Clevedon · cold water · Happiness · mental health · open water swimming · Outdoors · Singing · swimming · well being · winter

23: Sing, sing a song

img_43961.jpg
 you’ve been going so crazy
Lately, nothing seems to be going right
 why do you have to get so low You’ve been waiting in the sun too long
But if you sing, sing, sing, sing, sing, sing (Travis, 2001)

When they learn about my open water swimming journey, the most common question that people ask me – generally after they have made insinuations about the state of my mental health – is – ‘why do you do it?’ It is not a straightforward or simple answer, for me, and I hope, that over the course of the past year, while writing this blog, I have gone some way to trying to answer that question and to explain how swimming outdoors makes me feel and why I do it.

However, I have to confess, that as I now embark on my second winter of outdoor swimming, I find that I have been asking myself that very same question! I have recently been experiencing a little crisis of confidence that has been threatening to undermine some of the joy I have previously reported. I have been finding myself feeling really quite anxious at the thought of going swimming. This psychological and emotional struggle I have been experiencing is, I realise, not only due to the falling temperatures, but also because I have made the commitment to swim through this winter in, what open water swimmers call, ‘skins’ (just a swimming costume, goggles and swim hat).

“take a chance in life you have one, a little bit scary, but fun, did you forget what it’s like to be young?” (Grace Jones, 1986)

I know that I can swim through the winter because I did it – and enjoyed it – last year. However, last year I did it in head to toe neoprene. Now, after a wonderfully sunny and warm summer and autumn of swimming without a wetsuit, the temperature of the sea (and of the lake) have dropped quite considerably – and quite quickly – and the commitment to keep swimming in cold water is beginning to feel like a much tougher psychological challenge. I have recently found myself questioning (and worrying about) whether I will be able to do it – and feeling afraid that I won’t be able to.

img_4403-e1542041247929.jpg

I also realised that I had allowed the ‘excitable’ discussions on our facebook group page, about the temperature of the water in the Marine Lake, at Clevedon to build up in my mind into a huge obstacle. I found that I had become ‘afraid’ of the lake!  Nearly all of my swimming, since June, has been in the sea – either at Clevedon Beach or along the South Coast. Now, as the winter sets in, the weather and the tides become more unpredictable and the hours of daylight become shorter my swims will all have to be a) much closer to home and b) often in the Marine Lake – where the water is on average between 2 and 5 degrees colder than in the sea. “It’s hard enough psyching myself up to get into the sea” I told myself. “How on earth will I ever be able to swim in the lake?”

Why Worry?

Why worry? There should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now? (Dire Straits, 1985)

“Why?” you might ask do I not just put my wetsuit back on and get on with it?

The answer seems to be that I have undergone some sort of cultural adaptation process. Most of the people I now swim with do it in ‘skins’. I have also been swimming without a wetsuit since June and it now feels more ‘normal’ to do it that way. It is also – even in cold water – a lot more pleasurable to be able to feel the sensation of the water on your skin and to be able to move your arms and legs without the restriction of a wetsuit. And, as the website Chillswim  point out ‘authentic‘ cold water swimmers do not wear wetsuits as this ‘defeats the concept and benefits of feeling the cold water on your body‘.

Furthermore, as I said in my last blog (An Indian Summer ) I have signed up to complete this years Clevedon Polar Bear Challenge in ‘skins’ – and, if I am honest, having committed to doing that, I am too proud to back down!

Wild Thing. You Make My Heart Sing(The Troggs, 1966)

I am also inspired by all those I swim with who have been swimming through the winter ‘in skins’  for years and to whom no evident harm has come. Lots of people do it – so – I tell myself – it must be do-able. And, what is more, they all seem to enjoy it.

Writing in The Guardian, Sally Goble (2017) has argued that cold water swimming is about ‘feeling alive … it will make you feel invincible“. Cold water swimmers, she claims, are “adventurous, full of life and quick to laugh. They sparkle like the icy water they inhabit”. She admits that ‘the first two minutes in the water are the worst’ but goes on to promise that after that the ‘magical moments‘ happen. “Cold” she asserts “is exhilarating and amazing”. 

Leeson, (2018) goes further, linking that post-swim feeling of euphoria to a “sense of achievement – of doing something a little out of my comfort zone”. As Sara Barnes (2018) also argues: swimming in cold water “is life affirmation and self valuation at its most raw”.  In her video, Feeling The Power From The ColdJinton (2018), describes how, by embracing cold water swimming she is aiming to ‘take back her own power’ and to not allow the cold and dark of the winter to drain her of ‘energy and happiness’. By swimming through the winter she intends to “change the way she thinks and feels about it … to allow the cold to be a source of power and to allow the winter to awaken her soul”.

It is this sense of achievement, of overcoming something that terrifies me, of completing something I have committed myself to, of facing my fears – and surviving –  that is driving me to persevere. And despite my fears and my anxiety, I have (so far) managed to continue to swim 2 to 3 times every week. I know that there is an awful lot of winter still to go – and the temperatures will continue to fall a lot lower – but I am hoping that by the end of the winter, I will also be able to report that swimming in cold water – without a wetsuit – has made my heart sing in the same way that swimming with one did last year.

img_4399.jpg

Sing out loud, Sing out strong

Sing, sing a song, Sing out loud, Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad, Sing of happy not sad
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone
Else to hear, Just sing, sing a song

Carpenters (1973)

Experienced cold water swimmers stress the importance of having the right ‘mindset’. Swimming through the winter is not about keeping your body ‘fit’, they say, it is more of a psychological challenge, of overcoming your fears. As Miranda Larbi (2017) has pointed out: “getting into the water goes against every natural urge and you have to train your body to fight them; you have to learn to breathe deeply, relax and push through the initial few minutes until you numb off.

The website Swim The Lakes admits that – “Yes it’s going to be a shock and yes it’s going to be bloody freezing at first, but don’t keep telling yourself that! Think warm thoughts and focus on how great you’ll feel when you get over the initial cold water shock and how annoyingly cheerful you’ll be over the next 24 hours”.  

All much easier said than done!

Having thought about this new found anxiety and what to do about it I came to realise that it is at its worst when I am thinking about, planning or travelling to a swim. Once I’m in the water I’m fine – and of course, afterwards I feel great. I have come to realise that it is the ‘build-up’ and the thinking about it that is where the little seeds of doubt take hold.

There is a lot of research evidence on the health benefits of singing and I remembered a technique I always used to use when going to an interview or to give an important presentation. On my way there I would sing – loudly. Often, I could not remember the words and would mostly belt out a ‘lala lala’ tune. The important thing, I found, was to sing out loud, because it helped me to get my breathing under control and it helped to calm me down by focusing on the song (and often laughing at myself), rather than thinking about whatever it was I was on my way to. Research has also shown that singing is good for releasing muscle tension (Launay & Pearce, 2015), it can release ‘feel good’ endorphins (Dunbar et al, 2012) and that people feel more positive after actively singing than they do after just listening to music (Launay, 2015).

So if you spot a grey haired Jubilada driving in front of you, singing her head off, it may well be me on my way to a cold water swim!

And so far it is working! I seem to have got my ‘mojo’ back.

“(She) who sings frightens away (her) ills” (with thanks to Cervantes, 1872)

This month I have managed to not only swim in water as cold as 8 degrees centigrade, but also to re-embrace swimming in the marine lake. I have continued to get in the cold water – and to swim. But most importantly, I have re-discovered the pleasure of doing it. Yes! I really do enjoy that feeling of icy cold water on my arms and legs.  It is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it but (to me) it feels like a sparkling and stinging and tingling on the outside – on your skin – while being aware of the warmth of your blood pulsing through your body – your core – on the inside. It is exhilarating.

The fear hasn’t gone away. I still feel ambivalent about swimming on a cold, wet and windy day, or at the thought of getting out of a warm bed to greet an early morning high tide.

But I believe again that I can do it. After all, I don’t have to swim miles – to meet the challenge all I need to do is to swim 100 metres. And I now believe again that I can and will do that – one swim at a time.

I know that there is an awful lot of winter still to come – and some far lower temperatures to swim through – but, for now, I think I have seen off my demons.  I believe that I will make it through the winter.

Coldest Swim So Far

Clevedon Marine Lake 12th November 2018

Water Temperature: 8 degrees celsius 

Air Temperature: 12 degrees celsius

Distance swum: 1100 metres

Time in the water22 minutes

 

References

British Voice Association (undated) It’s Official Singing Is Good For You, britishvoiceassociation.org.uk

Barnes, S. (2018) Polar Bear club in Outdoor Swimmer Magazine , November 2018, p.42-43
Carpenters, The (1973) Singfrom the album Now and Then, A&M Records.
Cervantes, M. (1872) Sancho Panza’s Proverbs: And Others which Occur in Don Quixote, p.7

Chillswim (undated) Top Tips For Winter Swimmingchillswim.com

Clift, S. and Hancox, G. (2001) The Perceived Benefits of Singing, in The Journal of The Royal Society for the Promotion of Health; December 2001, 121 (4), pp. 248-256

Dire Straits (1985) Why Worry,  from the album Brothers In Arms, Vertigo.

