The Rock – Swimming with my Spouse

My rock in stormy seas. Introducing Mr Seabird

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The final part in the family swim stories trilogy.

Part I – Libby in the Lakes – swimming with my Daughter

Part II – Monarch of the Glen – swimming with a Laird

My husband and my depression, have been constants in my life since I was teenager. We met when I was 12 and he was 13 and we got together when I was 15 and he was 16. Right about the time when my teenage brain was experiencing it’s first incidence of poor mental health, and seeking out new risky experiences, resulting in lots of poor choices. He watched the poor choices from the wings, without partaking himself, often clearing up the debris.

Over the years, like any couple we’ve had our ups and downs, as my mental health has had it’s up and downs. Sometimes the two things are intertwined. My choices have improved with age and so has his support. He doesn’t always agree with my choices, decisions and ideas but his support is unwavering. When I let him get a word in edge-ways, he has been known to give bloomin’ good advice. He is the rock I cling to in stormy seas.

My choice to skin swim in the sea year round is also watched from the wings. He loves that I do it, but he neither has the time or inclination to join me. He enjoys being at the beach or in the sea but he prefers gentle beach breaks or small hidden coves and warmer sea temperatures. Our holiday choices are easy. It has to be by the sea and the car is filled with neoprene, SUPs and surf boards. He will get up early for solo surfs and be the first one to suggest a sunset swim before bed. Finding a beautiful secluded beach in Cornwall a couple of years ago and forgetting our swimsuits meant a skinny dip was inevitable. The teens are yet to forgive us.

Our holiday choices match but the type of swims we like can differ. I have been bought up on steep shingle shelves and long shore drift. Brighton beach is my favourite place to swim. It’s familiar, although ever changing. It’s my safe space although sometimes precarious. He only likes it local when it’s warmer and when it’s slack tide. He hates the, sometimes unstoppable, strong tidal current that can be like swimming on travelator going the wrong way. A couple of hard swims home when I’ve encouraged him to swim with me didn’t help lessen his hatred for fast moving water.

On special occasions I can convince him to swim with me on home territory. The featured image above show the pre-swim smiles of my 45th birthday. Early on a Sunday morning in July he accompanied me for a swim out to the buoys in front of the King Alfred. There is no post swim photo. There was no post swim chat. There was only post swim sulks, from both of us. The cross shore pull that had made reaching the buoy relatively easy was making the swim back tough. As I swam beside him giving advice on where to aim for to exit the sea safely and where we had left our bags I infuriated him more as I was able to talk and swim and wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned about getting back to dry land. We ended up having a row in the sea that resulted in me swimming off in the direction I had suggested and him the other. In hindsight I realise I had taken him out of his comfort zone, then emasculated him with my nonchalance in the water only to abandon him when he was feeling vulnerable. The salt in the wound being the walk over sharp shingles at the end of his ordeal. He is so confident in every other aspect of his life it didn’t enter my mind that this was something he was doing for me and not necessarily something he wanted to do.

It really is the pull of a current that he hates. In a warm non-tidal Mediterranean sea he would regularly take the children out to depths and distances that left me watching from a sunbed in horror. Fortunately, a couple of bad experiences haven’t put him off swimming with me…..just not in Brighton. This year’s birthday was spent swimming the Somerset Levels together. Pull of the water panic was replaced by pike panic. There was our trip to Scotland. The glens and waterfalls are hands down, the most beautiful place we have both ever had the pleasure of swimming. The peaty dark brown lochs provided a very different swimming experience as he confidently entered the water I splashed and stayed in the shallows put off by the murky water and what could lie beneath. He also joined my sister and I when we swam in Bude Tide Pool in April in armed only with his swim shorts. But he is at his happiest in a Cornish cove in the summer.

I call him a fair-weather swimmer but he is really not. He just doesn’t enjoy some of the same swims as me and there is nothing fair-weather about being married to me. All the while I wish to skin swim, year round I have the company of the Salty Seabirds. Absence makes the heart grow fonder after all!

Scribe: Seabird Kath

Footnote: I am reading and editing this in bed pre-publication and he is snoring to the point of punching his face in! It ain’t all hearts and roses.

A Seabird Haven

Seabirds swimming in fresh flowing water at Wallers Haven

Wallers Haven – Seabird on tour, inland!

Earlier this summer I was attending Camp Abyss with some of my favourite people in the world; close family and oldest of friends. Sweltering in the heat of high summer and stuck in an exposed, treeless field for the last three days, we needed to cool off and get wet. I turned to my new favourite discovery; (yes the one I’ve been banging on about for ages) the Wild Swim Map and the Wild Guide and found out that Wallers Haven was our nearest swim spot. Hooray!

