bereavement · Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · community · English Channel Swim · Happiness · Mallorca · mental health · open water swimming · Outdoors · retirement · Social prescribing · Spring · swimming · Waterlog · well being

28: To Everything There is a Season: Turn, Turn, Turn

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“When you enter the water, something, like a metamorphosis happens. Leaving behind the land, you go through the looking glass surface and enter a new world in which survival, not ambition or desire, is the dominant aim.” (Roger Deakin, 1999)

The last day of March marked the end of the winter swimming season and in typical British fashion, just as we turned our clocks to British Summer Time, the weather decided to remind us that winter had not finished with us yet. After a week of promising warm Spring sunshine, the 31st March was cold and misty with a brisk easterly wind, an air temperature of 8 degrees celsius and a water temperature of 9 degrees.

Nevertheless, I, and lots of other swimmers, congregated at Clevedon Marine Lake to complete our final Polar Bear Challenge swim – and to collect our badges! And I celebrated the occasion with an 800 metre swim.

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I now have a certificate recording my total of 34.1 kilometres clocked up since October, in water temperatures ranging from 0.5 degrees to 9 degrees celsius and I feel very proud to have completed my first winter in ‘skins’ (no wetsuit, no gloves or neoprene socks). As I said in my previous blog – next year, I will be aiming to achieve ‘Gold’ Polar Bear status!

Feeling proud. Yay me! Bring on summer!

The weather has been just as fickle for the first half of April, enticing us with spells of promising warm sunshine for a few days and then throwing us back into ‘unseasonably low’ temperatures with biting winds. Nevertheless, I am determined to believe in and to embrace Spring and I have gradually been increasing the distance of my swims and staying in the water for longer – in both the sea and the lake (both of which, I have to say are taking an age to warm up!). I have enjoyed the freedom of ‘skins’ swimming and the feeling of the water on my skin so much, that I have decided I will only be reverting to wearing a wetsuit again for any events I have entered where such attire is compulsory – (of which, I will write more, though out the summer).

The Coast (Paul Simon, 1990)

It is at this time of year, while looking forward to longer swims, that I have not only been booking myself on to a variety of open water swimming events, but I have also begun planning the continuation of my ‘south coast swim journey’. You may recall, that in my first blog post It Started There I committed myself to ‘swimming the South Coast of Britain – by the time I am 70′ and that, in October, in An Indian Summer I recorded my progress, so far, along the Jurassic Coast. I wrote in that first blog that I was not in a particular rush to complete this challenge and, at that time, it felt reasonably achievable. However, as the seasons have sped by, I am beginning to realise that I need to get a move on if I am, indeed, to complete it by 2023 (my 70th birthday).

It was never my intention to swim the length of the English Channel in the way that Lewis Pugh did (see Don’t Stop Me Now). In 2018, Lewis Pugh became the first person to ever swim the 560 km length of the Channel (from Lands End to Dover) in one go. My plan, in contrast,  has always been to complete this swim in, more of what I call, a Roger Deakin way!  – not in a systematic way from West to East, but in an ‘as and when an opportunity arises’ sort of way – my aim being 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 – just as Roger Deakin did in his swim through Britain.

It was gaspingly, shockingly, ridiculously cold. This was water straight from the mountain that sends your blood surging and crams every capillary with a belt of adrenalin, despatching endorphins to seep into the seats of pleasure in body and brain, so that your soul goes soaring, and never quite settles all day. (Deakin, 1999)

It is twenty years, this year, since the first publication of Roger Deakin’s inspiring and beautifully written book and it opens with Roger’s first swim on April 23rd. This therefore, feels an appropriate time to reflect once again on the impact his book had on me – and on others. In Waterlog, Deakin charts his progress as he ‘swam through Britain’ exploring, not only wild swimming locations but also discussing cultural history, literature, geography and natural history. When I first read it, two years ago, it opened my eyes to the opportunities writing about a swimming journey could offer – and I am not alone in this.

Emily Hogan (2018) also claims Waterlog to be her inspiration to taking up cold water swimming and believes that it was because of Deakin and his descriptions of wild swimming that interest in the activity has become so popular.

“Waterlog’s compulsive journey did for wild-water swimming what Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” did for football … in the practitioner, it evoked a sense of being understood; in the outsider, fascination” (Hogan, 2018)

In 2010, Alice Roberts, made a delightful film for BBC 4 in which she also sought to ‘follow in the wake of Waterlog’, to try to discover what lies behind the passion for wild swimming ‘that is sweeping Britain’ – and in so doing, she also became hooked herself.

In 2017, Joe Minihane published his book Floating: A Return to Waterlog in which he attempts to retrace the swims of Roger Deakin and to explore his own personal journey through wild swimming. Minihane has also made a short documentary which summarises some of the main themes in his book.

Where, Deakin’s book is noted for it’s beautifully observant passages that evoke in the reader a love of the countryside and our natural surroundings – as well as a love of swimming, Minihane’s book is much more focussed on his personal journey as he seeks to come to terms with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy in relation to his career and his personal life and a sense that he has ‘lost his way’. In quite a lot of the book I got the sense that he didn’t really enjoy the swims as much as the journey:

“I had no protection for my hands and feet, which whitened into numbness the minute I worked my way down the steep bank into the river”. (p.42)

“I took two steps in and leapt back out in agony, the cold screaming up my legs and into my lower back. There was simply no way I could get in and enjoy the water.”  (p.128)

However, he does complete his journey – and his goal – and by the end of the book, it seemed to me me, that three themes had emerged that also held resonance for me.

Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac, 1977)

“I felt confused. Roger had depicted this place as a swimming idyll, which it no longer was and may never have been” (p.184)

One of the recurring themes in Minihane’s book is his disappointment that, when he finds Deakin’s swimming locations, many of them have changed or are not as Deakin had described them.

“.. it would be fair to say that over two years of trailing Roger had left me sometimes cynical and frustrated” (p.248)

Some of this can be explained by the passage of time: landscape changes, footpaths and other access points closed, buildings remodelled. But I have also, often been struck by how no two people experience a place or a time in the same way – and, furthermore, our own experience can be wholly different if we try to return to somewhere where we have had an especially good experience or memory.

The way in which each of us experiences places or events will depend on a range of circumstances such as who we are with, how we are feeling that day, the weather and so on. Trying to re-visit, or re-experience, the past can lead to disappointment. We need to keep moving forward, to ‘go with the flow’ and not try to ‘fight the tide’ of time.

I found his watering holes … offered wholly different experiences to those he had encountered. No water was ever the same in any one place; everywhere was being renewed and reborn all the time” (Minihane, 2017:261)

It is also important – especially in cold water swimming – to know your own limits and not to be bothered about trying to copy, compare or compete with what someone else can achieve. As the air temperature warms up it is tempting to stay in a bit longer and to swim a bit further – and this is often how people get into difficulties. ‘Know Your Limits’ is one of the key tips from the Outdoor Swimming Society and we all need to remember it. Despite the warmer air temperatures, the sea is still relatively cold.

