Monthly Archives: November 2017

Smugglers cove

The best accomplice ever – the enthusiastic researcher.

Now we know – don’t plan – all we need to do is get there. Will it be rough? How cold? Forget that, its sunrise, it will be perfect.

Our whispers echo on the rock carved smugglers tunnel.

Opening out onto pure unsullied bronze sand and a copper sunrise. Sea birds pierce the water membrane. Leathery seaweed litters the sand.

Looking back to my last sea swim two weeks ago it was 15 degrees then – so I reckon 13 degrees now.

I’m on the cusp of learning – with winter swimming – never look back.

Strip off, walk in, reach out to the sunrise. The contrast with yesterday’s peaty river currents – just one degree warmer at 9 degrees, so much floatier.

Now for my accomplice. Implausible with the age gap – I’ve started to feel maternal pride for her. She takes it further than yesterday. I love adventurous fast learners.

Excited dog walkers want to know how it feels. They tell of fairytale pools on the moors with slimy natural rock water chutes. We wish we had another day for that rush. We’re not careful what we wish for.

The salty chill is part of us now and forever. Every shell and drip of cliff filtered spring water is registered crystal clear in our minds. We don’t have to worry about the past – we’ve got it. We never need to look back – we are free to be curious about the future.

The River Dart swim

What would most people with a swimming habit do in a regional English City while visiting a long lost friend?

The conventional wisdom says head for the municipal pool. This one’s burnt out by a sauna fire but even if it wasn’t, our unconventional wisdom says there’s a better opportunity a few miles away on the moor.

I have a willing but inexperienced accomplice. It’s not very safe because the last river swim she did was in August four years ago. Then there were hoards of locals with barbecues , ghetto blasters, dogs with their wild human friends cliff bombing into the river on the top of the moor. We’re planning a maximal experience – because we’re project managers. Without doing any permanent damage. We’re mums so we’re habitual health and safety risk assessors for ourselves and our children. We’re not going to be limited by fear though. And she trusts me. I love her for that.

We bring gloves and a Thermos flask of tea plus fun size Crunchies. That’s it. A few mitigations to warm up fast after an immersion is a sharp idea.

We find lots of kayakers in the car park but we can’t find the spot she remembers from that summer 4 years ago. So we ask. We love him because he is an adverturer and doesn’t dissaprove. The river is running very fast and powerfully.

Following a path along the river and at last it opens out to something that’s more of a pool. The kayakers are slingshotting round the far side of the bend in the river rip tide, just under the cliff.

Strip off. Feel our way in-past the boulders. She is madly excited. I’m assured – holding steady for the maximum intense chill. This is the coldest plunge of the year yet for me. I estimate 8 degrees. I wish I could feel what she feels though.

We cling on to the roots in the water not to be swept away. It’s touch and go.

Our kayaker swings past. He’s delighted we found the place. His kayak is specially designed to slice the water and unlike the slingshotters, he’s a pirouetting spinning top.

The contrast of the expert with 10 years of practice, and the limits of the instant gratification thrill seekers. We’ll get bored soon and by next year want the new high of throwing ourselves from the cliffs. Are men different? I’d like to know. Is there a man open enough to help us experience what its like to be him? There is – and its her man.

We get out and stand semi naked in the November drizzle feeling warm. We’ve been recalibrated. We feel everything differently. A family of wild ponies canter up to congratulate us and passing walkers agree to take snaps of our cross – species celebration.

It’s so different and so much better than we planned. Let’s not plan again. All it takes is to get here and get started.

She’s caught the bug. My original wild swim friend is oblivious – here on this moor in November he has infected another. I was a follower now I’m a leader and so is she. She’s bringing her man with her.

The winter swim blogs – 1

A few years ago in the Christmas week I had a mini adventure in my lunch break from work. I had never swum in cold water before but a friend said I’d like it. He saw I was completely messed up in my head. He knew how to get it sorted.

The life guards at the Kings Cross pond were caring and suggested that I sizzle my skin in the tiny gypsy caravan of a sauna. There was just me and him. The sizzle made the entry to the water so much smoother. It was 8 degrees. I loved the pain of the firing synapses in the skin – my body’s interface – as much as pleasure. I swam around in the reeds – got out – warmed up in the sauna – got in again and after 20 minutes rinsed off in the cold – seeming hot – outdoor showers and we went back to work.

I thought – I’m good at this. I don’t think many people are. It’s a very quiet and calm extreme sport. It’s a secret. Can I cut off all interfaces be inside myself be myself again?

I like to use my body as a sensor. I’m a scientist.

On and off I’ve slowly been drawn to colder and colder water. On holiday in Portugal I like swimming across the bay in the mornings in the cold sea of the western Algarve. Even more – the really cold waters of the Silver Coast near Lisbon. Locals say the summer temperature is 14 degrees. The winter temperature 18. I keep meaning to Google to find out the science that makes the currents do that.

The nearest coldest water to me is on Hampstead Heath.

As the winter progresses and the Parliament Hill Lido times contract – I find that it’s the Ladies pond and the ritual dunking I like best.

I didn’t decide in advance to keep swimming all winter outdoors – it’s just that now I am addicted to it. Sometimes I feel emotionally overheated and need to be chilled. It works every time. There is no drug that does it so efficiently and without side effects.

I’ve come this far (9 degrees) so I might as well go on. I already know I’ll be fine.

Sometimes I’m in the company of my angry Catalan friend who needs the soothing water – sometimes an ice breaking veteran Belarusian.

I never miss an opportunity. I’m sharp and the cold water keeps me that way. On the way back from a conference in the River Great Ouse I managed a few circuits of a cold pool in the company of crayfish. And a disapproving local pointing out the obligatory Health and Safety sign – danger – deep water – no swimming – as I graze my knees on a shallow part of the gravelly river bed. My body sensor says it’s 13 degrees.

A 20 minute adventure before I drive home via the North circular to my other life. This distraction is becoming my real life now though. The French call it their secret garden. Their inner world.

A fortnight later I get an autumn sunset swim at Lyme Regis on the fossil beach (15 degrees) after finding a haul of ammonite impressions in the shale falling from the cliffs.

My bemused – but for once tolerant – teenage daughter looking on. The last thing she would ever do at her age is join me. But at least she now knows it’s possible to swim in the English sea in winter – and she can’t unknow that. So I know I’ve infected her with a long dormant virus she’ll pass it on.

And now – amazing luck – I have been posted to Worcester. The Teme, the Severn. I’m told by the locals that Upton is the place. They’re much more worried about water quality than us Londoners. Maybe with good reason.