It is a little difficult, to say the least, to match the spot on the road to the description given. However, we parked on the side of the (very fast) road, waited for a gap in the traffic, then headed over to the bridge to investigate. Unfortunately, we ended up taking the most difficult route, which turned into a battle with nettles and one of our party almost falling down the side into the river.  Don’t do that as there is ‘proper’ access via a path a bit further up the road each way!

Stumbling on, hotter and grumpier by the nanosecond, we eventually rounded the concrete jetty described in the map. It really is the most beautiful spot. Peaceful and surrounded by countryside, with Weeping Willow trees dangling down over the silky surface of the river. Mineral tasting water, refreshingly cold in the heat of the day. My first river swim! Having been stung by nettles, almost falling into the river and spotting a ‘snake’ on the surface of the water, one of our party stated that they were just there to watch.

However, it proved inviting enough to get all of us in and having the absolute best free fun that there is to be had! This despite our varying levels of confidence and anxiety about being out of our depths etc. Some stuck to the edges for a quick float, others dived or jumped in and generally messed about. A perfect spot full of simple pleasures. We all returned to the festival invigorated, energised and much, much happier, all fully converted to Wild Swimming too.

We would love to hear of your favourite swim spots in the comments.

Author: Seabirds Catherine

Seabird in the Dales – a Summer of Swim Love

Seabird Swim Story of a family holiday in the Yorkshire Dales guided by the Wild Guide and Wild Swim Map

“Imagine a summer spent swimming in mountain waterfalls, exploring lost ruins and caverns, and camping in ancient forests.” Wild Guide – Lake District and Yorkshire Dales: Hidden Places and Great Adventures

Inspired by the above and the heat of early summer this year I planned our family holiday around my new love, wild swimming. I found two amazing resources:

  1. The Wild Swim Map; This is a website where you can search for swim spots wherever you are heading and read other swimmers’ reviews and notes.
  2. The Wild Guide series for the Yorkshire Dales. This not only features swim spots but covers other ‘wild’ aspects wherever you are going – forests, ancients spots and walks.

None of us like a long journey without a stopover, so I used the amazing resource that is the Wild Swim map to find a swim along our route – Port Meadow on the Thames. I wanted somewhere halfway(ish) between home and our final destination. We took a picnic from Brighton, drove up, parked in the car park and ate in the car because it was pouring with rain. Of course!

The braver (less grumpy) 3 of us then went investigating up river, guide book in hand. Argued over whether this was ‘the spot’, looked round and felt slightly shy as dog walkers were the only others around. Our inner Seabird kicked in then and we thought ‘sod it’, whipped off our clothes and jumped in with the ducks. Weedy green water caused squeals when legs became entangled in it, ducks and swans and anglers only a little further off. We felt slightly self conscious before getting in but the minute we were in we didn’t care and felt adventurous (or a bit naughty).

It was the perfect stopover when heading North – just off the M40. Rope swing nearer the bridge that even the older two would play on. The smallest one ended up soaked to the waist and spent the rest of the journey wrapped in a towel. Then onward and Northwards…..

Masons Campsite is right next to the River Wharfe in the Yorkshire Dales near the village of Appletreewick. The river is at the bottom of the small campsite and has 2 great rope swings where the kids line up and swing out over the river endlessly or spin each other into dizziness and the thrill of nearly falling in.

10 minutes down river from the campsite, after a bit of hesitation and doubt, we found the spot that matched the picture in the book. Despite the glorious sunshine nobody else was in there. Whipped off our clothes again (becoming a theme) while bemused dog walkers looked on and slid in tentatively. Much much colder than the sea in Brighton, peaty tasting brown water, soft and silky. Fantastic. Numb feet like November in Brighton in just a few minutes. Slimy, weed covered stones under foot and bum. Surrounded by stunning scenery. All to ourselves.

We spent the holiday using the Wild Guide as our bible and it kept us outside, off screens and well fed with great pub grub suggestions. Fantastic. Highly recommend. Keep tuned for the next wild swim spot recommendation coming soon…

Author: Seabird Catherine

Monarch of the Glen – Swimming with a Laird

When one kid leaves another one comes along. As my daughter Libby boarded the plane home from our swims in the lake District, my son Archie, arrived with his dad for our Scottish adventure.

Archie wasn’t enamoured with the idea of a holiday in the middle of no-where with no network and no WiFi. The salt in the wound, was that his big sister was escaping this fate to go hang out with her friends back home. Something he was intent on not letting us forget.

