Danger - Weston’s super mud!

* WITH 12 people rescued by hovercraft from Weston’s sands this year alone, Mercury reporter, James Franklin, took part in a special training exercise designed to show the dangers of the resort’s famous mud.

FROM the safety of the beach, the sea does not look too far away. Close enough perhaps that you might be able to get there and back in a quick trip before the tide comes in.

A few steps into the mud and you re-evaluate that opinion. Weighed down as I am by a drysuit and hefty boots meant to keep me warm throughout the exercise, it takes only a few steps before you realise it will not be as easy as it first looks.

After 10 metres it becomes harder and harder to lift your feet out of the greyish-brown sludge beneath you to plant your foot down again, while the mud accumulates on your boot to weigh you down even more.

By the time my fellow ‘casualty’ – Weston’s fire station manager Steve Bagg – and I reach Black Rock, a rocky outcrop jutting out from the mud at the southernmost end of Weston Bay by the mouth of the River Axe, I desperately need a break and the rocks provide a welcome opportunity for respite.

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After a breather we set off again, but the mud is even thicker and deeper than before, and after a few metres more we stop at the point where we will be rescued by Steve’s colleagues from Avon Fire and Rescue, and the Coastguard.

By this point I have come to a definite conclusion – walking in the mud is not fun. Even allowing for the weighty suit, it is clear at this point that exhaustion is probably the most dangerous thing facing us. It makes me realise how attempts to hurry back in the face of an oncoming tide would be almost futile.

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Luckily for us there is no need to hurry, as Firefly, the fire service’s hovercraft that was first launched in 2008, soon arrives on the scene with two firefighters and two members of the coastguard.

For the purpose of the exercise I have to feign a broken leg, so I lie perfectly still on top of the mud while I am lifted onto a stretcher and then onto the hovercraft.

The ride back to the waiting fire engines takes a matter of minutes, but only three years ago a similar rescue would have taken Coastguard volunteers well over an hour to execute.

Within half an hour of my arrival back on the beach, the sea has already advanced to within metres of where we were, and half an hour beyond that it is completely under water – the pace at which the sea comes in really is quite frightening, and would especially be so if you were stuck out in the mud, exhausted and on your own.

Since launching in 2008 Firefly has rescued 21 people and two dogs, and has been called out on numerous other occasions where people have managed to get themselves back onto the beach, or which have turned out to be false alarms.

Watch officer Peter Coombs said of the craft: “There is no doubt that having Firefly has saved lives in the past three years. It allows us to get out to people quickly, when sometimes time can be very important.

“Although most of the people we have rescued are not from the area, some are so it is important that everyone knows just how dangerous it can be out there. It looks like it is easy to walk in and out but it isn’t, and it could be very dangerous for you and others with you.”

Having just experienced Weston’s famous mud first hand, I am in no doubt about that.

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