Dunbar, R. Kaskatis, K., MacDonald, I. & Barra, V. (2012) Performance of Music Elevates Pain Threshold and Positive Affect, in Evolutionary Psychology, October 2012

Goble, S. (2014) Why I Love Outdoor Swimming, in The Guardian, 26th June 2014

Goble, S. (2017) 10 Things You Only Know If You Swim Through Winterin The Guardian, 30th January 2017

Jones, G. (1986) Scary but Funfrom the album Inside Story,  Manhattan Records

Jinton, J. (2018) Feeling The Power From The Cold, Youtube.com

Larbi, M. (2017) Cold water swimming: why the hell do so many people like doing it? Metro.co.uk Monday 2 Oct 2017

Launay, J. (2015) Choir Singing Improves Health, Happiness – and is the perfect Ice Breaker , the conversation.com

Launay, J. and Pearce, E. (2015) The New Science of Singing Together,  in Greater Good Magazine  December 4th 2015

Leeson, V (2018) The Mental Health Benefits of Cold Water Swimming, welldoing.org, 8th October 2018

SwimTheLakes (undated) Cold Water Swimming Tips, swimthelakes.co.uk

Travis (2001) Sing, from the album The Invisible Band, Epic Records

Troggs, The, (1966) Wild Thing. You Make My Heart Sing. from the album From Nowhere, Fontana Records

 

Advertisements
Anishinaabe · Autumn · bereavement · Blue therapy · Charmouth · Clevedon · cold water · Devon · Exmouth · Happiness · Indian Summer · Jurassic Coast · mental health · Mindful exercise · National Trust · open water swimming · Outdoors · retirement · Social prescribing · swimming · Tides · well being · winter · Women

22. An Indian Summer

img_4355.jpg

According to the British Meteorological Office (metoffice.gov.uk) the expression ‘an Indian summer’ has its origins in North America. This was a bit of a surprise to me. If I had been asked, I would probably have guessed that the origin lay in Britain’s colonial past in the Indian sub-continent. Apparently, however, although the exact origins of the term are uncertain, it was first noted in regions, on the eastern seaboard of America, inhabited by Native Americans, where it referred to extended periods of fine, quiet, sunny weather that allowed them to continue hunting, complete their harvest and to put together stores of food to see them through the long, cold winter.

Whatever the historical origins, it is generally now used to describe ‘a warm, calm spell of weather occurring in autumn, especially in October and November’ (metoffice.gov.uk) – and this is what we experienced during the first half of October in the UK.

“The gilding of the Indian summer mellowed the pastures far and wide. 
The russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but were yet full of leaf. 
The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not withered, tinged the hills…”
–   (Charlotte Brontë , 1849)

At the end of my last blog (The Happy Club) I described how I was preparing to embrace the commencement of the winter open water swimming season, how the water and the air temperature were falling and how I was having to ‘dig out’ my winter layers of post-swim clothing. Well, let it be said that I have had a reprieve! Early October has been glorious and I have been swimming to my hearts content.

The Jurassic Coast

The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site stretching from Orcombe Point, Exmouth to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in Dorset. It is possible to walk the whole of the Jurassic Coast (96 miles) along the South West Coast Path but this year, I have been attempting to swim it. This has been the first year and first summer of my swimming journey along the South Coast (see It Started There) and, given its proximity to where I live, and the wealth of beautiful beaches and coves to swim in I have found myself, most often, on this particular stretch of the coast. I still have some way to go, but this late burst of Indian Summer has helped to give – what I anticipate will be – a final push to my progress and my explorations for this year.

The Jurassic Coast consists of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock formations spanning approximately 180 million years of the Earth’s history. The layers of sedimentary rock along the Jurassic Coast can be read like a book. Exploring the story “takes us on a walk through time across deserts, tropical seas, ancient forests and lush swamps”(jurassiccoasd.org), recorded in rock and laid out along the coast between Exmouth in East Devon and Studland Bay in Dorset. The different rocks along the coast have been carved by the sea into bays, beaches, cliffs, stacks, arches and landslides. It is a site of outstanding international importance for Earth Science – and it offers a wealth of and a range of interesting and beautiful swimming opportunities for the open water swimmer.

Charmouth

Charmouth is an attractive, historic and unspoilt seaside village on the Dorset/Devon border. The village has 34 listed buildings and lies in a valley with steep coastal hills rising on either side. Golden Cap, to the East, is the highest point on the south coast of England at 617 feet above sea level.

img_4316.jpg

Charmouth beach is world renowned for its fossils. The remains of Jurassic sea creatures can be found, in abundance, on this beach when the tide is out and the heritage centre leads regular ‘fossil hunting’ expeditions. Having recently read (Lyons, 2018) that it is an offence under The Coastal Protection Act (1949) to remove pebbles and shells from public beaches, I was surprised to see that fossil hunting was encouraged. It turns out (according to A Visitors Guide to Charmouth) that if fossils were not collected they would simply be destroyed by the sea and lost forever – and there were many fossil hunters there on the day that I visited.

Every year, there is a local event – the Lyme Splash – a swim from Lyme Regis to Charmouth and I would like to have swum this route while on my visit to Charmouth. However, the tide times were not in my favour the day I visited and therefore Lyme Regis remains on my ‘to do’ list for next year. It being low tide when I arrived I had to walk out some way to find sea of sufficient depth to swim in, but once past the shore, the water was clear and calm and, while initially fresh on the skin, was truly pleasant, silky and welcoming to swim in – and the gift of the Indian Summer meant that I could sit in the sun, post-swim, eat my packed lunch, look at the sea and not feel cold.

Further to my blog about the benefits of swimming outdoors (see The Happy Club), a recent survey by Swim England has now claimed that any sort of swimming can ‘significantly reduce‘ the symptoms of anxiety or depression. This has led to Swim England launching their #LoveSwimming campaign to encourage adults, especially women, to embrace the mental health benefits of swimming.

According to Ian Cumming, chair of the Swimming and Health Commission, “… research shows that simply being in water can be restorative, particularly swimming outside … and if it is regularly prescribed alongside other forms of support, swimming could have a real impact on wider society.”

Orcombe Point

I find sitting on a beach, looking at the sea – especially following a swim in that sea – incredibly therapeutic, restorative and calming. There is something about the tingling, warming up feeling that I find particularly emotionally uplifting – and I plan to write about this is my next blog. It was no co-incidence, therefore, that on World Mental Health Awareness Day, on October 10th, I headed for the coast – and thanks to the Indian Summer I made a day trip out of it and went for a ‘south coast swim’.

Orcombe Point, Exmouth, is the most westerly point of the Jurassic Coast. The landmark Geoneedle, on the headland overlooking the beach is constructed of the various rock types found along the World Heritage coastline and it was commissioned to commemorate the opening of the World Heritage Site.

At low tide it is possible to walk from the beach at Orcombe Point around the headland to Sandy Bay. I had read that it was also an enjoyable swim route with ‘very little current flow so easier than along the main beach with its fast currents’ and ‘best an hour before low water‘. I had also read that it was a regular swim for a group of Devon open water swimmers (Millar-Partridge, 2015). So I thought that I had done my homework!

no woman ever swims in the same ocean twice – for it is not the same ocean and she is not the same woman (with a nod to Heraclitus)

Arriving a couple of hours before low tide I noted other swimmers going into the water and so, confidently, I set off too. The water was very shallow and I had to swim quite a way out to avoid scraping my knees and knuckles on the sand banks.

GPTempDownload

Having stopped to take a photograph I then looked for a clear way to swim around to Sandy Bay – but to my surprise found myself being pushed in the opposite direction towards Exmouth. I confess to feeling more than a little unnerved by the strength of the tide and spent some 35 minutes practically swimming on the spot! When I had finally fought my way back to a depth where I could, once again, put my feet down, I could feel the force of the outgoing tide rushing against my ankles and calves like the last bathful of water disappearing down the plug hole.

It was a salutary lesson about checking with others about local conditions and the direction of the tide. Fortunately, on this mid-October day the water temperature was still 16 degrees centigrade and the air temperature was a wonderful 20 degrees. I didn’t feel cold – but I did feel alone – and rather vulnerable. It is at times like these that I find myself drawing on – what I have come to refer to as – ‘my inner Wendy’ as I feel her alongside me, cheering me on to ‘fight back’.

And so – like Lyme Regis – Sandy Bay will have to remain on my ‘to do’ list for another year.

The summer sun is fading 

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old,
And darker days are drawing near,
The winter winds will be much colder,
Now you’re not here. (Moody Blues, 2005

In addition to its reference to a late and warm autumn, the Oxford English Dictionary offers the definition of an Indian Summer as referring to ” a period of happiness or success occurring later in life” – which, given my embracing of the pleasure of open water swimming at this point in my life, feels very timely and appropriate.  I have decided that ‘I am in the Indian Summer of my life’ is up there with terms such as jubilada (see Lake Michigan) as a preferable alternative to being ‘retired’ and one that I will continue to embrace. I am enjoying an Indian Summer in more ways than one.

My experience, however, in the sea at Exmouth serves to remind me of the power, awe and might of the sea – and that we should never underestimate it, nor take it for granted. The sea – and the season – always has the power to surprise us. Two days after my swim at Orcombe Point, Storm Callum swept across Britain, bringing winds of up to 70mph. The Exmouth sea front was flooded and people were warned to stay away from the coast (bbc.co.uk).

No doubt the wind and the rain will mean that the water temperature (which recovered a couple of degrees during this late spell of sunshine) will now return to its downward trajectory and the process of acclimatisation to the colder water will resume. The group I swim with at Clevedon have already commenced this winter’s ‘Polar Bear Challenge’ – to swim outdoors in unheated water for at least 100 metres, twice a month between the start of October and the end of March. You may recall that I won a prize and a badge as part of this challenge last year for the longest distance swum in a wetsuit (see Its Time To Press The Re-Set Button). 

