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.

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