Friendship (Ethel Merman, 1954)

Another theme to emerge from Minihane’s journey is his discovery of the added joy that company of friends and family brought to his travels and to his experience of swimming. On learning of his quest to follow Roger Deakin there was no shortage of friends, some of whom he had lost regular contact with, eagerly volunteering to accompany him. These friends feature as a joyful and energetic support group and their adventures often have a Famous Five feel about them

“After a lunch of cheese and onion pasties and overpriced lemonade on the harbour wall” (p.211)

The friends become a regular, supportive group around Minihane, enthusiastically embracing his new found enchantment with wild swimming. He finds that, through going swimming with friends and family,  he is able to begin to be open and honest about his mental health and to feel supported by them.

“Just being around friends … was every bit as good as being in the water itself. They made me feel happy by showing willingness to join me on my escapades” (p.100)

This is a very common theme to emerge from accounts of people who take up open water swimming. Many swimmers attest to having found a new community, a new ‘tribe’, a new group of friends, all of whom share the love of outdoor swimming. Groups of open water swimmers meet, around the country, at regular times to not only swim together but to encourage each other, chat and make social and community connections. This sense of belonging and reduction in social isolation has often been put forward as a factor in the improved well being outcomes that are increasingly attributed to cold water swimming.

In The Happy Club I wrote about research (van Tulleken et al, 2018) that has found “that potential benefits (to mental health) of open water swimming include a sense of achievement and community” in undertaking “an activity … that is stimulating, challenging, possibly outdoor and takes place in a social group”.  And I wrote about how social prescribing is drawing on such findings to try to find a way forward for people who are lonely or isolated and people with mild mental health issues who may be anxious or depressed.

This month I was drawn to a new report (Key, 2019) of recent research investigating the association between the outdoor activity and mental wellbeing in women. This study found that swimmers reported “above average scores for happiness, life satisfaction and how worthwhile they perceived their activities to be”. Their reported anxiety levels were also lower than the average. 

I have found that the ‘social contact’ aspect of open water swimming does not have to mean being part of a ‘tight-knit’, regular group of friends. Knowing that ‘someone else’ will be there, or having informal swim ‘meet up’ times is often enough. Even if we all do different swim distances, it is the turning up and connecting with others, and the chatting about the swim afterwards that so often cheers me up. On some days this feels like a life line.

Don’t Give Up (Willie Nelson & Sinead O’Connor, 1993)

Minihane’s progress with his swimming journey is interrupted by a physical injury, his recurring mental ill health and by pressure of work which all serve to compound his sense of failure. The pressure to complete Deakin’s swims starts to become a burden.

the one thing I had found could help with my anxiety was becoming the cause of it – I had lost sight of the reason for doing it in the first place”. 

Eventually, he stopped “trying to ape Roger” and started to “do things at my own pace and in my own way” (p.160) and enjoyed his trips all the more for it.

In N’er Cast a Clout til May Be Out I also reflected on how I had started to experience my self-imposed goals of swimming the south coast as a bit of a burden. I came to the  conclusion, in that post, that all that really mattered was that I was swimming somewhere that gave me enjoyment and pleasure.

” 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”

I have recently needed to remind myself of this and to remind myself that there is so much lovely coastline to explore – in the South and elsewhere!. I really don’t want to go about this ‘swimming the south coast’ mission in a ‘tick-box’/ ‘got to get it finished’ fashion. I want to enjoy the swims and enjoy my surroundings. I still have the goal to swim at as many lovely – and swimmable – bits of the coast as I can and to explore our coastal heritage along the way. But I don’t want it to become a burden or something that makes me feel I ‘need’ to swim in less than inviting environments.

So what if it takes me longer to complete than I had at first envisaged? As I wrote in Forever Young ,  given what we now know to be the health and anti-ageing benefits of swimming, I am anticipating 30 more years of living still ahead of me!

So – for as long as there is still somewhere interesting and beautiful and new to explore – I will just keep swimming!

It’s looking like a beautiful day (Elbow (2008)

And STOP PRESS! As I write, our sea temperature at Clevedon has tipped over into double figures! The water is now 10 degrees celsius! We have a sunny and warm Easter weekend of weather, big Spring Tides, flat calm sea, a full moon and beautiful sunsets! What’s not to love about that?

 

I looked back towards the shore. A crimson mist lay over the sea as a red-hot sun dropped behind the sand dunes… The beach shone in the gathering dusk as the tide fell and the sea grew less perturbed. I turned and swam on into the quiet waves (Deakin, 1999:332) 

The Coast of Mallorca: In early April, most of my swimming was in Mallorca! I had the opportunity to follow a group of family and friends who were cycling round the island and so I tagged along, staying with them at their overnight locations and taking the opportunity to explore the coast during the day, for some breath-taking swims. Doing these swims and exploring this coastline re-inforced the feelings I write about above – there truly are too many beautiful places to discover to worry that they are not ‘part of the plan’.

April 4th at El Rentador de la Señora in the South: Translates as ‘Ladies Bathing Place’. It is said La Señora de Son Veri (a nearby rustic finca) used to bathe here. The surname of Veri is one of the oldest and most historic on the island of Mallorca, appearing since 1230.

April 5th at Caló de sa Barca Trencada in the South East:  This beach is part of the Mondragò National Park – ‘an area of natural beauty and a conservation area’ and Site of Special Scientific Interest. Water temp 14 degrees celsius! Air temp 13 degrees celsius. Distance swum 600 metres. Time in the water 17 minutes

April 6th at Cala Rotja in the East: Close to the Torre de Canyamel a historic 13th century defence tower. The coast here is very mountainous.  There are many caves along the coastline. Water temp 13 degrees celsius! Air temp 14 degrees celsius. Distance swum 700 metres. Time in the water 18 minutes

April 6th at Cala d´es Camps in the North East: Close to the village of Betlem and the 19th century ‘Ermita’. The beach is very quiet and surrounded by mountains. Water temp 14 degrees celsius! Air temp 15 degrees celsius. Distance swum 550 metres. Time in the water 15 minutes

April 7th at Cala Carbó in the North West: A small secluded cove near Cala Sant Vicenç. The landscape is surrounded by high mountains with footpaths that offer spectacular views. This bit of the coast was known for the violent pirate attacks that took place in the 1550s. Water temp 13 degrees celsius! Air temp 14 degrees celsius. Distance swum 700 metres. Time in the water 16 minutes

April 8th at Port D’es Canonge in the West close to Banyalbufar and Esporles: Not easy to get to (down a six kilometre winding mountain road) this beautiful old fishing port is still unspoilt with small fishing huts occupying the rear of the beach. You can also reach this beach on foot via the footpath trail from Banyalbufar. Water temp 14 degrees celsius! Air temp 15 degrees celsius. Distance swum 600 metres. Time in the water 14 minutes

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Longest UK Swim so far this month: April 12th at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 9.5 degrees celsius. Air temp 8 degrees celsius. Distance swum 1,250 metres. Time in the water 24 minutes.