Well, dear reader, I am announcing it here – this year I am aiming to complete this challenge in just a swimsuit (referred to as ‘swimming in skins’ amongst open water swimmers). I know I have had a relatively easy first month with these lovely warm days that we have been enjoying. However, as John Steinbeck (1962) once said “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

I will keep you appraised of my progress.

Exit, pursued by a (polar) bear.”
(Shakespeare, 1611)

Local Details

Sea temperature : 16 degrees celsius

Distance swum: Charmouth 850 metres

Orcombe Point 850 metres

Swim Time:  Charmouth 25 minutes

Orcombe Point 35 minutes

Refreshments at Bumble & Sea (Orcombe Point) & Beach Cafe (Charmouth)

 

Forever Autumn dedicated to Wendy Oliver – you always loved this time of year xx

References

Brontë ,C.(1849) Shirley, a Tale, Smith Elder & Co

Lyons, I. (2018) Holidaymaker who ‘stole’ pebbles from Cornwall beach forced to return them or face prosecutionin The Telegraph, 21st August 2018

Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Millar-Partridge, N. (2015) Six ladies go for an early dip in Devon’s waters at Orcombe Point, Exmouth, in Devon Life, 17th February 2015.

Moody Blues, The. (2005) Forever Autumn, from the album Lovely To see You, Live, RLJE Films

Shakespeare, W. (1611) The Winter’s Tale, The First Folio

Steinbeck, J. (1961)  Travels with Charley: In Search of America, Viking

Stereophonics, The (2013) Indian Summerfrom the album Graffiti On The Train, Warner Music Italy.

Swim England (2018) New Study Says Swimming Benefits Mental HealthSwim England News, 8th October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn · bereavement · Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · community · grief · Happiness · mental health · mental health, community, · Mindful exercise · open water swimming · Outdoors · Paignton · Social prescribing · swimming · well being · winter

21: The Happy Club

 

 

I feel great
I feel fine today
I joined the happy club  (Bob Geldof, 1992)

Ever since I have been a part of it, there have been numerous accounts of how open water swimming can make you happy. I have covered many of these accounts in my previous blog posts. Among the people I swim with regularly – and those I follow on social media – there are many who will testify to the ‘power’ of swimming in cold water in helping them cope with anxiety, depression and grief. I have also written (see Song Sung Blue) about how open water swimming through the winter has helped with my own feelings of grief and sadness and how each swim has ‘left me feeling energised, smiling and motivated to do more’.

These themes have recently come to the foreground again – and have given rise to a healthy debate – following recent news coverage of a case study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).  (van Tulleken et al, 2018) arguing for further research to establish if and how cold water swimming might work for patients with depressive disorders.  A year ago (in Night and Day) I wrote about the work of research teams at Portsmouth University who reported finding that cold water sea swimming can be an effective treatment for depression. It is the work of this team that has recently been published as a Case Report that documents the experience of one swimmer who has been able to come off medication after a year of swimming outdoors.

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Shakespeare, 1603)

There does seem to be emerging evidence that immersion in cold water can have an anti-inflammatory effect on both physical conditions and on depressive conditions (Tipton, 2018). However, it is difficult for researchers to isolate one factor (such as cold water) as the contributory cause of increased well-being. As a social scientist I find myself increasingly drawn to some of the other explanations.

The BMJ Case Report (van Tulleken et al, 2018) acknowledged that ‘adopting a new activity like regular open water swimming involves multiple lifestyle modifications and that other potential benefits of open water swimming include a sense of achievement and community in participating in a challenging activity, exercise, companionship and green and blue therapies – all known to have positive effects on mood.” The report also concludes that “the activity may not need to be open water swimming, but one that is stimulating, challenging, possibly outdoor and takes place in a social group”.

It has long been noted that connecting with others and doing things with others in a social group or community can lead to feelings of greater well-being and resilience (Thomas, 2012). The buddy, sponsor or peer mentor system of support is also a well researched approach to aid recovery from a range of illnesses and conditions. Significantly, in the case study reported by van Tulleken et al (2018) the woman who was introduced to open water swimming was provided with “expert support … in the form of a coach to ensure she felt safe while swimming – and she later introduced a friend to the sport herself.”

Blue and Green Therapy

IMG_4092

I have written before about the impact of ‘blue therapy’ (see It’s time to press the re-set button) and the concept of the ‘Blue Mind’.  According to research by Nichols (2015) being in or near open water can reduce cortisol levels in our brains, reduce stress and “reconnect you to the place, to yourself and to those you’re with – and make you happy”.  Green therapy works on a similar principle. A recent report by the University of Essex (Bragg & Atkins, 2016) suggested that making greater use of ‘green care’ – nature-based interventions involving being outdoors such as gardening or walking (also called ecotherapy) – can help people who are suffering from mental ill-health and can contribute to a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. The report concluded that there is a need for clinical providers to help enhance the provision and use of ‘green care’. Both blue and green therapy can be part of the experience of open water swimming.

 “you are swimming in places that not many others do which is truly freeing and you are immersed in the outdoors; you feel much closer to nature.” (Vicki Gilbert, 2018) 

Regular physical activity

Exercise is already known to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. A recent report in The Lancet (Chekroud et al, 2018) has now argued that regular physical exercise is ‘significantly and meaningfully’ associated with ‘self-reported’ improved mental health and well-being.  The study also suggests that lack of activity could lead to poor mental health as well as being a symptom of it.

There are two interesting outcomes from this research. Firstly, the researchers found that it is ‘regular, moderate amounts’ of exercise that had the greatest impact on wellbeing rather than ‘more exercise’ or longer endurance periods of activity which can lead to social isolation.

Secondly, they found that participants in the study reported the greatest impact on their well-being when they took part in ‘team sports’ or ‘social sport activities’ with others, arguing that these have the potential to reduce isolation and be good for resilience, while also reducing depression. In fact the study indicated that social and “mindful” exercise is “particularly good” for mental health. There are numerous groups of open water swimmers around the country who meet at regular times to not only swim together but to encourage each other, chat and make social and community connections. These swimmers frequently attest that swimming with a social group enhances their well-being

Social Prescribing

Social Prescribing is gaining popularity among GPs as one way in which they can help patients, when a medical intervention or prescription is not the appropriate treatment.   NHS England has, recently, highlighted the importance of social prescribing as a strategy for reducing waiting times at GP surgeries and the Royal College of GPs has called for every surgery to have access to a dedicated social prescriber. The aim is, that by referring patients to a social prescriber (or ‘link worker’ or ‘community connector’) people can co-produce a ‘social prescription’ based on their needs and interests, that will help to improve their health and wellbeing.

The social and community activities that people can be referred to can range from art classes to singing groups, from walking clubs to gardening, and to many other interest groups – such as an open water swimming group. Social prescribing is beginning to take off across the country, particularly with people who are lonely or isolated; people with mild mental health issues who may be anxious or depressed; and, those who struggle to engage effectively with services. It is also relevant to people with wider social issues such as poverty, debt, housing, relationship problems, all of which impact on their health and wellbeing.

On the BBC Radio 4 Inside Health programme (8th August 2018)  Maria Polley, from the University of Westminster and co-chair of the Social Prescribing Network, explained how social prescribing helps people to find what groups and resources are available in their local community that can support them in the most appropriate way. There are lots of different approaches but the key is ‘finding the thing that brings that person happiness and joy – because then they will keep going back to do it

Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently announced (Campbell, 2018) that he is backing a major investment in social prescribing as a way of improving patients’ chances of recovering from their illness (as well as relieving pressure on the NHS!). “There is a growing evidence base“, he has said, “that social prescribing can be better for patients than medicine … I want to see the balance shifted in favour of social prescribing,”

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you  (Pharrell Williams,  2013)

Clearly, open water swimming – and winter open water swimming in particular – is not everyone’s cup of tea. That is why the social prescribing approach of finding the ‘thing that brings each person happiness and joy’ is so important. There are, however, a growing number of individual accounts of the difference open water swimming has made to the lives of women and men – across the age range. And for those who enjoy it, it has often been claimed as a life changer. I am one of them.

Regular Social Exercise in Open (Cold) Water

I have been reflecting on the themes discussed above and how they might relate to my own experience – and, as you might by now expect, – find that they all have a part to play, in association with each other. I cannot separate out one from another and say ‘this is the secret’. But looking back over my previous blog posts, I can observe a thread that highlights the importance (for me) of being part of a group or community; regular social exercise, challenging myself, companionship and – of course – green and blue therapies.

 

It can be hard to join a group or to start a new activity on your own – especially if you are not feeling that good about yourself. I was lucky. I had friends and family who supported and encouraged me, but I can see how important a role like a social prescriber or community connector might be for some.

I believe that if it wasn’t for a community/team organised event that I was encouraged to participate in following the death of my daughter – and the support and encouragement of those who joined me at that first triathlon in Port Eyon (see It Started There) I don’t think I would ever have found out that open water swimming was ‘a thing’.

Furthermore, if it had not been for a local community event (see The Day We Made It Into The SunI was encouraged and supported to enter I may a) never had the confidence to start regular open water swimming and b) never found a local community of open water swimmers and a freely accessible place to swim regularly.  I would probably not have found out that open water swimming is ‘my thing’.

Not all groups are as welcoming as they might be to new people joining them and this can feel like an additional obstacle if you are feeling unconfident or anxious. However, I have not found this to be the case with any of the open water swimming groups I have swum with. In the past couple of years I have had the pleasure to meet dozens of welcoming, interesting, knowledgable and fun fellow swimmers – all happy to share their knowledge and experience of local sea conditions, bits of kit and various swim related (and non- swim related) topics!.

