In Praise of Mud…

In Praise of Mud...

Bigging Up the Sticky Stuff

Mud gets a bad press...

It often strikes me as the slightly embarrassing relative of the landscape photography world – barely acknowledged, just about tolerated, frequently ignored.

I love mud.  We moved down to Bristol 8 years or so ago, having lived for 20 years in London.  There are many things that strike you about this city – the open-mindedness, the easy access to greenery and fresh air, the number of campervans per head of population… but (the Suspension Bridge aside), iconic landscape photography venues isn’t really one of them.

At the time…

…I’d been working up in Leeds with my day job (I’m an actor), and I’d had pretty much unrestricted access to the Yorkshire Dales and Heritage Coast for 3 glorious years.  What. A. Place. You name it, it’s got it.  Plus all sorts of extra bits you’re not expecting, too.  

So when we moved down to Bristol, my first thought was to head out with my camera and, as in the Dales, seek out the nearest mountains and waterfalls.  Nothing doing (unless you go to Wales).  Limestone pavement? Nope.  Surely there must at least be some mighty waves crashing into a wild shoreline somewhere closeish by? None of the above.  I sulked for a bit, before asking myself the question I should have asked in the first place: so what DOES it have?

The answer is Mud.  Loads of it.  Once you start noticing it, you see it everywhere.

The Bristol Channel has a tidal range of 15 metres, one of the highest in the world.  The upshot of this, and the funnel shape that the water collects in, is that the water, both in the channel and the tidal waterways that feed it, is unusually muddy.  It leaves a sediment everywhere it goes.   Including the beaches.  It’s not an accident that the Bristol Channel has one of the highest concentrations of Lidos and Marine Pools anywhere in the country.

So for the past 8 years I’ve been doing an ongoing project on the brown stuff, and the places it collects.  All the way along the channel from Burnham-on-Sea to the Severn Crossing, and plenty of the nooks, crannies, and tributaries in between.

The photographic possibilities are legion.  A suspension of sand, soil and water, mud reflects whatever happens to be around it: beautiful greys in flat light, deep reds and yellows at sunset, blues as darkness falls.

Its form is constantly changing too: on every tide, its consistency (somewhere between jelly and, let’s be honest, poo) gives it a malleable quality that fashions shapes and contours at will.  A bit like sand, but with a superpower: softer, stickier, shinier.  Its relationship to the water that surrounds it, drains from it and is itself part of it, is intimate and direct.  No two visits are ever the same.

Above all, I find it particularly rewards close inspection: getting amongst it, wading through it, and yes getting stuck in it (ideally not on an incoming tide), that’s where the real action is.  You can of course stand on the banks and point a long lens at it if you wish, but getting up close and personal, coming out wet, knackered and well, very very muddy, is for me all part of the joy.  

Interested in taking the plunge?  I recommend big wellies, cheap waterproofs and a strong hose.  Oh, and a not very expensive car to get you home.

* First published by the UK Landscape Photographer of the Year April 2021