The Dubious Merits of Cold Water Swimming.

Is cold water swimming good for you? I don’t know. Better than doing what by comparison?

My throat cough has now turned into a nose cold and sitting indoors this morning watching the rain cascading off the shed roof was not doing anything for me. So as soon as it looked like there was going to be a break in the weather I obviously jumped in the camper van and set off to go swimming. Under the same circumstances I would not have gone for a run so clearly swimming is better for me than running. Stand back the blue touch paper has been lit.

I chose a great spot under the sea wall out of the wind but in the sunshine which was as well because I then got cornered by someone who wanted to ask where else I swam, how far, how often and I was stood there about 10 minutes in my swimwear and didn’t freeze to death. I then swam the 600m round trip to the rock whilst watching the stunning light show provided by sun and clouds, bouncing up and down a fair bit in the waves once clear of the headland and resigning myself to the fact that though I had stuffed all my clothes in my waterproof bag the towel was pushed in at the top and I had not rolled the top down and it was now raining rather a lot. 600m is not so much but hit the spot perfectly.

Since my swim I have not been coughing and spluttering anything like as much as I was this morning. However the paperwork I was supposed to be doing on my extra day off work has not done itself in my absence. So in that respect going swimming was not good for me.

On balance though I think I am up significantly on the day.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall


All Kinds of Crazy

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me I decided it would be a top idea to swim out to Thatcher Rock this morning.  It was a top idea, but with every kind of weather from full on sunshine to pelting rain and howling wind and a full rainbow.  By the time I’d circled the bay, been to the rock and got back I’d done nearly a mile.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming



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From Dawn ’til Dusk

So no vampires then.

It’s 4:30 in the morning, it has been light for half an hour but under the trees shadows still lurk on the edge of vision.  And again there is not a hint of breeze.  We join the group who bivvied on the beach as the horizon assumes a hazy orange glow.  The waves are sweeping softly over the high tide line belying the deeper swell that makes the 5 Knot buoy bob and nod further out.  We ride the swell as the sun clears the horizon filling each face with summer warmth and promise.

We swim back in as the sun rises higher making noticeable progress minute by minute, there is a lot of sky to cover today.  Climbing back up the hill the shadows have fled away from beneath the tress, it is just 6 o’clock.

The first day of summer is a scorcher as the camper van creeps up the motorway then onto major roads and minor roads through the Brecon Beacons, across the heart of Wales.  The route picks up the River Wye and follows it back up into the hills until crossing over at Eisteddfa Gurig from where I can almost see the sea.  It is an extraordinary twist of geological fate that send the river instead half the length of Wales east to the Severn 100 miles back the way I just came.

It is much later in the day when I pull the camper onto the roadside at Borth.

The heat is already draining from the day as a slight breeze stutters over the pebbles and sand.  The sun is now creeping down to the horizon off this seeming endless stretch of beach as I throw off my t-shirt onto my towel and wade out through the surf almost reaching the sunset before there is sufficient water in which to swim.

The sun creeps lower, casting golden tints across the water, its progress seems far slower than its earlier ascent, reluctant perhaps to give way to a brief darkness, a darkness that is now on the ascendant from here to December when there might again be vampires, but for now there is only the summer.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

As Rare as an Honest Politician

Sunshine that is.

Well that’s not quite true, there has been sunshine.  There has also been a lot of rain and almost constant howling gales and, hand on heart, every time I have stepped outside things have been perfect right up to the moment I’ve got to the beach.

Take last Tuesday for example.  It was an extremely low spring tide which gave me the opportunity to walk the shoreline from Mansands to Scabbacombe without the scrambling.  The air was still and warm in the sunshine, and in the shelter beneath the high cliffs spring was indeed in the air.  Until that is I reached the tricky headland at the far end of Long Sands.  Now the wind funnelled across Scabbacombe beach, the clouds appeared out of nowhere and spread rapidly out from the cliff top and with them came the rain.  Icy cold rain driving in sheets.  In seconds the dry rocks were transformed into water slides and by the time I reached the relative shelter of the beach and cliffs I was wringing wet.  I could not have got any wetter if I’d walked into the sea, and I would have got a lot colder either.

