The run along the seafront turned from a jog to a sprint as the grey-black wall of cloud rose higher above the hillside, blotting out the blue sky. I reached the van with seconds to spare. The wind hit first rocking the van, snapping back the branches on the tree and sending clouds of leaves whirling along the road. Then the rain hit and the rear windows blurred with water and in moments streams cascaded down the windscreen. Hmm, this needs rethinking, but already blue sky was chasing the trailing edge of the cloud.
10 minutes later and a different roadside and there’s more blue sky and a watery sun behind suffused cloud, whilst meanwhile across the bay the sea is a dark shade of green crested with breaking waves and the black clouds continue to throw down rain in grey sheets that blot out the horizon. The beach here is in the shelter of the cliff and as I kick off my shoes the sunshine lights the small waves breaking amongst the seaweed matted rocks. Another wave swirls in and the sunlight pulses brighter in synchronicity to the ebb and flow. But the sun is already sliding behind the hill and the line of light ends abruptly where the waves break.
Insert the name of your chosen deity here! that’s cold! I think I am the only swimmer on social media who is not doing a Dip a Day December, not doing the Polar Bear Challenge and not doing the 12kms of Christmas, so why am I doing this? Ahhh, because of things like that, a full rainbow climbs across the sky and then the leading seaward end dives down to the horizon, all of it bright lit against the dark cloud.
I have stopped paying attention to the cold, but as the display fades I become acutely aware that I am now quite a long way from my towel and properly cold.
And it’s another 2 months until the sea temperature reaches its annual minimum.
There is the promise of rain on the breeze as I strip off my running kit down to swimming kit on the slipway in the shelter of the wall. Tiny pinpricks of rain dot me as I step into the froth of the waves broken against the wall and turned back to sea. The water is red with stirred up sand but even so I feel gently with my toes until I am sure there is firm sand at the end of the stones. The beach has been fairly banked up against the wall this last week but at other times there is a deep step down at the end of the slipway.
The cycle of the tide has left thigh deep water at the slipway this morning whereas on Monday it was sand left high and dry for 10m out to the breaking waves. I swim straight out until I am out of my depth.
The wind drives small waves across the sea and when my arms push against them they burst in spray that mixes with the now well established drizzle. Off to my right though the breeze is stacking up a rain leaden sky and beneath it the pier is in a soft focus of sheeted rain.
I swim downwind but I can see that I am being eased further and further out to sea though that works in my favour as it will take me out beyond the rocks that I swam into a few weeks back.
That’s far enough, the rain has let up and if I take the direct route back I think I can make it. The rain begins to tap at the windows of the van as I slide the door closed. That went well.
It is just 17 more days to the winter solstice and then the sunrise will reverse its track, moving left across the horizon, the daylight hours will lengthen and summer will return. But for now conditions could hardly be more different compared to 24 hours ago. Now the sky is filled from horizon to horizon with low grey clouds weighted down by their bulging burdens of rain. Far out riding the line of the horizon is a single yellow light, not the rising sun but some storm chased freighter perhaps heading for port or a calm anchorage before the weather hits.
Walking to the sea, my feet leave thin imprints on the hard packed sand and as I pull my goggles down against the first flurry of raindrops a wave surges about my ankles rolls up to the sea wall and wipes the sand clean. The sea will always win in the end.
I do not go far, out a bit, left a bit, right a bit, simply stringing it out long enough for the squall to pass by, whilst along the seafront, hatted and coated, dog walkers lean into the wind. No-one is watching me today.
The rain passes and I ride back through the shallows on breaking waves until finally there is no more water. I shower swiftly using my bottle of warm water and then pad back to the van sliding the door shut a moment before the rain sluices against the windows once more.
Against the inky darkness of the pre-dawn sky the bright light of Venus was separated from the fine crescent moon by less than the width of an outheld finger. The disc of the Moon though glowed silver in the sunlight reflected from the Earth, a little reminder that whilst the Moon is 300 000Km away the Sun is very bright indeed.