If I had not found the lovely community of Clevedon Lake and Sea Swimmers (CLASS) I probably would never have attempted some of my most enjoyable swims and possibly never have left my comfort zone. I have subsequently done some longer and challenging swims alone, but the swims that I have enjoyed the most, and the ones that had the biggest impact on my sense of achievement and on my sense of well-being have been the ones I have done with a supportive group of other swimmers (see Its a marvellous night for a Moondance).

the key is finding the thing that brings that person happiness and joy – because then they will keep going back to do it ” (Maria Polley, 2018)

Having regular planned, but informal ‘swim meet up’ times provides a supportive safety net that has enabled me to keep swimming throughout the year. You don’t necessarily know who will be there. It is enough to know that someone will be there. Even if we all do different swim distances the turning up and connecting with others cheers me up no end.  On some days this feels like a life line.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey (The Mamas and the Papas, 1966)

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree. (Emily Bronte, 1836)

Grief is a bit like the sea: it comes in waves. Open water swimming has provided me with a challenge, a purpose and something to focus on and into which I can channel my energies and emotions. I have never regretted an open water swim, no matter how I have been feeling or whatever the weather is like (see Song Sung Blue). Open water swimming works for me, it gets me outside into the fresh air and lifts my mood.

And I have to say also that there is something about swimming in water that is cold.

I get an exhilarating buzz from swimming in the sea when it is cold, that never fails to make me smile. The effect often lasts for several hours. I do not get the same effect from swimming in a pool – or even from swimming in ‘warm’ sea. Furthermore, there is something about going for a swim – with others – in very cold water that brings the community of swimmers even closer together. There is always a sense of group achievement and camaraderie and lots and lots of laughter. It is truly uplifting (see I feel it in my fingers; I feel it in my toes ).

IMG_2019

It is no co-incidence that I am writing about ‘happiness and joy’ just as the autumn storms blow in, the hours of daylight shorten and the temperature starts to fall! I have had such a wonderful extended summer of swimming that I think I am probably still basking in the tanned after-glow! Somewhere along the way I think I forgot that the seasons would inevitably change. The sea is still relatively warm (17 degrees celsius) but the air is much colder and I have observed (with not wholehearted joy, it has to be said) that the woolly hats and dry robes have started to re-appear. I recently had my first swim of the season after which I had to have the car heater on all the way home (much to the discomfort of my passenger – for it was a warm sunny afternoon)!

I am holding on to the belief that all the factors I have written about above will see me through this transition again. As I start to ‘dig out’ my warmer, after swim layers from their summer resting place there is a sense of ‘here we go again’! and ‘once more into the breach dear friends’ etc etc. The winter swimming season is about to start again and I cannot deny a hint of the change in my mood that always affects me at this time of year. If, however, what I have written about above is valid then my expectation is that my second winter of open water swimming will again fill me with happiness and joy.   I will of course let you know!

 You Make Me Happy  (The Proclaimers, 2018)

Photo Credits: Beth Oliver & Iain Bourne
References
Bragg, R.,and Atkins, G. (2016) A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care. Natural England Commissioned Reports, Number 204.
Bronte, E. (1836) Fall Leaves Fall (unpublished) in The Complete Poems of Emily Bronte, (1908) Pantianos Classics

Campbell, D. (2018) NHS should expand ‘social prescribing’ says health secretaryin The Guardian, 6th September 2018

Chekroud et al (2018) Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study, in The Lancet Psychiatry, Vol.5; Issue 9; pp 739-746, September 2018

Geldof, B. (1992) The Happy Club, from the album The Happy Club, Mercury Records

Gilbert, V. (2018) After amputation and a battle with cancer Vicki Gilbert is taking on the relay channel swim, aspire.org.uk

Mamas and Papas (1966) California Dreaming from the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, Dunhill Records.

Nichols, W. J. (2015)  Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You DoBack Bay Books.

Polley, M. (2018) Inside HealthBBC Radio 4, 8th August 2018

Proclaimers, The (2018) You Make Me Happy from the album Angry Cyclist, Cooking Vinyl

Ray, L. (2010) You Make Me Happy, from the album Goodbye from California, LRay Records.

Shakespeare, W. (1603) The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, The First Quarto

Thomas, D. (2012) ‘Well Being and Community Action’, in Walker, P. and John, M (eds) From Public Health to Well Being,Palgrave,

Tipton (2018) in Liverpool, L. (2018) Could Cold Water Swimming Help Treat Depression, in The Guardian, 13th September 2018

van Tulleken, C., Tipton, M., Massey, H., & Harper, C. M. (2018) “Open Water Swimming as a treatment for major depressive disorder”, in BMJ Case Reports, 21st August 2018; doi:10.1136/bcr-2018-225007

van Tulleken, C., (2018) Can Cold Water Swimming Treat Depression, bbc.co.uk  13th September 2018

Williams, P. (2013) Happy, from the album Happy, Black Lot Music

 

Postscript to Blog 20 (Don’t Stop Me Now:

Lewis Pugh became the first person to swim the length of the Channel on 29th August after 49 days of swimming. Vicki Gilbert completed her 6 person relay team swim across the Channel on 31st August despite having an above the knee amputation and recovering from recent breast cancer surgery and treatment. Linda Ashmore, broke the record as the oldest woman to swim the English Channel – at the age of 71 – on August 21st.

Bournemouth · Budleigh Salterton · community · Devon · English Channel Swim · Jurassic Coast · mental health · open water swimming · Plastic Pollution · Seaton · Sidmouth · summer · swimming · Tides · well being · Women

20. Don’t Stop Me Now

GPTempDownloadDon’t stop me now (‘Cause I’m having a good time)
Don’t stop me now (Yes I’m havin’ a good time)
I don’t want to stop at all (Mercury, 1978

If you have been reading this blog over the past 12 months (yes! I’ve been writing it for a year now!) you will recall that in It Started There I described my ambition to ‘swim the South Coast of Britain – by the time I am 70’ – not in a systematic way, but in an ‘as and when an opportunity arises’ sort of way. Although in May this year (see Ne’r Cast a Clout Til May Be Out) I expressed my concerns that I wasn’t making much progress with this goal, I have, as it turns out, been able to make full use of our wonderful summer and have now completed several fantastic swims along the East Devon and Dorset coast.

I will continue to make my slow and ‘bit-by-bit’ journey as I visit and discover the wonderful coast line and seaside towns and villages that England has to offer. However, in the meantime I  have become fascinated, this summer, watching the progress of Lewis Pugh who is currently aiming to become the first person to swim the length of the South Coast in one go!

Since 1875, some 1,800 people have swum across the English Channel from Dover to Calais – but no one, until this summer –  has ever swum its entire length. Lewis Pugh is attempting  to do just that – to swim from Land’s End to Dover – in just his cap, goggles and swimming trunks. The 560 km distance is equivalent to 16 English Channel crossings, and Pugh has estimated this will take him around 50 days, depending on tides and weather. The swim will be verified by the Channel Swimming Association and you can follow his progress on his blog.

He aims to swim for about 5 hours every day and to cover between 10 and 20 kilometres a day. At night they will anchor and sleep on the boat, then he will start again the next day.  Pugh started his swim, in Cornwall, on July 12th and, as I write, has achieved about two-thirds of his target distance.

Pugh is undertaking this endurance swim to help publicise the need to ‘save our seas’ and the start of a worldwide campaign, calling on all the governments of the world, to strengthen our ocean protection and ensure that 30% of our oceans are fully protected by 2030. In addition, he is highlighting the need to change the tide on plastic pollution.

According to Pugh (lewispugh.com) the United Kingdom is ‘doing quite well in theory’ and is working towards meeting its commitment to protect 10% of its waters by 2020. But, he claims,  ‘when you unpack the numbers, they tell a very different story. Not only are most of those protected areas in overseas territories rather than home waters, but the kind of protection they offer is sometimes worse than none’. The ‘sad truth’ according to Pugh is that ‘of the 750,000 square kilometres of seas around the UK, only 7 square kilometres are fully protected’.

Pugh is encouraging community involvement in his swim and so, at various points along the way, he has been joined – and encouraged – by local open water swimming groups, while local community action groups have been using the opportunity to encourage people to get involved in beach clean-ups that co-incide with when his swim reaches their local beach. Please support him if he passes your way. Just keep swimming Lewis

The Long Swim

  Its a Long, Long Way” (Damien Rice, 2014)

Pugh is calling his endurance swim ‘The Long Swim’ and by co-incidence, my own open water swimming journey began to take flight after I had completed the ‘Clevedon Long Swim’ in July 2017 (see Another Year Over and What Have You Done?). This iconic one mile swim has been a local tradition in Clevedon since 1928 and when I took part – only one year ago – this was the furthest distance I had ever completed in the sea.

I was reflecting on this recently, as now, only one year later, I find that I think nothing of swimming at least this distance at each of the new locations that I have visited, and, in fact I often do much more than this. And while I haven’t exactly covered the sort of distance Lewis Pugh has completed – I have, over the past couple of months managed to cover – a mile at a time – a fair bit of the coast between Teignmouth and Seaton, in East Devon.

fullsizeoutput_1e46

East Devon’s Jurassic Coast

According to a report in The Guardian (Sansom, 2015)  Devon is the best county to live in the UK. With about 2,600 square miles, Devon provides endless varieties of beauty and it boasts two handsome and separate coastlines with pretty seaside towns and villages, ports and Combes.