Archie has a difficult friendship group. He doesn’t always help himself as he reacts spectacularly to anything he sees as unjust or unfair. So he is an easy target for some of the group members and can be purposefully excluded from activities which plays itself out in the very public domain of social media group chats. We limit his xbox time and do not allow him to have 18 rated games which in the world of liberal parenting makes him a social pariah. His social struggles add to his anxiety which he hides with bravado to the outside world only to melt down in the safe confines of the home. We are more than aware that as he navigates Year 9, and testosterone kicks in varying rates amongst his mates, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Our solution to Archie’s social struggles is family down time, which in the summer was a holiday in Scotland with no electronics. We chose Scotland as we have been promising to visit an old university friend who settled there over 20 years ago and because Archie is a Laird and owns some land there. He was gifted the land for his thirteenth birthday as a tongue in cheek gesture. Archie has a few self entitlement tendencies so a Title seemed a fitting birthday present.

When we arrived in Alba, we stayed in Balquidder at our friend Gary’s house which has a river running through the back garden. After arriving at night, in the dark, we woke to the most beautiful view and were soon inflating our stand up paddle board (SUP) and pulling on our swimmers. The water level was low because the endless hot summer even reached north of the border. But it was still deep enough to jump into which the dog did before we had even shut the back door. We were not far behind using wooden steps in the bank to jump onto a chain ferry which you could then dive off. Archie paddled but wasn’t keen to get in the icy trout filled water. Instead he set sail on the paddle board, accompanied by the dog to see if he could make it to the next village. In the afternoon Gary got out his angling gear and taught Archie how to fish. A whole day of no gadgets and no melt downs.

That evening we travelled to a house on the banks of Loch Venachar to stay for a few days. Before I had even unpacked the car, Archie and his dad had found some bikes and headed off to explore the local area scouting for swim spots. They found Loch Achray and Loch Drunkie before it got dark. Every evening before dinner and after a days exploring we would swim and SUP in the loch across the road with Ben Finglas as our back drop. Very different to the salty sea I am used to, the water was dark and foreboding but really fresh. It was almost a metallic orange in colour giving you a swimmers tan in the water. Archie still opted for the SUP over a swim but the water was still working it’s magic and he was relaxed and happy. A few more days of no gadgets and no melt downs.

My favourite day was when we travelled to Glencoe and onto Glen Nevis. Archie’s land is part of a conservation project. The idea is you buy a plot of land and the money raised from the sale is used to return the land to it’s original natural state. The big pines trees you see on the side of mountains have been purposefully planted and are killing the soil and changing the ecosystem. So we spent some time in Glencoe Woods with a GPS device trying to locate the Laird’s land…..which we did.

We travelled onto Glen Nevis in search of a Steal Falls to swim in. We walked for miles on the hottest day of the year (it was even hot in Scotland) through the Nevis Gorge with large rucksacks full of food, drink and most importantly swim suits. Words cannot describe how beautiful it was. I honestly think it is the most beautiful place I have ever been. Definitely the most beautiful spot I have ever swum in. The water was crystal clear and cold. The kind of cold you only get when the water has come from the highest peak in the British Isles. Waterfalls, gullies, plunge pools, stepping stones, it was the stuff of fairy tales. And we practically had it all to ourselves as we chose the path less trodden on the opposite side of the glen.

But it wasn’t the beauty that made it my favourite day, it was Archie. He didn’t moan once on the long, sometimes difficult climb along the gorge. He ran ahead constantly looking for safe spots to get in the the rapidly running glen. He only stopped when the dog got stuck in a peat bog!

And Archie finally got in. Allowing his dad and I to go first we jumped off a rock into a deep pool. With lots of encouragement he did a tandem jump with the dog. As his head appeared back above the water, a huge smile took over his whole face. He struggled to breath not because of the cold water shock, but because he was giggling so much. The giggles continue when he realised he couldn’t clamber back up the rock to get out and the current took him down stream. Another day of no gadgets and no melt downs.

We cannot cocoon our kids from the outside world. But we can give them a chance to relax and re-calibrate away from scrolling screens. Swimming is my sanctuary and in Scotland it was my son’s.

Author: Seabird Kath

Libby in the Lakes – swimming with my daughter

I am a Seabird. I swim in the sea. I am not anti Lidos, Lakes and Lochs I just prefer the sea and it helps that it is on my doorstep. This summer I swapped the salt for freshwater swimming in the Lake District and Scotland with a sneaky anniversary trip to the rivers of the Somerset levels. They didn’t disappoint. All special for different reasons. The Lakes because I swam with my daughter.

