomway website, looks "too similar from a distance to use reliably for navigation.").

What could happen if you do get lost? Plenty. Besides the risky terrain (did we mention the quicksand?), there's the tide. The only safe time to walk the Broomway is when the tide goes out. That gives you three hours to walk the 10 miles out and back in ordinary conditions. If you don't make it back in time—say, by accidentally straying off course—the tide rushes back faster than you can run, and you will most likely drown. It's said that the Broomway has killed more than 100 people over the centuries that way. But even without the tide, veering off course could kill you. Remember the firing range? There's an area of the island littered with unexploded missiles that could go off with any minor disturbance. Even with all these risks, people walk the path regularly. Will you be one of them?

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