I squelched up the hill along the footpath that was now a mud filled stream, the wind still whipping me with bucketful after bucketful of rain.

Bad luck you say.  Conspiracy I say because no sooner had I reached the car than the clouds blew away and the sunshine returned.  And that is not the only time this has happened in recent weeks.   Last Friday it was almost a repeat performance at Breakwater Beach.

And damn it, it is going to do the same again, I am jogging back down North Boundary Road to the car to grab my bag to walk down to Fishcombe Cove and the rain is darting at me from the one and only cloud in the sky.  The cloud is following me.  I turn the corner and the cloud turns to follow.  I dither under the tailgate of the car until the cloud losses interest and then nip across the road and duck under the tree cover, if I’m lucky the cloud won’t notice until it’s too late.

Fishcombe Cove across to Churston Cove is bathed in sunshine and is sheltered from both wind and waves.  It’s a little after high tide but it is only a low neap, coming barely half way up the newly rebuilt steps.  The steps got wrecked last autumn and I thought there was little chance they would be repaired as they are out of sight and suffer few users, austerity cut-backs being what they are.  However, both these and the bottom couple of steps on the coast path over at Churston Cove have been restored.  However, standing on the lowest step in the waist deep water which is suffused with green light and quite clear down to the seabed of jumbled stones and wispy seaweed fronds, the chill of the water is a sharp reminder that despite the warm sunshine spring officially is still two weeks away (Monday 20th March, 10:29 local time in the UK).

I push off from the step and I am quickly out of my depth.  Out in the middle of the bay the waves swing up and down with their crests just breaking into myriad glittering jewels.  People are watching from Churston Beach.  I am watching for the seal who can be friendly and also less friendly.

Lying back and kicking up fountains of water I glance over my shoulder and spy the grey blanket of cloud sweeping over Torquay.  It is rising up over the headland and sweeping my way.  That is my signal to leave.

I am towelling furiously as the first raindrops hit.  Forget it, clothes on, now!  A dash of rain hits and instantly the concrete walkway darkens, but I am already hauling my sweatshirt on and begin stuffing my towel into the bag.  I’m done and have just time to wave at the lady now going in for her swim before dashing for the meagre shelter of the trees.

It’s just normal, perfectly healthy paranoia.  Everyone suffers from it.

But that doesn’t mean the clouds are not following me.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall

Overstaying the Welcome.

10°C or less and I set the time I can comfortably be in water without the wetsuit as 1 minute for every degree, so 5 degrees, 5 minutes.  Fairly straight-forward.  But if it is a sunny day that time can extend out several minutes as it is surprising how much warmth the sun gives both to the water and of course drying afterwards.  The trick is not to outstay the welcome.

Today is one such gloriously sunny day and there is not a hint of breeze.  The sea oozes crudely like oil, but, unlike oil, it is clear (up to a point) and bottle green in the depths.  Diving from the rocks into the green depths I hardly notice the sharp chill. Re-surfacing and the water behind me effervesces.

I swim off under the cliff where the low winter sunshine blinks at me through the bare trees and dips and rises above the edge of the cliff as the gentle swell lifts and drops me.

The rocks here have been gnawed by barnacles and dissolved by seawater so as to become deep pitted and sharp fluted.  It is fascinating to look at but painful to bump into and after just a few moments in the water my fingers and toes are already numbing with the chill and I know from experience I would not feel a thing if I were to grate across the surface, only feeling it later when I notice the blood.

The beach opens up ahead where there are a few walkers and their dogs, but otherwise it is a typical January mid-day, all quiet on the beach front.

My fingers and toes are really numb now and clambering out over the sharp rocks takes a little more care than usual.  I have clearly been in too long as despite the added sunshine there are cold fingers skittering up and down my spine and I have got the shakes, I definitely overstayed my welcome.

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