My eldest child did her GCSEs this summer and I was keen for her to have the best summer ever as a reward for working so hard. She, like me swims in the sea all year round albeit in a wet-suit and as part of her Surf Life Saving weekly training sessions. She is an incredible swimmer, powerful and fast. If I got into trouble in the sea I would want her there. But other than her weekly session and the occasional dip with mates after school she doesn’t swim in the sea, at least not with me. I don’t know why not, I make her look like an elegant mermaid as I splash around frantically trying to keep up with her. Maybe it’s just not cool to hang out with your mum when you are 16! So it was a massive surprise when she agreed to come swimming in the Lake District with me.

The plan was for she and I to drive up to the Lakes on our way to Scotland for a family holiday. My husband and son would fly up to Glasgow to meet us when my youngest had broken up from school. Best laid plans. She soon backed out of the Scotland trip as she wanted to hang out with her mates. Fortunately she still wanted to do the Lakes with me. So as my husband and son arrived in Alba, she got on the same plane and flew home. All she saw of Scotland was Gretna Green Service Station and Glasgow Airport! But not before we had a fantastic couple of days exploring tarns, rivers and waterfalls.

The course has been set for uncharted territory. Not just the unfamiliar freshwater lakes but we are entering a new phase as Libby leaves school. She is changing fast and I am trying to keep up. It’s hard enough trying to keep up with her swimming!  I can cope with the late nights and the boozy experiments and think I have finally grasped what ‘linking’ is but I miss her. She just doesn’t want to be with me anymore. She either wants to be out with her mates or alone in her room. I have created an independent young woman with very strong ideas about who she wants to be and who she wants to be with. And it ain’t me! It’s everything I wished for but I feel bereft.

I was determined we would have the best time together so she could see what she was missing hanging out with her dear ol’ Ma. Spending time with your teens is hard. There is such pressure for the snatched moments you have together to be better than snapchat scrolling you inevitably end up arguing. Probably over snapchat scrolling. But I was not deterred.  Armed with my Wild Guide, we still managed to get lost, but when we didn’t we swam and chatted, swam and laughed, swam and squealed.

It was a wonderful couple of days with a beautiful back drop. I will definitely return to the Lake District. Hopefully with Libby. It was over all too soon and normal service soon resumed. Back to feeling like I had an empty nest but the fledgling was still in it. Redundant in my role as a parent as my child was now self sufficient and flying free.  There is a wealth of information about parenting from how to potty train and other developmental milestones but nothing had prepared me for this. Grieving for a girl that was just upstairs

I am still trying to catch up with the speed at which she is growing (and swimming). I still ask he if she wants to come on a dog walk with me even when I know the answer will be no. Ever hopeful that one day the answer will be yes. Our interactions are mainly me hovering at her bedroom door asking her if she wants of cup of tea. There are still the rare moments when she comes into the kitchen and wants a chat but she in is charge of when this will be.

It was during one of these moments when she told me she really enjoyed swimming in the Lake District with me. She ‘just liked being with me on her own’ and ‘found it relaxing’. In teenage talk that was a very long conversation! It took every ounce of self control not to book a lifetimes worth of trips right there and right then to ensure we would always have that time together. Instead I very coolly suggested she might like to do The Big Bala Swim with me next year. (In my head I was cool, I may well have squeaked it whilst clinging to her). And she has agreed! So next year Gwynedd with my Girl. Until then bedroom hovering will have to do.

Author: Seabirds Kath

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Swimming with my Sister

My love of swimming in the sea was cultivated from a young age. I spent every school holiday, even the cold winter ones, in a converted railway carriage on Selsey’s East Beach. It was the stuff of Enid Blyton books. Sea swimming numerous times a day, camping out in haystacks, racing the Lifeboat maroon onto the beach and cycling on an array of Rand Hand Gang bikes for miles on the flat reclaimed land. All of this I shared with my brother, foster siblings, cousins, new friends (now firmly established as old friends) and my little sister. With only 2 years between us in age no matter how much I tried to shake her, there was always my younger sister! In her orange towelling bathing suit.

She was ever present in the sea with me. If there was a summer thunder storm at night we would be allowed to get out of bed to jump into the sea to watch the fork lightning display floating on our backs. (It was the 1970s there was no H&S). We perfected our jumping and diving at high tide off the breakwaters into the depths that the long shore drift had created. We created flotillas of rubber dinghies, washed up crabbing pots and floats and old rowing boats and set sail into low tide lagoons.

