By Richard Welch

It’s one of those things that nice people don’t mention except to warn their children to keep away from. Personally I think mud has a lot going for it. Some local walk leaders have even built a reputation on finding the best quality mud in Darkest Hertfordshire!

If you find one of those rare Bogland maps, first published in 1920 by H.M.S.O. (Heep, Mire, Squelch & O’Really), you’ll notice that the mud contours are particularly dense in the area of Essendon. That’s where Jeff Bateman led a party of six on 14 February. We called in at the Bayford Arms for lunch, and a good time was had by all. Now back to the mud.

It’s fascinating stuff. Have you noticed that after plodding across a ploughed field and collecting tons of mud on your boots the field looks completely unchanged? And, although mud is a lot denser than water you can’t float in it. Like snow you can slip on it and fall, but you can’t ski over it! It can be considered messy, but I’ve found there is no need to clean my boots as the layer of dried mud grows to a thickness of one inch and no more. This has done wonders for my leg muscles.

Yes, mud can be dangerous. This usually happens when the mud is not in its normal habitat – I’m sure you’ve seen signs proclaiming “DANGER MUD ON ROAD”. However, life just wouldn’t be the same without it. Some women use a special mud to slap on their faces as a beauty aid. Perhaps there’s a connection with women wrestling in mud? Soldiers use it as camouflage. Many people travel great distances to be covered in hot volcanic mud with a nasty smell. Apparently it has a therapeutic value. Animals also make use of mud. Many cover themselves with mud as protection against insect bites, and the African mudfish hibernates during the dry season curled up inside a ball of mud.

In a more practical vein, it can be used to cook dead animals such as fish and hedgehogs. It’s also used in making bricks, and mud huts. Rice is grown in mud covered in shallow water. Fishermen dig around on mud-flats to find live bait. Clay is used in making earthenware pots etc., and a special kind of mud is pumped down oil wells.

However, all is not well in the world of mud. I see in the February 1988 issue of Great Outdoors that the Swedes have invented a chemical preparation called Solidry. This stuff “has the effect of stabilising oozing peat and clay into a firm substance which can withstand the passage of thousands of boots”. Aargh! Could this spell the end of mud as we know it (and even the green wellie, okay yaah)?!! Perhaps the time is right for the launch of the KCC (Keep it Claggy Club), dedicated to the preservation of muddy footpaths!

Copyright (c) 2009 St. Albans Adventure Group. This article was first published in the group magazine Stagger in October 1988.