References

 

Blyton, E. (1953) Five Go Down To The Sea,  Hodder & Stoughton

Byrds, The (1965 ) There is a Season: Turn Turn Turn from the album Turn, Turn, Turn, Columbia Records

Cowie, J. (2016) 6 Tips for Cold Water Swimming, Outdoor Swimming Society

Deakin, R. (1999) WaterlogChatto & Windus

Elbow (2008) One Day Like This from the album The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Concord Records

Fleetwood Mac (1977) Go Your Own Way from the album Rumours, Warner Brothers

Hogan, E. (2018) Finding yourself in the rivers, lakes and ponds of England, The Economist, 22nd December 2018

Key, H. (2019) Women In Adventure Mental Wellbeing Survey,  womeninadventure.com

Merman, E. (1954) Friendship written by Cole Porter performed on the 1954 Colgate Comedy Hour live TV broadcast 

Minihane, J. (2018) Floating: A Return To WaterlogDuckworth Overlook

Nelson, W. & O’Connor,S. (1993) Don’t Give Up from the album Across The Borderline, Columbia Nashville

Roberts, A. (2010) Wild Swimming With Alice Roberts,  BBC FOUR

Simon, P. (1990) The Coast from the album The Rhythm of the Saints,  Paul Simon Studio Album

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

 

 

 

 

 

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ageing · bereavement · Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · community · dementia · grief · Mallorca · mental health · open water swimming · Outdoors · swimming · Tides · well being · winter

27: Thanks for the memory

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Sweet, sweet memories (The Temptations, 1975)

In my previous blog post (Forever Young) I wrote about research that has suggested how regular swimming can ‘slow down the ageing process’ by, for example, lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and improving your cardiovascular performance. It is also shown to increase flexibility and reduce joint inflammation. Recent research (Lourenco et al, 2019)  has now also shown that the hormone produced by exercise may  slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease and delay the onset of dementia.

During exercise a hormone called irisin is released from muscle tissue into a person’s circulation. It appears to have a complex array of functions, including a role in the brain. The research found that irisin can help to boost brain health and memory (Blakely, 2019)

David Reynolds, chief scientific officer for Alzheimer’s Research UK, has noted that “one third of dementias” could be avoided by people changing their lifestyles. As a rule, he says, “what’s good for your heart is also good for your head” (Naish, 2019). At the core of this, according to the Alzheimer’s Society (Davies, 2019) lies regular, healthy exercise that causes you to feel breathless.

And according to Parle et al (2005) that exercise should, ideally, be swimming!

In conclusion, our results emphasize the role of regular physical exercise, particularly swimming, in the maintenance and promotion of brain functions (Parle et al, 2005)

Now, I feel that I should point out (in case you don’t click on the links!) that these studies were carried out on mice! But I’m going to just keep swimming anyway! The findings all seem to be pointing in the right direction.

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind (Elvis Presley, 1968)

Over the past couple of weeks, my facebook feed has been throwing up ‘memories’ of events from two years ago that have made me realise how far along this open water swimming journey I have progressed in a surprisingly short space of time.

In case you are one of those people who ‘don’t do facebook’ I should explain that, each day, facebook reminds you of something you shared ‘on this day’ in previous years. Mostly, this tends to remind me of what a load of drivel I used to post in the earliest days of facebook; often there is a surprise at how many years have passed since a particularly memorable event; and on more occasions than I would wish, there are bitter-sweet memories of times shared with loved ones who are no longer with us. The seasons pass. The years come and go. And it is presented to you, on a daily basis, like a scrap book, diary or old photograph album that you stumble across while clearing out a cupboard or a drawer.

Memories
Of summer days so long ago
People in the places
That we used to know
Oh those memories
How they linger in the twilight
And in the wee small hours
Sometime just before the dawn

 

Recently, among these ‘memories’ I have been reminded that it is only two years since I decided to ‘get serious’ about taking up open water swimming. This feels like a surprise to me. It seems to me that I have been part of this ever growing community for ages. I can’t quite believe it is only two years since I made my first tentative ‘dips’ into Clevedon Marine Lake.

I also can’t quite believe what a song and dance I was then making about how cold I thought it was!

Let the memory live again (Streisand, 1981)

Following two terrifying triathlon swims (see It Started There and Stormy Waters) in 2015 and 2016 I had decided that I needed to “get the hang of this open water sea swimming thing’ and so, in January 2017 I made a start by entering my first cold water ‘dip’ in the Marine Lake at Clevedon (see The Day We Made It Into The Sun).

However, it was not until March 2017 that I ventured forth again and began to swim, outdoors, regularly.

On 12th March 2017, it seems that I managed, for the first time, to swim 200 metres in the lake. There I was, completely covered in neoprene wet suit, gloves and socks, even though the water temperature was apparently 9 degrees celsius on that day. It seems that I found this ‘very cold on my face’. However, I also felt that I had ‘made a start’! and I felt very proud of myself.

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You’ve Come A Long Way (Fat Boy Slim, 1998))

By the end of March 2017 I was swimming 2 lengths (500 metres) of the lake and boasting about my ‘great sense of achievement’. However, I can still clearly remember what a struggle it was back then. I found myself exhausted and gasping for breath after about 100 metres and could feel my lungs bursting and my shoulders burning. The end of the lake seemed so very far away. The water felt so cold on my face. I thought I would never make it.

But guess what – I did make it! I kept going! And I now realise – as I come to the end of my first winter completed without a wetsuit – what progress I have made, how much further I can swim and how much more confident and stronger I feel in the water.

While I will not deny that sometimes the winter sea temperatures have been challenging, I have learned to truly love the sensation of the cold water on my skin. I find it soothing – especially when I feel anxious or sad – but also exhilarating and energising. I always go home from a swim with a smile on my face.

“In March the soft rains continued, and each storm waited courteously until its predecessor sunk beneath the ground.”  (John Steinbeck,1952)

Back in mid February, we had a bit of a ‘false dawn’, where the arrival of Spring was concerned. The weather became unnaturally warm and record temperatures were reported. The warmth did not extend to the sea temperatures, which are at their lowest point in February, but it made leaving the water and getting dressed a rather more enjoyable experience.

It didn’t last however. March arrived in the UK with more than a bit of a roar. We have been experiencing a terrible series of storms (both politically and meteorologically!) and everything has felt quite unsettled. When I have managed to swim, it has been in an energetically bouncing sea. There have been too many days, however, when the weather has frustrated my longing for a swim in the sea. Despite this frustration, I am feeling quietly confident that we have ‘passed the worst’ of the lowest water temperatures. The sea, at Clevedon, is now hovering at around 8 degrees celsius and I believe that the end of winter is in sight (meteorologically if not politically)!

