Beach days were a big part of my childhood, annual visits to the wide stretches of and infinitely explorable dunes of Studland Bay the place in which our family summers were spent. At some point during the long hours exposed to the sun, I’d enter the water, but not enthusiastically; the unpredictability and changeability of sea water keeps me slightly nervous to this day. But the prickly heat of the long family beach days of my youth ensured at be in the water at some point, at least for bit.
Decades later and at least I think I can finally describe myself as an open water swimmer. Within the last couple of years, I’ve read and heard about the benefits to be gained from dipping into nature’s waters, the resurgence of interest in natural history writing meaning that a new tome on the topic is never far from publication. Thinking back, I may have mentioned ‘Dip’ by Andrew Fusek Peters here before, but a few years on and his beautiful descriptions and images of exploring his local area for places to submerge stay with me still. Somewhere, a copy of Roger Deakin’s classic ‘Waterlog’ sits waiting to be read.
Over the last few years, I’ve begun to get back in the water more regularly. Sea swimming is the only real option on the Island, but we’ve got some greats spots for it. This summer, though, we’ve made a concerted effort to hunt out and get in a wider variety of waters.
Admittedly, at home it has been the same swim spots again and again. When you have the sheltered yet steeply shelving Freshawater Bay on the doorstep, it is hard for other locations draw us away. In the right conditions, there’s always others sharing the water: rangy swimmers who look like they make a dip a daily occurrence; powerfully built stand-up paddleboarders cutting and turning through the waves; groups of giggling teenagers on inflatable kayaks trying not to be the first to fall in.
The surprising sun of the bank holiday weekend drew us to the sandy beaches of nearby Compton Bay though. Despite the crowds close to the steps, a short walk led to relatively quieter parts of the beach and a place to slowly paddle around amongst shoals of tiny glittering fish.
But what really makes me feel like a proper outdoor swimmer was not the coast, but the inland waters we found this summer. Although we visited the Lake District in order to get up high, a clear sunny evening meant a trip over the pass to Buttermere for my first ever lake swim. We’d only planned a gentle stroll along the shore, but finding a perfect slate promontory from which the launch meant a return trip to the van to retrieve the swimming essential was necessary. As the last of the sun glitters over the surface, the still water enveloped me, the fells as still above. It’s a strange experience, feeling the depth below but vision failing so close to the surface. Calming and comforting compared to the usual buffeting of the sea.
Even more excitingly, across the country, in the North York Moors, we hunted out the closest waterfall marked on the map, Falling Foss. Never too keen to over-plan, we hadn’t identified exactly how to access the fall and pool. We eventually ended up slithering, stumbling and then slipping down the valley’s steep banks to access the river, before we rocked hoped up to the falls. No higher than 60ft but producing an expected force, the orange tinted waters of pool below were by far the most bone chilling of the summer. There wasn’t much opportunity to actually swim, yet it was also the most invigorating of all.
I’m keen to see for how long I’ll keep it up into the autumn. Dry suits and associated paraphernalia are not for me, keeping it simple the only way to ensure I’ll continue with it. But with hope of more sunny days to come, I’ll be sure to be back on the coast, ready to dip.