The frost had been thick on the windscreen of the van and even at the seafront there was someone de-icing their car with a jug of warm water. Against all probability however, given the normal state of the weather over the past couple of weeks, there was not a breath of wind and the seawater in the big rockpool was as smooth as a sheet of glass. Or possibly it was ice.
As I jogged along Torre Abbey seafront a lone swimmer was just setting off into the impending sunrise that was brightening the sky and bleaching the Moon and Venus. The inky black sky had passed through blue-black and was now a deep shade of royal blue. Cresting the top of the rise at Hollicombe I have caught up with the rising Sun which stands on the watery horizon pointing a rippled finger of light at me across the sea wrinkled by age. The Sun however looks a little like Saturn, a bright disc bisected by a ring of cloud.
Preston Beach wild swimming
Preston Beach wild swimming
I am steaming as I stand on the water corrugated sand and strip down to my swimwear. People are staring, it happens every time, or maybe it’s only me, but with my outdoor swimmer superpower I can read minds; ‘Nutter’, ‘Idiot’, ‘WTF!’, well that’s not nice.
Small waves tumble at my ankles. I wade on. It’s a lovely beach but flat as a pancake and I am almost out of sight of the onlookers with water only the depth of my thighs when I splash down and swim on. That seems like enough distance out, but oh, it is still only chest deep. Still that’s sufficient and I swim left, then right, then centre again before turning back to the shallows where finally I come to rest on the sand in the runout of the waves like a beached whale.
And all the while over my shoulders the warming Sun edges higher into the blue sky edging closer and closer to the Moon.
I had no real plan other than to go for a run in the rain and see where it took me. Cabin fever sets in at this time of year and outside in any weather is better than being inside.
Elberry Cove as it turned out was where I was going and was where the water was flat calm, the headland buffered most of the breeze and the water was translucent aquamarine.
And then the sun came out. There was no-one much about and the sweatshirt that had been knotted around my waist was still dry enough to understudy for the role of a towel.
So 500m later after swimming under the full arch of a rainbow the day has brightened considerably. And whilst it may be the first week of December it felt suspiciously warm in the sea and I could cheerfully have done that over again.
I intended to swim from the beach at Hope’s Nose, and to be fair it was stunning as the sun was setting behind Thatcher Rock turning the sea to silver and gold, but I got waylaid by beach cleaning and the moment was gone. But I swear the van pulled in to the roadside on its own accord as I drove down Meadfoot.
The sky was fading and the streetlights were already lit as I walked down the slipway. The waves were spilling over the foot of the concrete and every third one had the timing just right to hit the side square on sending spray shooting 30 feet into the air or throw up a heavy curtain that would crash back down on the wall.
It is all in the timing and I was in and off for just 10 minutes until it was all but dark. Absolutely lovely.
After the last 2 weeks when it has sometimes been difficult to tell where the sea and beach ended and the land began, I had basically assumed any sort of long swim would now be off limits until spring. But ever the optimist I nonetheless tucked my @puffinswim dry bag tow float in the back of the van yesterday. And then this morning I nearly blew it, only deciding at the very last moment to run instead of going in to work early. And afterwards there was a short swim in still water as the sun finally lifted clear of the clouds across the horizon. All in all though it felt like unresolved business.
The sun, for that is what that big warm thing in the sky is, held it’s largely cloud free course all morning and creative scheduling gave me a break in my day.
There was something very satisfying about dropping my car keys into the dry bag, giving it a quick inflating puff of air as I walked down the slipway and then launching off into the sea. It was however a little fraudulent as despite being quite a distance out to sea I don’t think I was ever actually out of my depth as the beach shelves so gradually. That did not stop me gaining quite an audience, with a good deal of staring going on and even some photos being taken.
Preston Beach wild swimming
Preston Beach wild swimming
Maybe I won’t hang the dry bag up for the winter just yet.