There are still a couple of weeks to go before the end of the Clevedon Polar Bear Challenge  (to swim outdoors – without a wetsuit – in unheated water for at least 100 metres, twice a month between the start of October and the end of March (see An Indian Summer)) but I have already more than successfully completed that. Despite all the fears I expressed back in November (Sing, Sing A Song) about achieving this challenge – I have done it. With bells on!

I think that there has been only one occasion when the water was so cold that all I could manage was 100 metres. Mostly, I swam much more than that and I believe I could, next year, confidently complete the official Devon & Cornwall Polar Bear Challenge and gain the ‘Gold Award’ (to swim 250 metres twice a month from 1 November 2018 to 31 March 2019 and a minimum total of 5000 metres during the Challenge period).

So there it is –  something to aim for next year! Who will join me?

It’s getting warmer. I’m swimming further: 

February 27th at Clevedon Pier Beach. Water temp 6 degrees celsius! Air temp 15 degrees celsius. Distance swum 400 metres. Time in the water 10 minutes

February 22nd at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 7 degrees celsius. Air temp 8 degrees celsius. Distance swum 600 metres. Time in the water 13 minutes.

And, although I didn’t count my winter swims in Mallorca towards my Polar Bear Challenge, my ‘memories’ show me that I have also made great progress there, swimming without any neoprene over much longer distances than previously. I haven’t yet found many groups of people, who live in Mallorca, who do ‘winter swimming’. Even last year when I wore a wetsuit I felt like a bit of an oddity. Who would have thought that I would find water temperatures of 10 – 14 degrees celsius to be so lovely?

March 5th at Calô Fort (Mallorca). Water temp 13 degrees celsius. Air temp 16 degrees celsius. Distance swum 800 metres. Time in the water 16 minutes. It felt like Spring!

 

Thanks for the memory

Photo CreditsIain Bourne & Beth Oliver

References

Blakely, R. (2019) Exercise hormone may delay dementia onset, say scientistsin The Times, January 7th 2019

Crosby, B. (1956) Thanks for the Memory,  from the album Songs I Wish I Had Sung, Decca.

Davies, J. (2019) in Naish, J. (2019) Don’t bother with brain supplements: exercise is best for dementia, in The Times, March 8th 2019

Fat Boy Slim (1998)  You’ve Come A Long Way, from the album, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,  House Of Love.

Lourenco et al, (2019) Exercise-linked FNDC5/irisin rescues synaptic plasticity and memory defects in Alzheimer’s models, in Nature Medicinevolume 25, pages165–175

Naish, J.(2019 Don’t bother with brain supplements: exercise is best for dementia, in The Times, March 8th 2019

Parle et al (2005) Swim Everyday to Keep Dementia Away, in Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. March 2005; 4(1): 37–46.

Presley, E. (1968)Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind, from the album Elvis, RCA Victor

Streisand, B. (1981) Let the memory live again from the album, Memories, Columbia Records.

Temptations, The (1975) Memories, from the album, A Song For You,  Gordy Label.

Steinbeck, J. (1952) East of Eden, Viking Press

Van Morrison, (1990) Memories, from the album Enlightenment, Polydor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ageing · Clevedon · cold water · community · grief · Happiness · mental health · open water swimming · Outdoors · retirement · swimming · well being · winter

26: Forever Young

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May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong” (Bob Dylan, 1974)

Have you noticed? Or is it just me? It feels as though there has been – over the past year – a sharp increase in interest in open water swimming – and specifically cold-water swimming. It feels as though, not a week goes by without another newspaper or magazine article or television programme focusing on the health, community or just the general joyfulness of open water swimming. At Clevedon, where I swim, it feels as though we are continuously being asked to be filmed by one programme maker or photographer or another.

And by the way, you might have missed it, but I was on the television recently! If you blinked you would have missed me but I was part of a group filmed on the beach at Clevedon by the BBC for a piece about the artist Adebanji Alade. In case you want to see if you can spot me I will include a link at the end of this blog!

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Can You Feel It?

If you look around
The whole world is coming together now
Can you feel it, can you feel it, can you feel it
Feel it in the air, the wind is taking it everywhere  (The Jacksons, 1980)

It also seems that the appeal of open water swimming and cold water swimming is growing. During the (admittedly short) time that I have been part of this community I have seen a steep increase in the numbers of people joining us in the water. According to Walker (2019) membership of the Outdoor Swimming Society has “soared to more than 70,000 over the past two years, compared with only a couple of hundred a decade ago”. Some open water swimming events that have been running for years, now sell out within days – and sometimes minutes – of the tickets being released.

A recent article in Psychology Today (Gingell, 2019) also notes that, what they call, the “niche ‘sport’ of swimming in freezing waters” is “becoming increasingly popular”. And, writing in The Guardian (Walker, 2019) claims that “wild winter swimming …is fast going mainstream”. 

I’m not sure what is fuelling this popularity. Certainly, a lot has recently been written about both the mental and physical health benefits of cold water swimming. I have covered this myself in previous blog posts (see for example The Happy Club) and I have been very clear how swimming in cold and open water has helped me to manage my own grief (see It’s time to Press the Re-Set Button). Readers of this blog will know that one of the ways that I have been coping with feelings of loss, grief, powerlessness and anger is by channelling my energies into open water swimming where I have found an outlet for the build up of the sadness that has needed to be released.

Talking to and reading the stories of other cold water swimmers you hear, over and over again, the many ways swimming outdoors has helped people with a range of physical and emotional issues to feel better; how it has helped them to meet new friends; given them a new purpose in life; and to experience a ‘buzz’ that lasts for most of the day.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation (The Who, 1965)

Much of the current media attention tends to focus on those many social and health benefits – especially in relation to mental health which is also experiencing something of a ‘moment’ in terms of media coverage. However, I have also noticed recently a spate of articles claiming that cold water swimming can slow down the ageing process! Now, to a swimming jubilada with, hopefully, 30 more years of living still ahead of me, I find this to be rather encouraging news!

According to research by University College London (Steptoe & Fancourt, 2019) people who have a sense of purpose in their lives and in the things they do tend to be healthier as they age. They tend to have a higher concentration of vitamin D in their blood, healthier cholesterol and lower levels of inflammation. The more meaningful you believe your life to be, apparently, the faster you will walk, the stronger your grip will be and the less chronic pain you will suffer.

According to Mulumba (2018), swimming has anti-ageing benefits such as lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and improving your cardiovascular performance. It also increases flexibility and reduces joint inflammation. Komorek (2015) cites ‘an Australian study’ that claims to have shown that older people who swim have improved balance and are 53% less likely to experience falls than those who don’t swim.  A group of cold water swimmers in Wales claimed recently (Fyfe, 2019) that plunging into sea temperatures as cold as 6C is helping them with the effects of the menopause. And, in addition it is claimed (Mulumba, 2018) that swimming in salt water can help to combat skin dryness as the skin holds onto moisture.