This stretch of the coastline, where I have been concentrating my swims, is part of the 96-mile long Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, more commonly known as the Jurassic Coast. From here it is possible to visit rock strata dating from three geological periods in a 185 million-year ‘geological walk through time’. It has a variety of beaches, coves and bays to choose from and to swim between and its waters are crystal clear and clean.

It also has many vibrant and enthusiastic open water swimming communities each loyal and happy to share their own ‘bit’ of the coast with me. Social media traditionally gets a bit of a bad press (justifiably so in some cases) but it has provided me with access to a wealth of advice and support that would have been very difficult to track down through other means. I am very grateful to be part of all these online communities as I have plotted my way along the coastline. And everywhere I have visited I have found a community of swimmers who are willing to advise on where and when to swim, tidal considerations and invitations to swim with them – and I have been made to feel very welcome. I have previously written (probably many times) about how friendly, welcoming, supportive and non-competitive I have found the open water swimming community to be – but I will say it again. What lovely people open water swimmers are!

Where is everyone?

It only goes to show, That what you never miss, you never know 
But where are you? (Stevens, 1967)

In addition to the generosity of spirit I have found amongst those who swim here, I have also been bowled over by the beauty, accessibility and sense of peace and calm – and wonderful swims – that I have found this summer on my visits to East Devon. However, I have also been amazed (and secretly rather pleased) by how quiet the beaches have been throughout this ‘record breaking’ ‘heatwave’ of a summer we have been experiencing. “Where”, I have been asking myself, “is everyone?”

 

Matthew Engel (2015) has described the scene, on a visit to East Devon, as ‘Turneresque … with pines to the east and sheer cliffs to the west. A lone fisherman was the only other figure on the shingle”.

“I would like some reassurance” he wrote, “that heaven looks much like Devon … but I believe heaven also likes to guard its secrets”

I know what he means! And I’m almost afraid to tell you about these beaches in case everyone starts flocking there!

The English Channel

Inland, within a hollow vale, I stood; And saw, while sea was calm and air was clear, The coast of France – the coast of France how near (Wordsworth, 1802)

While I have been gently swimming my way along the Jurassic Coast, others, like Lewis Pugh have been setting and achieving their own goals and many have been attempting and succeeding in swimming across the English Channel. As I wrote earlier, since 1875, some 1,800 people have swum across the English Channel from Dover to Calais – and I am honoured and inspired to know and to swim with some of them.

This is a notorious stretch of water. The sea is no more than 16 degrees celsius even in August – the best month for Channel swimming. The wind is chilly, jellyfish are common and the Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Another major detail is the tidal clock. If a swimmer isn’t in the right place when the tide changes, she can be swept down shore adding several hours to her swim.

The first woman to swim the English Channel was Gertrude Ederle, who on August 6th  1926 not only became the first woman to complete the swim but she also set a new record time – that was not bettered for another 24 years. She began in Cape Gris-Nez and arrived on the shore at Kingsdown, Kent 14 hours and 39 minutes later. Due to the roughness of the sea and the tide, she swam 35 miles rather than the 21 miles straight across –  yet still managed to set a new world record. She was 20 years old, wore aviator goggles, and swam front crawl at a time when everyone else was swimming breaststroke.

38736483_1798555043514134_8769038851411804160_n

Another woman record holder also achieved her swim despite the tide turning against her. In 2010, Jackie Cobell, aged 56, ended up swimming 65 miles (rather than 21 miles) after she was pushed off-course by the tides. It took her 28 hours and 44 minutes to complete the swim – and she became the the new record holder for the slowest Channel swim. I believe many swimmers (well me anyway) would have given up and Jackie Cobell deserves a medal for her determination and perseverance.

Among all the other amazing Channel Swims that I have been following and supporting this year is that by Vicki Gilbert. In 2016, Vicki completed the Aspire Channel Swim challenge (to swim 22 miles over 12 weeks in your own time in a swimming pool). She is now preparing to swim the real English Channel as part of a 6 person relay team this August. What makes Vicki’s challenge stand out is that not only does she swim with an above the knee amputation, but in 2017 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has had to undergo three surgeries,  five months of gruelling chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiotherapy treatment.

Vicki has described how she has used preparing for the swim to help her physical and emotional recovery. Once again we come across a swimmer endorsing the power of open water swimming to aid their recovery and give them back a sense of their identity:

 “I needed a challenge to get back on track and I felt it would help me psychologically as well as physically – as the swimming would not only help me regain my fitness but some of my ‘lost’ identity too. And then there’s always that well-known ‘feel good’ factor after exercising.” 

“Once I get in the water, the freedom is fantastic”

On top of this Vicki has highlighted the sense of connection to the natural world that comes hand in hand with outdoor swimming: “you are swimming in places that not many others do which is truly freeing and you are immersed in the outdoors; you feel much closer to nature.”

You can follow Vicki’s progress on the Aspire website, and on Vicki’s blog, for updates of how it goes. Just keep swimming Vicki

Never, never never

In case you were wondering after all this talk of Channel swimming – I am not planning on swimming across the English Channel! I am still enjoying my current challenge too much:  – of swimming – a mile at a time – the length of the South Coast – by the time I am 70. I am not really attracted by the idea of endurance swimming (and you know how I feel about jelly fish)!  I prefer to take the time to look around and to enjoy my surroundings.

However, you never know! Just look at the progress – and distances – I have achieved in just one year! Who knows what will be in my sights in 5 years time!

Just Keep Swimming Billie.

Where I swam

Budleigh Salterton: June 22nd 2018. Sea temperature 16 degrees celsius. Distance swum 1 kilometre. We ate at Longboat Cafe.

Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Pier: July 16th 2018. Sea temperature 18 degrees celsius. Distance swum 1.4 miles as part of the British Heart Foundation Pier-to-Pier swim. We ate at The Neptune.

Sidmouth Jacobs Ladder to Ladram Rock: July 26th 2018, Sea temperature 17 degrees celsius. Distance swum 3 kilometres. We ate at The Pea Green Boat

Seaton to Beer: July 27th 2018. Sea temperature 17 degrees celsius. Distance swum 1.4 kilometres. We ate at The Hideaway

Ness Cove: August 5th 2018. Sea temperature 18 degrees celsius. Distance swum 2 kilometres. We ate at Cafe ODE

PLUS 11 miles at Clevedon between July 10th and August 13th 2018

PS. The oldest woman, to date, to swim the English Channel is Pat Gallant-Charette, who, aged 66 years completed the crossing in 17 hours 55 minutes on 17 June 2017.

References

Bassey, S. (1973) Never, never, neverfrom the album Never, never, never, United Artists.

Engel, M. (2015) Engel’s England: Thirty-nine counties, one capital and one man, Profile Books

Mercury, F. (1978) Don’t Stop Me Nowfrom the album Jazz, EMI

Rice, D. (2014)  Long Long Wayfrom the album My Favourite Faded Fantasy, Atlantic Records

Sansom, I. (2015) Devon Sent: Why writers can’t resist the county, in The Guardian

Stevens, C. (1967) Where Are You from the album New Masters, Dream Records.

Wordsworth, W. (1802) Inland, within a hollow Vale , from Poems, Volume II (1815) Davison.

Photo of Gertrude Ederle courtesy of amightygirl.com

IMG_1652
Anishinaabe · bereavement · Chicago · Chippewa · Great Lakes · grief · Michigan · Ojibwe · open water swimming · retirement · Social History · summer · swimming · well being

19. Lake Michigan

IMG_7116A normal lake is knowable. A Great Lake can hold all the mysteries of an ocean, and then some.”  (Egan, 2017)

The Spanish have a far better word than the English to describe the status of  being ‘retired’. In Spanish the verb to retire (or to draw one’s pension) is jubilarse and a ‘retired’ person is a jubilado or jubilada. To rejoice, or to be jubilant, more accurately, in my opinion, describes the wonderful opportunities that this ‘post-work’ status offers us than that contested term ‘retired’ does – and I have decided to embrace it.

One of the reasons to be jubilant (apart from the chance to swim outdoors everyday of the year) is the opportunity to visit friends and family – both near and far. And when such visits (for example my trip Down Under) also offer the opportunity to swim in new and exciting locations, this doubles the cause for jubilation!

Feeling Good

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
 (Simone, 1965)

In early July I travelled to the United States of America to stay with family living in the state of Michigan. Michigan is known as The Great Lakes State and has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world (3,126 miles). It is the only state in the United States that touches four of the five Great Lakes (Huron, Michigan, Erie and Superior) and it is said (Michigan Historical Society) that if you stand anywhere in the State you will  always be within 85 miles of one of the Great Lakes.

There have been several attempts to count or compile a master list of lakes in Michigan – with most of them disagreeing about which length and depth actually constitutes a ‘lake’. However, in 1943 a seminal report by C.J.D.Brown claimed there were 11,037 lakes, of which over half were less than 10 acres in surface area and this assessment continues to be used as the basis for the widely reported “fact” used today – that Michigan has 11,000 lakes (Breck, 2004).

Michigami

The original inhabitants of Michigan and the Great Lakes were Algonquian people, which included the Anishinaabe groups of Ojibwe (also known as Chippewa), Odaawaa, and the Potawatomi. These three nations co-existed peacefully as part of a loose confederation called the Council of Three Fires. The Ojibwe, whose numbers are estimated to have been between 25,000 and 35,000, were the largest. The word ‘Michigan’ is said to derive from the Ojibwe word “michigami” which means ‘big water’. Lake Michigan was given this name by the first European explorers in the area in the 1670s and the State later took the name as well.