With exactly the same upbringing and childhood experiences it has always fascinated me how we grew into such different adults. She is always well turned out and I look like something the cat dragged in. She has incredible patience with people, probably due to working as a nurse for 25 years, and I, diplomatically put, do not. She is able to cope with blood and gore while I am firmly hidden behind the cushion. I get in the sea all year round and she, even on on a summers day does not. But she did. She just doesn’t anymore.

The family holidays of the 1970s and 80s on the Sussex coast have been replaced with annual family celebration holidays. If there is an 0 or a 5 at the end of your birthday year you are expected to find a big house, by the sea, and invite siblings, parents, children, aunts, cousins and dogs to join you. This year it was Dad’s 75th and we headed off to Bude at Easter. I packed my swim suit, my sister did not.

What is not outwardly apparent is that behind my sisters immaculate appearance and organised life she has more than most to deal with. Her youngest daughter Emily has been refusing to go to school for most of her time at senior school. She is now in year 10 and they have lived with school refusal for 3 years. My sister works for the NHS and is like a blood hound when it comes to getting answers but even with that on her side she is no closer to a resolution. I could go on and on about the lack of services available, scarce school funding, female autism going un-diagnosed, acute anxiety, daily melt downs but you get the picture. Life is incredibly hard for my sister and my niece. With that in mind I planned to get Emily in the sea. This I knew would be relatively easy as she loves the sea. It calms her and gives her overworked brain a rest. She swims with me at Grandma Seaside’s on the Isle of Wight and this time in Cornwall her cousin and uncle were going to teach her how to surf. We bought spare wet suits, gloves, boots, robes with us and Emily packed her swimsuit.

So during the holiday, Emily headed into the sea at Widemouth bay and had some foamie fun in the white water. My sister watched from the beach, every present, ever anxious. She doesn’t like the cold water and the waves fill her with dread. Yet here she was watching her daughter, entrusting her to her cousin, having fun. Knowing she had to sideline her own anxiety to allow Emily some respite. Later I went in for a skin swim with my sister-in-law, in the waves, to the amazement of neoprene clad on lookers and again my sister looked on. Same seventies upbringing in the sea but she couldn’t bring herself to get in. To be honest it didn’t even cross my mind to ask her if she wanted to join us as I assumed the answer would be a firm no. And she hadn’t packed her swimsuit.

The holiday house was full, all week, with wet-suits, towels, swimsuits drying on every available radiator and hook. Talk was invariably about swimming, surf spots and surf reports. Post sea highs where shared around the fire with steaming mugs of post sea tea. The highlight of the week was that my husband and niece were going to join me for a swim in the iconic Bude Tide Pool. The surprise of the week was when my sister announced she’d like to join us too! Now to find her a swimsuit.

I often wonder what made her decide to come for a cold water skin swim that day. I think it was because she could see how much it does for my mental health and for her daughters. Perhaps she was curious about the post swim happiness high and whether it too would be some respite for her. Maybe it was good old fashioned sibling rivalry. The Tide pool has sides and a way to get in safely with no crashing waves. It also has changing rooms so that you don’t have to struggle on the sand to get your knickers on. For her the perfect conditions. So she borrowed by daughters swimsuit, refused neoprene but donned various rash-vests, gloves and boots. She questioned why she was doing it over and over again on the way there but didn’t turn back.

We talked a lot about cold water shock and what she should expect when she got in the water. It was March when the sea is at it coldest. I got in first and showed her how I floated on my back and controlled by breathing. She attempted to get in a few times and needed a bit of coaxing but eventually she took the plunge. You could see by her face she was trying really hard to control her breath so we sang. We swam and and we sang and slowly she was able to talk and regulate her breathing and we took a gentle breast stroke turn around the pool. And we were transported back to the 1970s when we regularly swam in the sea together. She was able to forget about life’s daily challenges for a few precious minutes and was so chuffed with herself that she had done it her happiness was infectious. For those few precious minutes she was back in her orange towelling swimsuit with no inhibitions, self consciousness or anxieties.

As a regular outdoor swimmer I am asked all the time if I have a favourite swim. Well this was it. It was the best swim ever. I have swum in the beautiful Glens of Scotland, Tarns in the Lake District, Rivers in the Somerset levels but I never thought I’d see the day when I would share the sea with my sister again. There was no thunder storm, breakwater jumping or dinghies but I did share the sea with my sister again. And it was the best! And now when she holidays in the UK she packs her swimsuit. My sister is a Seabird.

Author: Kath Seabird