According to Sewell (2018) a ‘study carried out at Indiana University’ found that swimming regularly as one gets older can postpone the ageing process … ‘not just for a few years but for decades, according to traditional age markers like muscle mass, blood pressure and lung function’.  And according to the website Just Swim even a small amount of swimming each week can help you to stay younger for longer or, as they put it ‘knock years off you’.

Sewell (2018) refers to another ‘study, carried out at the University of South Carolina’ that concluded that swimming can even ‘dramatically reduce the risk of dying’. This longitudinal study was, apparently, carried out over a 32 year period and followed 40,000 people, aged 20 to 90. Those who swam apparently ‘had a 50 per cent lower death rate than runners, walkers and those who didn’t exercise at all’.

Now, if true, this is good news for all of us! Because whatever age you might be at the moment, there is one thing for sure: we are all of us ageing!

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas 1951).

Carl Honoré (2018), writes of “the terrible weight of the number” that he felt was dragging him down as he got older. In his book Bolder: Making The Most of our Longer Lives (2018)  he explores the concept of ageing and argues that in this “time of longer lifespans”, we have the potential to “age better than ever before”.  We all need to stop worrying about the process of ageing, he says, stop fixating on the ‘number’ and, instead, “wring every drop out of whatever time is allotted to us”. If you think of yourself as old, he asserts, you will be old. Instead, the time has come to “cast off prejudices and blur the lines of what is possible at every age”. Ageing should be a process of opening rather than closing doors. Resist being pigeonholed, he tells us: keep experimenting; challenge yourself and society’s stereotyping of you.

Perhaps this is the reason behind the apparent recent surge in popularity in open water swimming and cold water swimming through winter. Whatever the other health benefits might be, one thing seems to be common in what aficionados of this pastime say. Swimming outdoors makes you feel alive!

Amongst the increasing numbers of open water swimming groups around the country it is noticeable – to me at any rate – how many of us are over 65. In fact, most groups who have been swimming outdoors for many years have at their core a group of regulars who are well into their 70s and 80s.

Torres (2009 famously said that the water doesn’t know how old you are” and this seems to encapsulate the experience of swimmers I have spoken to and read about. According to the poet Al Alvarez (2013)  who has been swimming outdoors in cold water since 1942 a daily dip in ‘freezing water’ is ‘like bathing in the elixir of life‘.

  I go in crabby, aching and old; by the time I come out, I’ve shed years.

Katie Maggs (2019) has been swimming with and photographing the “incredible group of intrepid older swimmers” who swim every day off Battery Rocks in Cornwall and this has led her to reflect on “not only the physical health benefits of regular immersion in cold water but also the impact it has on our ability to live longer, happier and more purposeful lives“.

She quotes swimmers Monique Thomas (aged 83) who says “It’s exhilarating … you feel so proud of yourself after doing it” and Peter Uren (aged 71) who, after swimming in the morning feels as though “I have really achieved something extraordinary … when I swim I feel I am really living my life” and Jeremy Charles Gulliver King (aged 85) who gets a “feeling of complete freedom and possibility” from swimming every morning in the sea.

Perhaps it is this wonderful example of swimmers around the country “wringing every drop out of whatever time is allotted to us” that is fuelling the increasing popularity of open water swimming. They certainly inspire me.  And after swimming in the low temperatures we have experienced this month, I also feel proud of myself, re-invigorated and alive.

So! In the words of Captain Picard in Star Wars (1992)

Seize the time! Live now! Make now always the most precious time! Now will never come again.” 

And  Just Keep Swimming!

Coldest Swim so far this month: February 3rd at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 0.5 degrees celsius! Air temp 1 degree celsius. Distance swum 130 metres. Time in the water 3 minutes

Longest Swim so far this monthFebruary 6th at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 3.5 degrees celsius. Air temp 6 degrees celsius. Distance swum 350 metres. Time in the water 6 minutes.

Here is the link to the BBC programme I mentioned at the start of this blog: Clevedon Tidal Paintings
Photo credits: Beth Oliver & Susie Baker
References

Alvarez, A. (2013)  Pondlife  Bloomsbury

Dylan, B. (1974) Forever Young from the album Planet Waves, Village Recorder.

Fyfe, W. (2019) Women cold water swimming in Gower to help menopauseBBC Wales, 8th February 2019

Gingell, S. (2019) How Cold Water Swimming Improves Stress Management, in Psychology Today, January 15th 2019

Honoré, C. (2018) Bolder: Making The Most of Our Longer Lives, Simon & Schuster

Jacksons, The (1980) Can You Feel It? from the album Triumph  Epic Records.

Just Swim (2016) How swimming helps you stay younger for longer  swimming.org

Kellaway, K. (2013) Pondlife: A Swimmer’s Journal by Al Alvarez  in The Guardian, 17th February 2013.

Komorek, B. (2015) 12 life-changing benefits of swimming for over 60s, in Health  Wednesday 8th Jul, 2015

Lay, K. (2019) Why Positive Thinking Is The Best Way To Get A Grip, in The Times January 8th 2019

Maggs, K. (2019) A Tonic For Longevity, in Outdoor Swimmer, Issue 23, February 2019

Mulumba, P. (2018) Just Keep Swimming: All The Reasons To Jump In in longevity live.com

Captain Picard/Patrick Stewart (1992) Seize The Time from Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light”, 1st June 1992

Sewell, D. (2018) Swimming May Slow Down Aging By Decades, in everythingzoomer.com, August 11th 2018

Steptoe, A. & Fancourt, D. (2019) Leading a meaningful life at older ages and its relationship with social engagement, prosperity, health, biology, and time use, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 

Thomas, D. (1951) Do not go gentle into that good night,  from Collected Poems, 1934–1952, first published by Dent in 1952

Torres, D. (2009) Age Is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life, Three Rivers Press.

Walker, R. (2019) Why wild swimming in depths of winter is the new natural high, in The Guardian, 9th February 2019

The Who (1965) My Generation from the album My Generation, IBC Studios

 

 

Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · Happiness · New Year · open water swimming · swimming · well being · winter

25: A Winter’s Tale

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It is a winter’s tale
That the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes 
(Dylan Thomas, 1945)

The trouble with the beginning of January, I believe, is the way that it has become associated with the idea that ‘things are going to get better’; that somehow, after the 1st of January each year, we are all going to become better, healthier, nicer, kinder, fitter, happier people. As, Margaret McCartney (2019) has highlighted, there is also, at this time of year, no shortage of commercial persuasion to buy into ‘wellness ideas and fads‘ based on what McCartney calls ‘bollocksology

McCartney (2019) argues that this trend has resulted in making “something which should be fun into a miserable, competitive, pseudoscientific morass …”. Wellness, she argues, is meant to be good for us – not complicated, not expensive and not making us slaves of self-absorption.