While in Michigan, I travelled to the territory of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe and visited the Ziibiwing Centre of Anishinaabe Culture to learn about their history, culture and resilience. As a jubilada, it was encouraging to observe the way the Anishinaabe people celebrate the ‘elders’ in their community. Elders are seen as the teachers in the school of life; their experience is passed down from generation to generation through stories or by example. Elders are respected for what they know and the contributions they’ve made throughout their lives.

I recalled reading recently that it was Ojibwe swimmers who first introduced the front crawl to Great Britain (Heminsley, 2017). Having been portrayed on canvas swimming, by the US painter George Catlin, a group of Ojibwe were invited, by the British Swimming Society, in 1844, to give an exhibition at the swimming baths in High Holborn and to race against each other for a silver medal. As Laskow (2016) points out, the contest between the men was less significant than the speed with which they both crossed the 130 foot pool – in under 30 seconds. However, far from being wowed by this very impressive time, the London Times of 10th April 1844 found the swimmers’ movements “grotesque.”

The Ojibwe men hit the water “violently,” with their arms thrashing, “like the sails of a windmill,” as they “beat downward with their feet.”

Shamefully, this new swimming style was dismissed as “totally un-European” and “barbaric” and so English swimmers continued to swim only the breaststroke in competitions until 1902 (Heminsley, 2017:158).

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. Lake Michigan has many beaches and is often referred to as the “Third Coast” of the United States. Some of the beaches have sand dunes – many rising several hundred feet above the lake surface and the dunes located on the east shore of Lake Michigan are the largest freshwater dune system in the world.

Michigan

On this trip I had the opportunity to swim in Lake Michigan on both the Eastern Coast (in Lakeside, Michigan) and the Western Coast (in Chicago, Illinois).

Lakeside

In the 19th century, the area around Lakeside was a major site for logging and much of the timber used to rebuild Chicago, after the fire in 1871, was shipped across Lake Michigan from here. Today Lakeside is a tranquil, summer resort community with attractive wooden clapboard houses dotted about among the woodland forest with easy access to the lake. The long stretch of soft, clean sandy beach along the lake shore and the blue water that stretches further than the eye can see, make this place feel as though you are on a tropical island. This wasn’t like any lake I had ever imagined.

“This couldn’t be just a lake. No real water was ever blue like that … The breeze was full of evergreen spice.” (Maywood Bird, 1946)

I had been led to believe that the lake would be ‘cold’ but, to me, it felt wonderful. It was about 20 degrees celsius and was refreshingly welcome in the 30+ degree humid air temperature. The water was crystal clear and because it is fresh water it felt soft – like silk – on my skin. I enjoyed several wonderful swims along the shore and was honoured to be accompanied by my niece (who I hope will now become an open water swimmer) on a couple of them.

 

While we were there at Lakeside we also witnessed some of the most spectacularly beautiful sunsets that I have ever experienced – and we celebrated them!

IMG_2667

Chicago

Following our trip to Lakeside we spent a couple of nights in Chicago – the home of the distinctive “Chicago style” of jazz, of Al Capone’s bootlegging operation, the birthplace of the skyscraper and one of the most influential architectural cities of the 20th century (Glancey, 2015).

The name “Chicago” is derived from a French rendering of the Algonquian word shikaakwa – a sort of wild onion, known to botanists as Allium tricoccum that grew abundantly in the area. The first European settlers to this area were French and they pronounced shikaakwa as “Checagou” and so gave the name to the new city.

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed several square miles and left more than 100,000 people homeless but the city made a concerted effort to rebuild and by 1900 Chicago was one of the five largest cities in the world, famous for its innovative construction styles.

Chicago sits on the edge of Lake Michigan and, before my visit, I probably imagined the lake would look a bit like the River Thames. The reality quite blew away my assumptions and expectations. It is beautiful there. The waterfront along the lake is set out with parks, beaches and marinas all connected by the 18 mile stretch of the  Chicago Lakefront Trail.

The water in the lake is every bit as clean and fresh as it had been at Lakeside. Apparently, in 1900,  the problem of sewage contamination in the lake was resolved when the city completed a major engineering feat of reversing the flow of the Chicago River so that the water now flows away from Lake Michigan rather than into it (Marklew, 2017).

There is a dance at water’s edge,
a movement between the lake, its sand
and the horizon where lake becomes cloud. (Taylor, 2014)

Lake Monsters

Before my trip I had been following the blog posts of a group of open water swimmers who swim – all year round – in Lake Michigan, in Chicago. Known locally as the Lake Monsters, this group of swimmers have been meeting at dawn, every Saturday, since 2008, for a swim in the lake. I was hoping to meet up with them and to swim with them. However, the weekend I was there – being the weekend before the July 4th holiday, when the temperature reached 40 degrees celsius – no meet up had been organised.

So I swam alone.

I swam from what is known as ‘Ladder 1’ on North Shore to the sandy Oak Street beach –  a distance of about 1.2 miles. The water (again around 20 degrees celsius) was beautifully clear and blue and once again it felt as though I was swimming in silk. It is incredible to think that Chicago city dwellers have this on their doorstep. Lucky them!

Carpe Diem

Returning to the theme of jubilarse I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to explore and to embrace so many wonderful new swimming experiences – at home and abroad – and I feel honoured to receive such an enormous amount of support and encouragement from family and friends following the unexpected and unplanned life events that set me on this path (see It Started There).

When I came across the work of Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Anishinaabe, her words felt very appropriate to the theme of this blog and so I share them here with you:

You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt – or death brushes near – let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could” (Erdrich, L. 2005)

 Mino-ayaag!

(All of you be well!)

IMG_2659

 

References

Breck, J. E. (2004) Compilation of Databases on Michigan Lakes, State of Michigan, Department of Natural Resources. Fisheries Research Report 2004-2, Ann Arbor.

Brown, C. J. D. 1943a. The number and size of inland lakes in Michigan. Michigan Department of Conservation, Institute for Fisheries Research Report 871, Ann Arbor.

Egan D. (2017)  The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Norton

Erdrich, L. (2005) The Painted Drum, Harper Perennial

Glancey, J. (2015). “The city that changed architecture forever”. bbc.com.

Heminsley, A. (2017) Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves, and the Will to SwimHutchinson.

Laskow, S. (2016) How Racism Kept the World’s Fastest Swim Stroke Out of the PoolAtlasObscura.com

Maywood Bird, D. (1946) Mystery at Laughing Water, MacMillan

Marklew, T (2017) How The Chicago River Was Reversed, theculturetrip.com

Rogue Wave (2007)  Lake Michigan, from the album Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, Brushfire Records.

Simone, N. (1965) Feeling Good, from the album I Put a Spell on You, Philips.

Taylor, K. (2014) Sea and Rain: Lake Michigan, poets.org

Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region geo.msu.edu

 

fullsizeoutput_1d40

Agatha Christie · Ansteys Cove · bereavement · Branscombe · cold water · community · Devon · Embroidery · GPS · grief · Meadfoot Beach · mental health · National Trust · open water swimming · Social History · summer · Tides · well being · Women

18. Which Way You Goin’ Billie?

 

Which Way You Goin’ Billy? Can I go too? (Poppy Family, 1969)

I seem to have gained something of a reputation among the group I swim with at Clevedon for being unable to swim in a straight line! Since Christmas I have been wearing a GPS (Global Positioning System) watch when I swim and occasionally I have shared, with others, the ‘maps’ of where I have swum. The results are often rather amusing and make it appear that I swim in somewhat unconventional routes! Where, in my mind, I have been swimming towards a fixed marker (a buoy or the pier) the GPS that tracks me suggests I have, instead, been taking an artistic tour and creating unusual geometric shapes along the way.

Global Positioning System (GPS) is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from the constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations, located around the globe. The tracking stations help track the signals from the GPS satellites. GPS  works by providing information on exact location using the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). It can also track the movement of a vehicle or person. The system was initially designed for use by the U. S. military, but today, there are also many world-wide civilian users such as drivers and athletes. As Patrick Bertagna (2010) explains, the satellites use microwave signals that are transmitted to our GPS devices to provide information on location, speed, time and direction. This all feels a little bit ‘Orwellian’ for someone from my generation but the wearing of some sort of tracker to monitor ones cycling, running and swimming performance is becoming increasingly popular.

There’s No Hiding Place Down Here (Lonnie Donegan, 1962)

My original intention in wearing a GPS watch, was simply to find out how far I had swum in open water. In the swimming pool it is easy to calculate how far you have swum, but in open water – especially at new locations – less so. I still do find this useful but I am now, also, enjoying the post-swim discovery of finding out what innovative patterns I have made along the way. The wonder of an open water swim is that no two swims are ever the same.

It was through sharing some of my unconventional route patterns with other swimmers that I was introduced to the work of the artist Lizzie Philps. She began, in 2016, to create what she has called, coastal embroidery, using a GPS device to track her movements along the shore. To Philps,  the to and fro of the GPS signal to the satellite while walking along the landscape, echos the movement of an embroidery needle and she began to ‘embroider’ (on foot) in ‘picture postcard places‘, suggesting, in the patterns she created, new meanings in her relationship with the location.

32105026_625599074457795_6274452778525917184_n

In 2017, she invited others to join her project and to enjoy the ‘conviviality of embroidery’.  Eventually, she hopes, they will create together a “multiplicity of 21st century embroideries, legacies to pass down like the domestically-produced examples from the past”.

