“… thought of the future upsets me intolerably. So I had to turn and look back at certain aspects of the past, and only then did I recover my calm”. (George Sand, 1837)
In 1841, the French writer, George Sand, wrote a novel, about the winter of 1839, that she had spent in Mallorca with her, then, partner Frédéric Chopin. In the novel, Sand is not entirely complimentary about the island and she was particularly disappointed, it seems, with the weather. Like many others, who normally visit the Mediterranean for their summer holidays, Sand had failed to take account of the fact that Mallorcan winters can be surprisingly cold and stormy.
I have also shivered through many a Mallorcan winter, where our home is constructed in a way better designed to keep out the heat of the longer and sunnier summers, than withstand the cold of winter. I invariably wear many more layers of clothing indoors – and in bed – than I do back home in my British centrally heated house. What a shame, then, for Sand, that she did not discover the new (back then) fashion for ‘sea-bathing’ to help her to overcome the gloom of winter.
Winter sea-bathing was believed to have therapeutic health benefits even then. However, we have so much more evidence, now, as to how swimming outdoors, in winter, can help to boost ones mood and overcome anxiety. Researchers (Huttunen et al, (2004), for example, found that tension, fatigue and memory problems were significantly reduced in people who practised outdoor winter swimming for four months – between November and February. The researchers also reported how cold water swimming induces a stress reaction, activating the sympathetic nervous system and increasing the secretion of hormones that influence mood.
Sand was also a travel writer, and – even if she didn’t get into the water – exploring some of the ‘hidden’ beaches around the Mallorcan coast could have provided her with rich material to write about and parts of the island to discover – as it has done for me.
“and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound,
like a rumour without any echo, of History, really beginning” (Derek Walcott, 2007)
The Ladies Bathing Place
Sea bathing started to become popular in the 1700s (see my earlier blog: Sink Or Swim) but at that time swimming dresses or outfits had not yet been invented. Men, at the time, mostly bathed nude and women wore a simple ‘shift’ (a bit like a nightie), that when wet, tended to reveal the shape of their body beneath. Women, at that time, therefore, tended to be ‘siphoned off to separate parts of the beach’ (Landreth, 2017: 29) because the ‘sights on offer’ presented ‘moral dangers’.
By the 1860s all sorts of by-laws were in place in coastal resorts to keep men’s and women’s bathing places apart (Landreth, 2017:35) and so women were given their own places to bathe. Around the coast of Britain and Ireland, therefore, can be found many historical and geographical references to “The Ladies Bathing Place” and “Ladies Cove“. In Clevedon, a mile along the coast from the, nowadays, more popular Pier Beach, we also have a Ladye Bay, most likely so called for the same reasons.
Ladye Bay, Clevedon
Eventually, of course, the introduction of bathing machines, which preserved a woman’s modesty, led to men and women swimming on the same beaches. Later, in the nineteenth century as the ‘fashion’ for holidays at the seaside took hold, families wanted to bathe together – and families meant cash for the burgeoning resorts. By 1899, the first resorts were announcing their conversion to ‘mixed bathing’ and by 1901, legal segregation by gender had ended on British beaches.
El Rentador de la Senyora
Around the coast of Mallorca, I have identified at least 3 coves (or calas in Mallorquin) recorded on the map as being bathing places for ‘Senyoras’. And one of these is close to where we have our Spanish home.
El Rentador de la Senyora (the ladies’ bathing place) is reported to be (disfrutalaplaya.com) the place where la Senyora de Son Veri (a nearby rustic finca) used to bathe. The surname of Veri is one of the oldest and most historic on the island of Mallorca, appearing in records since 1230, so this would have been a ‘senyora’ of some status, and makes this (for me) an important and privileged swimming find.
Nowadays, it is mostly used for bathing by the residents of the villages of Son Verí and the new development of Son Verí Nou. In the summer months, especially on a Sunday, many local families can be found here, picnicking, sunbathing, swimming and chatting. In the winter months, however, as I pointed out in my previous blog post, no one but me seems to think swimming is ‘a thing’ – and I generally have it all to myself.
The stretch of coastline near here offers several beautiful, calm, rocky, places, to swim in the colder, winter months. It is possible to swim parallel to the shore making it easy to get out if one has underestimated the strength of the wind or the temperature of the water. There are also plenty of sheltered places among the rocks on the shore to sit, out of the wind, and to warm up after a swim.
Winters In Mallorca
To be honest, it was not until I took up outdoor swimming all year round, at home in the UK, that it occurred to me that I might, also, swim through the winter in Mallorca. The winters there can be surprisingly cold and windy and the island is particularly prone to storms in January and February. The sea, while never below about 10 degrees Celsius, is not the warm water experienced during the summer months, and the outdoor swimming pools are unheated. I used to long for somewhere to swim during those cold months, and – amazing as it now seems to me – it never occurred to me that I was surrounded by such opportunities.
I eventually started swimming through the winter, in Mallorca, in 2018, and just as at home in the UK, making that step opened up to me a whole different perspective on the island. I began to discover ‘hidden’ locations, undiscovered footpaths and local history that I had never been aware of before. Just as at home in England, I embarked on a ‘swimming journey’ – this one to gradually explore – and swim in – all the coves and beaches around the island’s coast.
Sadly, just as my ‘South Coast of England’ (see It Started There) journey has had to be put on hold, so has my Mallorcan one. Currently, in the UK, opportunities for exploring anywhere are severely curtailed and our horizons feel more limited. I have found one way to cope with the frustration and disappointment of all this uncertainty is to ‘re-visit’ parts of my ‘Mallorca Swimming Journey’ by writing about them in this blog. The Mallorcan economy relies heavily on its overseas visitors and it has been particularly badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the limitations on overseas travel. When the world is once again safe and well enough, to allow overseas travel, I hope you might also be inspired to explore, to enjoy – and to swim in – some of these beautiful places. *
This promised land
And in the end, even without the added bonus of winter sea swimming, George Sand managed to also appreciate the beauty of the island, as she wrote to her friend, in the winter of 1838:
“The nature, the trees, the sky, the sea … surpass all my dreams: this is the promised land!” (Sand, 1838)
*at the time of writing, under current UK COVID-19 restrictions, it is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes. Always check the relevant government advice before planning to travel. For travel between the UK and Spain check here https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/spain
Huttunen, P. et al, (2004) Winter swimming improves general well-being, in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health Volume 63, Issue 2, pp.140-144
Landreth, J. (2017) Swell: A Waterbiography, Bloomsbury
Oliver, B. (2017) It Started There, on justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com
Oliver, B. (2019) Sink Or Swim , on justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com
Oliver, B. (2020) Life Is A Roller Coaster, on justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com
Sand, G. (1837) Lettres d’un voyageur, available as Penguin Classics (1988)
Sand, G. (1838) Letter to Carlotta Marliani on November 14, 1838. as quoted on literarytraveler.com
Sand, G. (1841) A Winter in Mallorca, available as Classic Collection Carolina (2003)
Walcott, D. (2007) “The Sea Is History” from Selected Poems by Derek Walcott. Macmillan