There is also a tendency, at this time of year, towards believing, that once the shortest day has passed, the worst of the winter, the coldest, the darkest days are over and we can all turn our lives, in hope, towards the coming of Spring. The reality, however, is that most of January, February (and sometimes much of March) are at least as dismal and dark and cold (if not colder) as December. This week, in fact, the newspapers have been full of excited predictions that, by the end of January this year, the UK will again experience a return of the freezing temperatures brought by the beast from the east last year (Greenfield, 2019).

As Roald Dahl (1993) pointed out:  January can be a ‘miserable month‘ and February can be the fiercest and bitterest month‘. “If I had my way I would remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead” he said.

For an open water swimmer, aiming to swim through the winter, there is an awful lot of winter still to get through – in truth, winter has only just begun!

Gotta get through January
Gotta get through February (Van Morrison, 1997))

I might (and do) believe that I have been doing ‘quite well’  with my cold water swims, but I have recently been reminded that the sea has yet to reach its coldest temperatures. Referring to graphs of ‘average ocean temperatures calculated from several years of archived data’ (sea temperature.org and wavelet.cefas.co.uk ) it is noticeable that the sea does not reach its coldest temperatures, around our coast, until February and March.

This past week the sea temperature at Clevedon, where I swim, has been around 7.6 degrees celsius. In the Marine Lake, where I swim when I can’t make the high tide that determines the time of a sea swim, the water temperature has been between 3 and 4 degrees celsius. To discover that it has not yet reached its lowest point is more than a little disconcerting. So let us not get too excited about ‘new year’ just yet!

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Stuart Jeffries (2019) has argued that with ‘weeks of misery and bad weather still to come’, this is not the time to be setting ourselves unachievable, aspirational goals (or resolutions). Instead, as Gary Osborne-Clarke (2018) has suggested, we perhaps need to look at the way we respond to the dark and the cold of winter and ‘alter how we respond to the season, instead of trying to live the way we do during the summer when it’s light for longer and warmer’. If we learn to work with what is happening, he suggests, rather than try to fight it, we might notice that our mood is better in the long term.

For many, this adaptation might include the comfort and soothing (Jeffries, 2019) of staying indoors in front of the fire, with a good book and a bowl of soup. For open water swimmers, like me, however, winter adaptation means a shorter swim followed by warming up with several thermal layers, a Dry Robe, a thick woolly hat, a hot water bottle down your trousers – and a large flask of steaming hot chocolate. It is also an activity that advocates increasing your calorific intake and I recently discovered a facebook page dedicated to the study of, discussion of and sharing photographs of – post-swimming cake!

This is not an activity – or the time of year – to go on a diet or to be bothered about what you might look like!

 

In cold water, the advice is to understand and listen to your own body. It is not a competition. Dr Heather Massey (2019), a swimmer and a researcher at the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth suggests that “the secret to acclimatising is just to swim in it, often – preferably two or three times a week, gradually extending the time that you stay in the water and to get out if you are not comfortable”. “Do not set time goals for staying in the water” she advises.

At this time of year, as the temperatures fall, there is an even greater attention to ‘re-warming’ after a swim, as there is on the swim itself. Once exiting the water, your body continues to cool for approximately 20-30 minutes. This means that your deep body temperature will be cooler 20-30 minutes after your swim than you were when you got out of the water. The safest way to rewarm, according to Massey (2019) is to dry off quickly, dress in dry warm clothes, including hat gloves and thick socks, have a warm drink – and shiver. Apparently, studies have shown that shivering is good for you – which, when you are standing, after a swim, unable to hold your cup still through shivering, is good to know.

“Shivering is stimulated to increase deep body temperature when a reduction in deep body temperature occurs. It works by involuntary contraction of the muscles to generate heat” (Massey, 2019)

New Morning 

One morning I awakened
A new sun was shining   (Nick Cave, 1988)

The Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, complained, in 1916, about the way that the concept of a ‘New Year’ in January turned ‘life and human spirit’ into a commercial concern. “You end up seriously thinking that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new history is beginning; you make resolutions, and you regret your resolutions … This is generally what is wrong with dates” he said.

The concept of ‘New Year’s Day’, he argued, is a human construct and it has become ‘an obstacle, a parapet that stops us from seeing that history continues to unfold along the same fundamental unchanging line‘.  Instead, Gramsci argued that we should view every day as a ‘new year’.

Every day I want to reckon with myself, and every day I want to renew myself”, he said.

Swimming outdoors all year round offers a wonderful – and free – opportunity for doing just that. Every day is different. Every day is a different challenge – and it is fun! And as Emma Hogan (2018) recently observed:  “The coldness was a stimulant. It was also a comfort: a way to to remind myself that I was, that I am, alive”. (Hogan, 2018).

So, instead of ‘new year resolutions’, ‘bollocksology’, unachievable goals, or worrying about the currently uncertain political situations that are out of our control – my aim, each morning is to find a way to ‘remind myself that I am alive‘ and to Just Keep Swimming :

“A cause more promising, than a wild dedication of yourselves  to unpath’d waters, undream’d shores …,” (from A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare, 1623)

 

 

Photo credits: Beth Oliver, Jayne Almoznino & Iain Bourne 

Coldest Swim so far this month: January 6th at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 3.5 degrees celsius! Air temp 5 degrees celsius. Distance swum 300 metres. Time in the water 6 minutes

Longest Swim so far this month: January 11th at Clevedon Pier Beach. Water temp 7.5 degrees celsius. Air temp 7 degrees celsius. Distance swum 450 metres. Time in the water 9 minutes.

References

Cave, N. (1988) New Morning, from the album Tender Prey,  Mute, a BMG Company

Dahl, R. (1993) My YearPublished by Jonathan Cape

Gramsci, A. (1916) I Hate New Year’s Day, in Avanti!, Turin edition, from his column “Sotto la Mole,” January 1, 1916 (republished in Viewpoint Magazine, January 1st 2015)

Greenfield, P. (2019) UK forecast to experience freezing temperatures at end of January, in The Guardian, 12th January 2019

Hogan, E. (2018) Finding Yourself in the Rivers, Lakes and Ponds of England, in The Economist, December 22nd 2018.

Jeffries, S. (2019) Dry January? This is the worst time to give up booze, in The Guardian,  2nd January 2019

Massey, H. (2019) How To Acclimatise To Cold Water, The Outdoor Swimming Society, accessed 09/01/2019

McCartney, M. (2019) Don’t Fall Prey To The Cult Of Wellness,  in The Globe and Mail, January 4th 2019

Morrison, V. (1997) Fire In The Bellyfrom the album The Healing Game, Exile.

Osborne-Clarke, G. (2018) In Sync With The Seasons, Inside Yoga Blog 253, yogabristol.co.uk

Shakespeare, W. (1623) A Winter’s Tale, The First Folio.

Thomas, D. (1945) A Winter’s Tale, in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse,  Vol.LXVI, No.IV, July 1945

 

Clevedon · cold water · community · open water swimming · Outdoors · Waterbiography · well being · winter

24: Read it in books

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Read it in books (Echo & The Bunnymen, 1980)

It seems to be traditional, at this time of year, to offer a selection of ‘recommended good reads’ and in the absence of any new swimming adventures or travels to write about (apart from the fact that I’m still successfully doing it in ‘skins’ and that the water is still getting colder) I thought I would do the same.