When I came across Lizzie’s work, I was inspired to try to create some coastal embroideries during my swims.  However, I soon found that the ‘best’ I could manage (in terms of embroidery stitches) was something like a running stitch – and then only if I swam along the coast line.

fullsizeoutput_1b36

As Agatha Christie (1941) has said: “There is no such thing as a really calm sea. Always, always there is motion”. When swimming in open water, with no ‘fixed markers’ – together with the action of the sea’s tides and swells – any purposeful intention I might have had to ‘stitch’ a recognisable pattern or shape, was taken out of my control. I discovered that the sea wants to create her own shapes and patterns – just as it does when it washes over the shore.

I also recognised that I prefer it that way.

Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long, (Leonard Cohen, 1984)

I have written previously (see N’er Cast A Clout Til May Is Out) about how swimming in the sea surrounds me with a feeling of peace and calm and how both my brain and my body are able to relax and focus only on the ‘here and now’. In the arms of the sea you don’t have to be ‘in control’ – in fact I find it impossible to be thinking or planning anything when I am swimming in the sea. I discovered that trying to create ’embroidery’ – and feeling disappointed with the end result – took away the pleasure of swimming, for me and I now prefer to surrender myself to the shapes and patterns that the sea wants to paint with me.

May sea mother find us
Wherever the wind’s a-blowing”  (McGarrigle & McGarrigle, 1990).

Instead of trying to stitch my way along the shore, the shapes and patterns I now leave upon the seascape are created through, what I think of as,  my ‘dance’ with the sea. I don’t need to think about it while I’m swimming – but it is fun to discover, when I get home, what sorts of shapes we have created together.

 

I have also discovered that I enjoy open water swimming more if there is somewhere or something to swim to. I don’t mind swimming along the shore line if I am with a group of other people, but when I am on my own I find it unsettling. I find myself worrying that I have ‘gone too far’ and that I won’t make it back to where I started. This often means that I do a shorter swim than I would have liked to. It is much more satisfying to have a pier, a rocky outcrop or an island to swim to.

Rise up, and do begin the day’s adorning;  (Hilaire Belloc, 1896)

This June we have been enjoying some wonderful summer weather and I have been swimming in the sea or in the marine lake almost every day. In addition to many fantastic swims at Clevedon I decided – in keeping with my last blog Ne’r Cast a Clout Til May Be Out – to be a bit more adventurous, explore further afield each week and discover some more ‘hidden gems’ along our beautiful, unspoilt English coastline.

Branscombe  beach and village are owned by the National Trust. The long, shingle beach is part of what is called ‘the Jurassic Coast’ – so called because of the layers of sedimentary rock that reveal the history of the Earth across 185 million years and form a near complete record of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The Jurassic Coast was designated as England’s first natural World Heritage Site in 2001.

Getting to Branscombe is via a scenic drive through steep and picturesque valleys that feel a long way from the hurly burly of modern living. The beach stretches for over a mile and the water is very clear. At either end of the beach, the coast rises steeply to cliffs, which are a popular point for starting walks on the South West Coast Path  and also  provide a ‘start and finish’ point for a pleasant swim.

Amazingly, considering that there is both a car park and a tea room (The Sea Shanty Beach Cafe) right next to the  beach, there were very few other people there when we visited in early June  – and no one else was in the sea.

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, Branscombe was a source of hand-made lace and Branscombe Point is a style that is still practised by lacemakers worldwide. Typical  of Branscombe lace are the edging of buttonholed scallops, bars decorated with nibs (tiny buttonholed rings), and woven spider wheels. I didn’t know about this until after I had swum there, otherwise I might have tried out some GPS lace-making – but as it happens I didn’t take my watch with me that day!

Just around the cliffs at the eastward end of the beach is Beer.  This is a ‘working beach’ where you can buy the freshly caught fish of day. The picturesque paraphernalia of the fishing industry with its brightly coloured wooden boats, nets, winches and neon-coloured floats add to the charm of the beach, but for me, don’t make for an especially enjoyable swimming location.

Beer is also famous for its hand-made lace making and achieved world fame when they were commissioned to make the lace trim for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress in 1839. From that time onwards lace has been made in the village for the Royal Family and fortnightly classes to teach lace making skills are still held in the Congregational Hall.

 

 

A week later, I visited Ansteys Cove,. This is a lovely little peaceful, shingle cove located on the coast path between Torquay and Babbacombe. The water at the cove has contributed to it achieving the “Quality Coast Award” every year since 2009. There is a car park at the top of the cliff and access to the cove is a walk down a relatively steep – but with beautiful views – path. At the bottom of the path is Anstey’s Cove Cafe where, as well as buying delicious snacks you can hire sunbeds and kayaks. The staff who run the cafe were very helpful and knowledgeable about the cove and about swimming safely there.

As with many parts of the Torquay area, Ansteys Cove has associations with Agatha Christie, who was born and spent much of her life in the area. It is said (Hawthorne, 2009) that Christie used to enjoy moonlight picnics with her friends at Anstey’s Cove and that she once had a ‘romantic liaison’ with a gentleman called Amyas Boston there! He went on to become the inspiration for the name of a character in her novel  Five Little Pigs. 

I loved Anstey’s Cove. It was so quiet and peaceful and calming with clear blue water and  rock caves to explore at low tide. The size of the cove make it ideal for a 1.5 kilometre swim with the option of exploring even further round the cliffs if feeling adventurous.

fullsizeoutput_1ae7

Around the cliffs, to the South West, is Meadfoot Beach Ansteys Cove and Meadfoot Beach are at either end of a coastal protrusion called Hopes Nose, a unique and significant coastal area of Torquay, recognised formally as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI). Hopes Nose is accessible only on foot or via the sea.

Meadfoot is a small, narrow and peaceful beach below spectacular cliffs providing a quieter environment away from the main tourist areas. It has a cafe and a row of attractive, modern beach huts designed by Kaye Elliott and built in 2015 . The beach has the European blue flag award for the quality of its water.

Meadfoot Beach also has associations with Agatha Christie, who was, throughout her life, an enthusiastic swimmer. During the summer months, according to Brett Hawthorne (2009), she would apparently visit this beach nearly every day.

What I liked about swimming at Meadfoot was the plentiful availability of large rocks to swim out to. I chose to swim to and around East Shag Rock – a swim of about 900 metres there and back. There was a colony of Cormorants living there and I would like to have spent more time looking at them – but the tide washed me round it like a rather exhilarating fairground ride.

I was rather pleased, on reading Agatha Christie’s (1977) autobiography, to note that she also enjoyed swimming round East Shag Rock. When she was a young woman, in the early 1900s, mixed bathing here was not permitted and males were not allowed within 50 yards of the ladies bathing machines!! However,

“… (by 1920) mixed bathing was allowed on the more aristocratic Meadfoot Beach. Meadfoot Beach was much more attractive than the Ladies’ Bathing Cove: bigger, wider, with an accessible rock a good way out to which you could swim to if you were a strong swimmer”.

Agatha Christie also gives a lovely account (that reminded me of some of the passages in Jenny Landreth’s book Swell – see The Circle of Life) of trying to swim in the unpractical garments women were required to wear at the time:

“… it was the rule that I should wear stockings when I bathed. I don’t know how French girls kept their stockings on: I was quite unable to do so. Three or four vigorous kicks when swimming, and my stockings were dangling off altogether or else wrapped round my ankles like fetters by the time I emerged. I think that the French girls one saw bathing in fashion plates owed their smartness to the fact that they never actually swam, only walked gently into the sea and out again, to parade the beach”. 

Meanwhile, I have also dispensed, this month, with my own leg coverings! I am now wearing what is known as a ‘Short Jane’ (as opposed to a Long John I can only assume!) and I am really enjoying the feeling of freedom this affords and the sensation of the water on my arms and legs while also having the benefit of keeping my core warm on longer swims – in water that is still only 14 degrees celsius on the south coast.

img_40841-e1529337825201.jpg

 

The Tonic Of The Sea

I felt I had to end by sharing this beautiful film The Tonic Of The Sea that captures, so accurately,  the power of the sea to heal the body and the mind. Katie, in the film, swims off the rocks of Penzance nearly everyday of the year and describes how swimming has helped her to overcome some of the struggles that life has thrown at her. In her own words:

“It made me feel brave again. And it gave me a tiny bit –  every morning – of me back”

 

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Wendy Oliver who died, aged 34, on 22nd June 2015.       We miss you every day.

 

img_1515.png

Photo Credit:  Beth Oliver

References

Belloc, H. (1896) month of June, in Verses and Sonnets, Ward and Downey,

Bertagna, P. (2010) How Does a GPS Tracking System Work, EETimes.

Christie, A. (1941) Evil Under The Sun, Collins

Christie, A. (1977) Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, Collins

Cohen, L. (1984) Dance Me To The End Of Love, from the album Various Positions,  CBS Records

Donegan, L. (1962) No Hiding Place, from the album Sing Hallelujah … Plus, Castle Communications.

Elliot, K. (2015) Meadfoot Beach Chalets

Hawthorn, B. (2009) Agatha Christie’s Devon,  Halsgrove.

Landreth, J. (2017) Swell; A Waterbiography, Bloomsbury.

McGarrigle, K. & McGarrigle, A. (1992) My Mother is the Ocean Sea, from the album Oddities

Poppy Family, The, (1969) Which Way You Going’ Billy?, from the album Which Way You Going’ Billy? Decca.

Philps, L. (2017) GPS Embroidery, lizziephilps.com

Scott, J. (2017) Tonic Of The Sea, Jonathan J Scott Films.

Lynmouth · mental health · National Trust · open water swimming · Spring · well being

17. N’er Cast A Clout Til May Be Out

IMG_7919.JPG

“N’er Cast A Clout Til May Be Out” (Fuller, 1733)

This Old English proverb has been in use since at least the 18th century, with the earliest citation considered to be that by Dr Thomas Fuller who published, in 1733, a compilation of proverbs titled Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs. It is likely, however, that it existed in a word-of-mouth form for many years before that.

