I don’t know what today’s weather was like where you are but here it was wild. Yes, definitely wild. Wind that could almost take you off your feet and rain with so little space between the drops that it appeared at times to be a solid sheet of water. And then it stopped. Whoosh, gone. No wind, no rain. But I have seen the forecast and this is the proverbial ‘eye of the storm’.
No time like the present then for a run and I totally legged it. Running in the cold mornings is hard, nothing wants to cooperate. But on a warm, still evening, just let me at it.
It was however never going to be much of a swim afterwards. The sound of the breaking waves carried in from the open sea from long before the waves themselves could be seen in the light from the promenade. And wading out beyond that faint glimmer the only clue a wave was headed my way was the town lights along the horizon vanished as it rose up in front of them.
Mad? Yes. Loving it? Oh yes!
Back at the beach, climbing the steps to the top of the sea wall. “I thought you were an apparition or a mermaid”, the woman stood watching the waves told me “you simply appeared from nowhere”. Apparition? Mermaid? Well I’ve been called a lot of things but those are firsts. Had she told me I was a bloody idiot, then we’d have been on familiar ground. And if things were not bizarre enough we then entered into conversation, her in thick coat and hat, me dripping wet in swimwear. Like, oh yes, this is perfectly normal at the end of November in the dark.
This morning the sea was fair raging, not full on crazy, but enough to make even me think twice and with reluctance, finally decide to retreat and miss out on a swim. However, I expected it to still be full on breakers and white horses at lunchtime (it has been so for a full week or more), but it had been transformed in a way I could scarcely credit and was, somewhat to my disappointment, verging on flat calm.
The sky was meanwhile having a moment of its own. Over there, all blue. And there, fluffy cotton wool clouds. And there, well over there the sun has gained a halo. Though it does not look at all angelic. Foreboding or spooky maybe, the kind of sky that has me on the lookout for a plague of locusts or a rain of frogs. If the beach had suddenly erupted with zombie mummies flapping in bandages I think my reaction might have been ‘ok, fair enough’.
Again it is almost a disappointment that the beach remains quiet, deserted and conspicuously mummy free when I wade shivering back through the shallows. .
The shivers won’t last, I have 2 fish crates loaded with rubbish to drag up the hill. Windmills charge!
Greyness without end? Perhaps only because summer seemed endless and drew out almost eclipsing autumn, but this easterly wind seems to be blighting the very being of every day before it has and hope of flourishing.
High tide has passed and the waves slap harmlessly at the steps except for the one that made it to the top and stood me in seaweed laced water that gently flowed over the top of my running shoes.
The sand polished steel of the handrails rises and falls in and out of sight in the grey-green water and despite the firm assertion of the person I spoke to earlier that it is 13°C, which I knew it was not, today it feels like it is on the cusp of single digits.
Step down 1 and a wave flings spray over my knees. Step 2, step 3 mid-thigh, and 4 with a wave surging about my hips. Push off with a bite of my lip and a gentle bump against the rail.
Swans creak over the water, wingtips almost flicking the waves, necks rigidly outstretched. There were 3; the Children of Lir, and in the pre-dawn light they would ride the sea in the shelter of the pier, heads tucked under wings. As each morning brightens they make their way to the fresh water outflow at the opposite end of the beach. Now they are headed back to the pier and in the past couple of weeks have been joined by a 4th. Does the spell bind them all?
Across the sea with wings outstretched the Children touch down.
I turn back and get ejected up the steps by a wave. My toes are freezing to the concrete. It is not 13 degrees.
For reasons not entirely clear to me, this little corner of South Devon appears to be where the current storm has become stuck. And it has been stuck for a week. Wind with sunshine, that I could handle. And rain without the wind would be OK. But the onshore wind is relentless bringing with it a heavy sea and rain in glorious variety from leaden clouds.
Pretending that I am unaware of the watchers on the seafront I slip my swim hat on, tuck my pony tail away with one deft sweep of the back of my hand and walk into the shallows picking between the piles of seaweed whilst snapping my goggles over the hat. But the slope of the beach is very shallow and the walk out through the breaking waves is endless. The waves are getting bigger. And then I am through the foam crests, out where the waves lift me up to touch the sky before dropping me with a lurch.
For the briefest moment sunshine sweeps the water and I am in a murcuric sea of burnished silver and dazzling highlights. And the light is gone as suddenly as it came and the sea and beach are masked in gloomy half light. Normal service has been resumed.
Gritting my teeth and bunching my shoulders as if either will make the slightest difference. Meanwhile, up along the top of the sea wall every dog walker is now hatted and muffled in scarf and coat, withdrawing tortoise like into the warmth of thick coats.
Dogs run on the sand but bark at the foaming waves and shy away from the sharp bite of the sea. Only a brief month ago there was yet a memory of summer encapsulated in every glowing sunrise. But now.
Stepping on the bitter sand,
goggles and hat in hand,
sea foaming about the feet,
that stride boldly out to meet,
head on the waves.
Whilst from the shore,
as for days and days before,
through spray flung haze,
in a reverie of past summer days.
Looking out from the kitchen window, face pressed to the glass and cupped in my hands to cut out the reflected light, the bright pin prick light of Venus glittered in the centre of a window in the clouds. And then the clouds swallowed it whole.
It was chill running along the sea front. The stormy weather has been warm weather, but now November is reasserting its sway. The sea is full of storm debris, islands of detritus forming slicks on the reciprocating surface.
It is prefect timing that lands me on the slipway as finally the sun rises above the clouds strewn across the horizon. As I swim though the sun is repeatedly masked, sending out petals of light from behind the clouds before breaking free.
Preston Beach wild swimming
Preston Beach wild swimming
From the slipway to the post that marks the end of the pipe by the Boathouse Cafe was 400m into the breeze and choppy water all the way. Turning around the post the breeze gradually nudging me out to sea but I could still see the runners and dog walkers who turned their heads to look at the crazy person. I had every intention of returning to the slipway but clearly fate had a problem with that and I passed it at least 50m out. Hollicombe Head next stop then. But at least I was far enough out not to swim into that bloody rock again, I left quite a strip of skin on it last week and bled for hours.
That’s it, 600m plus a bit to be sure, and I am past the end of the seafront road. It’s 250m back to the slipway and I have started to think it is not so cold, which is a sure sign of being cold, though there is surprisingly little shivering as I change and a couple of times up and down the steps to collect rubbish and firewood and they have gone.
My sense of timing was spot on again today and I got my run along the seafront in about the only spell of sunshine there has been.
Back at the car and stripped down to swimwear whilst holding a swim cap in one hand and goggles in the other a rather concerned looking woman asked me if I was going swimming. Let me think about that for a moment. Anyway it turned out she swam most days but only if it was calm. So, again the value of swimming where you know and knowing where you swim and I pointed out that the breaking waves meant shallow water. And so it was and only once beyond the farthest breaking wave was I unable to touch the bottom.
The waves were not as big as yesterday but the silver light on the water was nearly as bizarre as this morning’s sunrise when the whole sky went pink. It did that last year when winds had carried over sand from the Sahara. Has that happened again?