It’s interesting, once you start looking, just how popular open water swimming has become – and how many books about open water swimming there are to choose from. They range from informative and glossy guides to ‘wild’ swimming spots around the country (and beyond) to ‘light’ novels based around the lives of groups of people who swim outdoors. And I have read quite a few of these.

My favourite genre, though, is the non-fiction, semi-autobiographical narratives based on a swimmers personal experience; of challenges overcome and ‘new’ lives and new perspectives built around their introduction to or their continuing love of swimming outdoors. I usually find, within these books, something that mirrors my own experience, my own challenges and my own joy. Many of them have also inspired me to explore a new or different aspect to my enjoyment of swimming and to learn something new.

As if you read my mind
As if you touched my soul
As if you knew exactly where I wanted to go.  (Stevie Wonder, 1980)

Leap In

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‘Leap In’ by Alexandra Heminsley was one of the first books I read after ‘retiring’ from work and embarking on my swimming adventure. Heminsley’s own swimming journey has so many parallels with mine that I was able to empathise fully with her humorous descriptions of trying to put on a wetsuit and of trying to swim – in that wetsuit – in the sea for the first time. The book is in two parts: Part 1 recounts Heminsley’s progress as an open water swimmer as she develops confidence, swims longer distances and sheds the wetsuit and swims through the winter; Part 2 is a useful reference section with advice on what sort of kit to buy and how to stay safe when swimming in cold water. During my first year of swimming outdoors I referred to this section many times and if you are new to open water swimming, or are considering taking it up, I would suggest that this is a very useful book to start with.

In common with many authors of books (and blogs) about swimming outside, Heminsley came to open water swimming at a time of sadness and challenge in her life. In her case, swimming helped her to come to terms with a feeling that her body had let her down when she was unable to conceive a child, and as with so many other accounts I have read – or short films I have seen – swimming gave her back her sense of competence and worth and made her feel “like a warrior queen”.

“what swimming outdoors has taught me is that there is capability in me that I did not credit myself with possessing. We must stand on the shore, proud of the life our bodies offer us, and accept that we’ll never truly know what lies beneath the surface any more than we’ll know what lies ahead” (Heminsley, 2017:146)

Waterlog

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I referred to the impact Roger Deakin’s book Waterlog had on me in my first ever blog post (It started there).  I was so inspired by his descriptions of the countryside, his cultural references and his account of his progress as he swam through Britain in 1996 that I formed my own plan to swim the South Coast of England, and to write about it. His book is now considered to be a ‘classic’. Beautifully written, it is not just about the swimming. As he travels around the country he discusses cultural history, literature, geography, natural history and friendships and it opened my eyes to the opportunities writing about a swimming journey could offer – and it also re-awakened in me a love of Ordnance Survey maps! You just can’t beat the detail and the reference points in an Ordnance Survey map!

Deakin was one of the first to write about ‘wild swimming’. As a passionate advocate of nature he swam in Britain’s rivers, lakes, lochs, ponds, moats, waterfalls, quarries and lidos, as well as the sea and he argued for open access to the countryside and to waterways.

“Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled … a swimming journey would give me access to that part of our world which, like darkness, mist, woods or high mountains, still retains most mystery. It would afford me a different perspective on the rest of land-locked humanity” (Deakin, 1999:4)

I frequently dip into Waterlog when planning where I will swim. While I don’t much fancy some of the more remote and obscure bodies of water he discovered, he does offer beautiful descriptions and anecdotes of some of the coastal areas along the English South Coast. Deakin’s book inspired me to explore the nooks and crannies of our coast but also to delve more deeply into the history, geography and literary associations of the places where I go to swim.

Many others have been inspired by Roger Deakin. One of these is Joe Minihane, who this year published his own tribute in the form of a book (Floating: A life Regained) following the travels and the swims of Deakin. I haven’t read Minihane’s book yet – but it is on my ‘to read’ pile.

Swell: A Waterbiography

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I described my enjoyment from reading Jenny Landreth’s book ‘Swell’ in my blog The Circle of Life . I couldn’t put it down. Regardless whether you enjoy reading about swimming, if you enjoy reading about social history you will enjoy this book. Even better, it is written as though narrated by a stand up comedian. It is laugh out loud funny.

As I laughed in an ‘I was there’ kind of way at so many of Landreth’s descriptions, this book caused me to reflect back on some of my own earliest memories of swimming outdoors, in the sea, lakes and outdoor pools – and often, on seaside holidays, in cold water.  As Landreth says in her book: “we all have our own story to tell about how we learned to swim (or not), our relationship with water, the people who encouraged us and the places we came to cherish”. Her book also began to open my eyes to the social changes that have led to a reported  one in 10 so called ‘millennials’ (people born between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s) never having been to a UK beach! And one in four parents having not visited a UK beach with their children in the last five years.

Landreth’s book very cleverly interweaves her own ‘history’ of swimming (her waterbiography) with an account of the history of swimming in general – and in particular, the history of women’s swimming. She describes how, in the 19th Century, swimming was almost exclusively the domain of men and amazingly, it wasn’t until the 1930s that women were ‘reluctantly’ granted equal access. It set me off on a path of reading other ‘history of swimming’ books and to a desire to read about the challenges and triumphs of those who fought (and are still fighting) for equality in swimming and sport in general.

Swimming Through Winter

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In this modern age, not every one writes or read books in the way that they used to when I was younger. We live in an age of social media and I am doing my best to embrace this. This trend often receives a ‘bad press’ but I have found that if used effectively, kindly, safely and sensibly it can be a very effective way of bringing people together, creating connections and opening up access to knowledge and experience that we would not have access to without it.

Through following their on-line blogs and their instagram, twitter and facebook postings I have come to know of the experiences – and most importantly, the swimming experiences – of many people around the world. And I have been able to share my experiences with them. I find this endlessly interesting, encouraging, affirming and ‘world shrinking’.

One of these is the Australian swimmer Kirrilee Bracht who writes a blog and posts on social media about her experience of ‘swimming through winter’ in New South Wales. In 2018 Kirrilee turned her ‘story’ into a lovely book. ‘Swimming Through Winter‘ is part biography, part  discussion of Kirrilee’s decision to – and progress with – swimming through the winter, and part metaphor for taking back control of her life after a trauma – and the part that swimming has played in that.