A ‘clout’ is an old English word for a piece of clothing and this proverb is used to warn those of us who live in the UK not to discard our warm winter clothing too soon. There is a difference of opinion about the reference to ‘May’ however. Some people think ‘May’ refers to the month – that we should wait until the end of May before we put away our coats and boots. Others take it to mean the blossoming of the May flower or Hawthorn tree. In other words, don’t take your warm clothes off until the May blossom is out because cold weather can catch you out and return unexpectedly. As Shakespeare observed in 1608:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.  

However, this year, after a disappointing April, we have been rewarded with some spectacularly warm May weather. An early burst of warmth has encouraged an abundance of blossom – including The Hawthorn and so I decided to go with the ‘May Blossom’ interpretation and began, this month, to shed my layers of clothing.

Readers of my Hot Stuff blog back in November will recall my catalogue of clothing and equipment as I prepared to embark on a winter of cold swimming. Now that the water has become gradually warmer I have made up my mind to begin to streamline my ‘look’! I have dispensed with wearing my Dry Robe to every swim. Getting dried and dressed after a swim is no longer the shivering experience it was in the depths of winter – in fact we have had some glorious days when I haven’t even needed to put a jacket on after coming out of the sea. I no longer need neoprene gloves or socks. And I no longer need to take my hot water bottle with me.

I have also bought myself a sleeveless wetsuit and from the beginning of May I have been wearing this in the sea and in the lake at Clevedon. And I love it. It has all the benefits of body warmth while leaving my shoulders and arms free for unrestricted movement. It is also much easier to get on and off.

457CB2CB-90FF-4785-AEB0-371EB96E50A3

The sea, of course, is still taking its time to warm up and at the start of May when I wore this new suit for the first time, the temperature of the sea was still only around 11 degrees celsius. The bare arms enabled me to feel the ‘pleasurable sting’ of the cold water that I think non-wetsuit swimmers find to be so addictive. I also now understand that appeal and I am even toying with the idea of trying the ‘less is more’ clothing option next autumn and winter.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky (Masefield, 1902)

Earlier this month I read a report claiming that one in 10 so called ‘millennials’ (people born between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s) have never been to a UK beach in their lifetime! Furthermore, according to this same report, one in four parents have not visited a UK beach with their children in the last five years. The report did not provide sufficient detail of the study (other than that it was a survey of 2023 ‘parents’) to judge the validity of the claims but there does seem to be a sad trend that is echoed in other studies.

Another report (from VisitEngland) has suggested that 16–34 year olds took 1.4 million fewer holidays at home last year than they did a decade ago and that less than 25 per cent of millennials took a UK break in 2017. Meanwhile, passenger numbers at UK airports increased by 85 per cent between 1996 and 2015 as low-cost travel became more available. For many families, overseas breaks are now more common than British ones.

In my last blog (The Circle of Life) I wrote about the impact on our outdoor lidos and seaside towns of the trend towards holidaying abroad in the sun. However, I also noted optimistic signs that the tide was beginning to turn and that “a retro bathing boom” (Thorpe, 2016) had been observed with a movement towards “more and more people – most from their late 30s and into their 80s – across the UK … safely moving from swimming pools into open water, be it lakes, rivers or oceans” (Laville, 2015)

I have to also confess that from the mid-1990s onwards most of my holidays were ‘abroad’ and I also neglected the UK seaside. Discovering the joy of open water swimming, however, has opened up for me the wealth of beautiful places that the UK coast line has to offer. Open Water swimming has drawn me back to our coast and expanded my horizons.

and on the shore I found myself of a huge sea of mist (Worsdworth, 1805)

‘Heat wave’ temperatures during early May had us all digging out our shorts, dusting off our barbeques opening our windows and turning off our heating. It has also turned my thoughts towards exploring different bits of British coastline for a swim. For the early May Bank Holiday, we headed to the beautiful coastline of North Devon for a swim at Lynmouth.

The small, unspoilt towns of Lynton and Lynmouth are situated on the northern edge of the Exmoor coast and the drive there, across the moor is spectacularly beautiful. Lynton is situated about 450 feet above its sister village of Lynmouth and both have a rich and interesting history. The poets Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth all spent time here and drew inspiration from the landscape into their poetry. In 1799, the Romantic poet, Robert Southey, travelled to Lynton and Lynmouth and on discovering the dramatic North Devon landsape, he remarked that there was something distinctly Alpine in its appearance. Ever since, this town has been called England’s Little Switzerland.

The best (and most exciting) way to travel between these two villages is via the world famous funicular Cliff Railway. Opened in 1890, it is the highest and the steepest totally water powered railway in the world. It is also the UK’s only fully water powered railway and one of just three examples left in the World. And at the top there is an excellent little Cliff Top Cafe where, after our swim, we were able to sample ‘possibly one of the best locations for a Cream Tea’.

IMG_0839

 

Where Are You? (Cat Stevens, 1967)

As so often happens at the coast, when the weather warms up, on our arrival at Lynmouth, the sea was shrouded in a heavy sea mist. By the time we were ready to start our swim the mist was beginning to burn off, but it did not dissipate completely and as we swam along the coast it would periodically descend again and then lift again. It was beautiful, atmospheric and scenic. The water was clear and blue. We were the only swimmers in the water and we had a really enjoyable swim along the coastline.

As the year progresses and the weather warms up we start to share the sea with more boats, jet-skis, paddle boarders, surfers and wind surfers. Learning to live in harmony with all these different water users can present a challenge to those of us used to having a relatively quiet place to swim. It can also present dangers if we don’t all observe the rules and precautions. Before we had entered the water we had been a little unnerved by the antics of three jet skiers who either couldn’t see the maker buoys or were deliberately ignoring them. We would have swum and explored further around the coast had the visibility been clearer but we had been made nervous by the coming and going of the mist – and by the jet skiers – and so we agreed to stay as close to the shore line as the depth of water and the rocky coast line permitted. The wisdom of our plan was only revealed to us after we left the water and saw a photograph taken by our ‘team photographer’ showing a power boat seemingly – and unbeknownst to us at the time – passing right behind us.

IMG_7909

Another lesson re-inforced for me on that swim was the open water swimming rule of ‘know where you will exit the water’. It is important to research the condition of the beach of any new location – as well as the condition of the sea – and to know where your safe entry and exit points are. The beach can look very different from out at sea and you need a reliable landmark to help you recognise where you went in or where you plan to get out. Despite this, on completing the swim, I separated from my swim buddy because I thought (wrongly) I had seen members of our family further along the shore. While she exited the water safely and elegantly, I found myself amongst slippery rocks and uneven footing and had to endure a very undignified scramble to the shore – a mistake I hope I will not make again!

IMG_7992

 

It Don’t Matter Now (George Ezra, 2017)

I have found that, with the onset of ‘summer’, I have been just too busy swimming to feel much like sitting in front of a computer. As a consequence I have been putting off publishing this blog and I discovered that as the days went on and I kept putting it off – I began to grow anxious that I wasn’t meeting my own self-imposed deadlines! I also found that I had started to become anxious that I’m not making much progress with my (again self-imposed) goal of ‘Swimming the South Coast’ (see It Started There) before I’m 70.  My swimming so far has mostly not been on the South Coast (well not the South Coast of England anyway!) and I began to wonder whether I should change my goal to ‘swimming the South West Coast Path’!

I have had to take some time out to reflect on this. This is an emotional time of year for me because of the tragic events that happened to our family 3 years ago. I found that I have been getting fiercely caught up again in the feelings of panic, powerlessness and the need to be doing something. When I am swimming – in the sea in particular – I am able to find a semblance of peace. Both my brain and my body relax and I am only able to focus on the ‘here and now’. I have also found that I am getting tremendous pleasure from exploring and swimming between different bits of coastline – wherever in the world I might be.

I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter where I swim as long as I am swimming – and enjoying it – and that it doesn’t matter if I don’t achieve a goal I may have set myself last year, last week … yesterday. I would never have discovered so many different beautiful places to swim if I hadn’t started on this Open Water Swimming journey. It has taken me to places I would never have been to – and certainly wouldn’t have swum in. And I have met new people and learned so many new things. I have new interests I had not foreseen. And I know there are more to come.

So my journey now is to ‘just keep swimming‘ – and see where it takes me. And that feels more like an adventure than a plan!

Look and gather all you want to
There’s no one here to stop you trying 
(Moody Blues, 1969)

Photo Credits:  Iain Bourne

Local Details                                                                                                                                       

Sea temperature : 11 degrees Celsius

We ate in the Cliff Top Cafe

We swam 900 metres

 

References

Ezra, G. (2017) Don’t Matter Now, from the album Staying At Tamara’s, Sony.

Fuller, T (1733) Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, Barker

Laville, S. (2015) “Different Strokes: Open Water Swimming Takes the UK by Storm” in The Guardian, 18th August 2015.

Masefield, J. (1902) Sea Feverin Selected Poems of John Masefield.

Moody Blues, The (1969) Watching and Waiting, from the album To Our Children’s Children’s Children, Threshold Records.

Shakespeare W. (1608) Sonnet 18

Stevens, C. (1967) Where Are You? from the album New Masters, Deram Records

Thorpe, V. (2016) “Lidos: UK Rekindles Passion For Swimming”, in The Guardian, 19th June 2016.

Wordsworth, W. (1805) The Prelude: Book 13, Bradbury & Evans