Everything you need to know about the Maldon Mud Race
PUBLISHED: 12:13 22 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:13 22 May 2018
Byrhtnoth, one of Maldon's most famous sons, is still remembered for his part in the Battle of Maldon, protecting the port against Viking invaders, but Petra Hornsby meets a new breed of locals taking on an altogether different battle
Maldon, one of the oldest recorded towns in Essex, is situated on the Blackwater Estuary. It was once a prime target for invading Vikings, largely due to its accessibility for their ships and the fact that it was already an established and successful working port.
Resident Anglo-Saxons put up a brave defence after the initial attack in 924 but, after several engagements and skirmishes, were later defeated during the bloody Battle of Maldon in 991. Byrhtnoth, the brave Saxon warrior who met his death against the marauding Norsemen, is honoured by a statue in the town and a commemorative window in St Mary’s Church records the historic event.
It is said that the Vikings were paid a substantial amount of money to bring an end to the battle and limit further bloodshed and damage to the port.
Maldon’s Hythe Quay, although no longer a working port, is still an attraction for tourists, although any misbehaving Scandinavians are asked politely to stay away! Handsome Thames Sailing Barges, which once carried cargoes of straw and hay up the Thames for city-dwelling horses, are still a feature of the quayside, with several still moored there.
The boats are still in use but their commercial purpose has changed as they are used for educational trips for students or for bird watching and sightseeing by locals and tourists. The very noticeable orange sails of the barges are coloured that way thanks to the materials used for water-proofing them – yellow ochre, cod oil and their reaction to the effects of sea water.
Every year there is a Barge Sailing Race which is an impressive sight, but there is another event that brings many visitors to the town – an altogether more gritty, mucky and rather noisome spectacle.
The Maldon Mud Race is the type of event that highlights the quirkiness of the British. Since it began in 1973 (in spite of a change of venue and some health and safety concerns resulting in a halt to it taking place for a few years) it remains hugely popular. The race itself is a 400 yard ‘dash’ across the extremely muddy bed of the River Blackwater.
The tradition began when a local resident challenged the landlord of the Queen’s Head public house to a dare which involved serving a meal on the saltings of the River Blackwater dressed in a dinner jacket. The challenge was successfully carried out and the following year a new challenge was proposed.
About 20 people made a mad dash across the river bed, drank a pint of beer served from a bar set up on the saltings and hurried back across. The Maldon Mud Race was born!
The date of the race was traditionally scheduled for a winter Bank Holiday – either Boxing Day or New Year’s Day – with often freezing conditions providing additional challenges to both organisers, participants and onlookers.
Exceptionally cold weather in the winter of 2010 delayed the race until the spring of 2011, which proved to be a great success. As a result of this, the organisers have opted for an even warmer time of year this time around and in 2018 the race takes place on Sunday, June 10.
Leigh Hemmings, who has been involved in promoting the race for several years, explains: “We are hoping the warm weather will attract in the region of 20,000 people to the town to watch the race. There will also be a large funfair and various stalls selling artisan foods and drinks to add to the day. While waiting for the tide to go fully out there will also be a duck race – a bit of fun for people to enter on the day.
“The number of entrants for the mud race is limited to 300 for safety reasons and those taking part range from absolute beginners to marathon runners and those who specialise in stamina events. The fittest will make the crossing in five minutes but others could take over two hours to complete the 400 yards. There is no time limit – other than the incoming tide!”
There might be some who think that the distance isn’t too great and can’t be that much of a challenge, but past contestants would soon put them right.
Leigh says: “It is much harder than people perhaps think, with one woman even describing the experience as harder than childbirth!”
Their contribution, however, certainly pays off as each entrant pledges to raise a minimum of £50 in sponsorship. This and other donations coming in via a Just Giving page mean that the event raises several thousand pounds for charities and local causes. In 2017, £30,000 was raised for local charities and other nominated causes.
Leigh continues: “It is such a fun display with many people dressing up in fancy costume and, over the years, we have attracted great media coverage from both local and national news sources and from across the world, including Germany and Japan. It certainly captures the spirit of local tradition and eccentricity.”
The Maldon Mud Race website provides important information for visitors heading to Maldon for the event and – for those wanting to take part – includes some very useful tips and a basic kit list.
The website also lists the nominated charities that are helped through fundraising and the local businesses that sponsor and support the race.
The race starts from Promenade Park and for confirmation on the start time (tide dependent) and parking information, interested spectators should visit maldonmudrace.com
Maldon is certainly a town keen to hang on to its traditions which one day may be as significant historically as its passionate defence against the Vikings.
Thankfully the term bloody battle can happily be substituted for muddy battle — and long may it continue that way.