“At some stage all of us have to swim through some kind of winter. When cold water swimming brings joy and healing, you’re well on your way to Spring” (Bracht, 2018)

It is an eloquent, engaging, moving and honest story, which journeys through winter in more ways than one. The way in which the ‘story’ is woven together allows the past to gradually and cleverly emerge in a way that feels like ‘coming up for air’ during a swim. The book ends with the onset of Spring and a feeling of hope for the future that encourages me in this winter swimming endeavour that I am still progressing through:

“I walk over to get changed and some emotion leaks out of my eyes – but I’m smiling. I feel like I’ve made it. I’ve swum through winter” (Bracht, 2018)

Ask Me Why I’m Stood Here

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I have often made reference, in my blog, to the friendly, supportive and interesting community of people I swim with at Clevedon. I have gained such a lot of  encouragement, advice and support from them. I don’t think I would ever have made the progress with my open water swimming that I have made, without this fantastic resource of people. Many of them have been swimming, at Clevedon, for more years than they care to remember and in Night and Day I included a link to a lovely film about some of swimmers who swim regularly at Clevedon Beach.

A growing number of people who swim at Clevedon are successful Channel swimmers – and not just the English Channel. One has conquered the North Channel (between Northern Ireland and Scotland) and a couple have managed to swim across the Bristol Channel – between Penarth in Wales and Clevedon in England. The massive tidal range in this channel, the silty waters and the inconveniently placed sandbanks make this one of the most challenging stretches of water to swim across. Alec Richardson, successfully completed this swim in 2017 and this is the focus of his recently published book Ask Me Why I’m Stood Here. 

I know Alec and I had recently attended a talk he gave about his swim. And so I fully expected the book to be interesting and full of Alec’s gently self deprecating humour (which it is). What I hadn’t expected was that I would find the book so gripping that I couldn’t put it down. I found myself so emotionally caught up in his progress – both in his training swims and the ‘actual’ swim – that at times I couldn’t breathe. Who would have thought that I would become so engrossed in the account of his ‘trial and error’ swims to work out the most effective feeding strategy? Who would think that descriptions of the tedium and loneliness of 6 hour training swims up and down the lake would in fact be so fascinating and gripping? But they are. 

A strong theme of ‘community’ surfaces in a subtle and under-stated way as Alec’s story unfolds. This is a homage to the waters of Clevedon and to the power of a community of swimming friends. Alec offers up gratitude to those swimmers who helped and encouraged him to reach the point where he felt able to undertake, and complete, this swim, and I, in turn, am grateful for much of Alec’s wisdom and knowledge about this stretch of water. I learned a lot more than I previously knew about the behaviour of the tides and the way in which they dictate when and how you will swim there. This is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to swim at Clevedon.

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In Alec’s words “emotional fragility is definitely a hazard of long-distance swimming” but what emerges throughout this book is the strength Alec drew from the support of friends and followers. Making use of social media, the crew on his boat were able to provide, via a live facebook feed, updates on the progress of his swim. In turn, followers were able to post messages of encouragement and support which the crew transcribed onto a large white-board for Alec to read when he stopped for feeds. You get a real sense, reading the story, of how important this sense of community around him was during the loneliness of the swim.

And, of course, Alec’s book is more than a book about swimming. It includes passages of great personal honesty that throw some light onto why he wanted to undertake such a challenging swim in the first place. As a self confessed ‘middle aged man’ Alec is movingly open about his feelings of ‘inadequacy’ and his general sense of doubt about his place in the world. He lays himself bare (almost literally given the swimsuit rules of the British Long Distance Swimming Association) and shares his lack of confidence in his body in a way that is relatively rare in a man.

Open water swimming gave him some of his confidence back and gave him a focus that helped him regain a sense of purpose and achievement. As one reviewer has written, “this is a life affirming tale of frailty, endeavour and a man’s struggle to wear Speedos in public”

There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away (Emily Dickinson, 1873)

Open water swimming has opened up, to me, a wonderful wealth of new books to read. There are more on my ‘to be read’ pile, yet more on my ‘wish list, and the tantalising promise of even more that I know of that have not yet been published. If you are still looking for a gift for a loved ones Christmas stocking, I can heartily recommend one of the above.

And remember – a book is not just for Christmas!

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights, (Dylan Thomas, 1951)

Update on swimming

It hasn’t all been reading about swimming though, this past month. I am pleased to report that I am still swimming in the sea or the lake 2 to 3 times a week. I am still wearing only my swimsuit, hat and goggles and I am still exceeding the minimum required Polar Bear distance. In the past week, though, we have felt a change in the weather. The water is definitely getting colder. There is a lot of winter still to be swum through.

Coldest Swim so far this month: December 13th at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 4 degrees celsius! Air temp 3 degrees celsius (wind chill factor -0.1). Distance swum 100 metres. Time in the water 3 minutes

 

 

Longest Swim so far this month: December 2nd at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 10 degrees celsius. Air temp 12 degrees. Distance swum 700 metres. Time in the water 14 minutes

Most enjoyable swim so far this month: December 12th Sunrise swim in the sea at Clevedon Beach. Water temp 7 degrees celsius. Air temp 6 degrees celsius. Distance swum 250 metres.Time in the water 9 minutes

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Biggest Disappointment:  I had entered the Portishead Winter Swimming Gala – The Popsicle – on December 15th. I was due to swim in the 100 metres event. As the day drew nearer, the weather turned very cold and the temperature of the water plummeted. As with all events I was filled with nervous anticipation – and glad I had only opted to swim in the one race. Sadly, on the day, five minutes before I was due into the water, the race was cancelled due to a swimmer in difficulty in a previous race. Thankfully, the swimmer recovered and is, I believe, ok. But my race was not rescheduled. The sense of disappointment and ‘let down’ I experienced gave me some insight into what it must be like for Channel swimmers whose small window of ‘the tide and weather being right’ opportunity often means their swims must be postponed or cancelled. Also the disappointment that must be experienced when a swim has to be abandoned due to injury. It must be excruciatingly disappointing to have to abandon or postpone your long trained for hopes and dreams.

I know I can swim 100 metres in water as cold as it was in the pool (6 degrees) because I have done it on other swims. But I didn’t know how I would perform under race conditions in icy wind and rain. I felt very disappointed and deflated at not being able to do it ‘on the day’.

Nevertheless, I live to swim another day. And I now know, how important it is to me to complete my ‘swim through winter in a swimsuit’ challenge. I will not allow myself to ‘give in’. Just Keep Swimming Billie

References

Bracht, K. (2018) Swimming Through Winter, Kirrilee Bracht

Deakin, R. (1999) Waterlog, Chatto & Windus (re-printed 2014 by Penguin Vintage)

Dickinson, E, (1873) There Is No Frigate Like A Book, in Dickinson (1894) Letters: Vol 1,  Roberts Brothers.

Echo & The Bunnymen (1980)  Read it in books from the album Crocodiles,  Sire Records

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

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

Richardson, A. (2018) Ask Me Why I’m Stood Here: A Bristol Channel Swim Tale, Alec Richardson

Thomas, D. (1951) Notes on the Art of Poetry, in Thomas, D. (2014) The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: The New Centenary Edition, Weidenfeld

Wonder, S. (1980)  As If You Read My Mind from the album Hotter than July, Tamia

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

23: Sing, sing a song

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 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.

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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.

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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

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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