The Great Tit Weekend – Seabirds on Tour Part I – what to pack?

Some of us Salty Seabirds are off on an adventure. We are going to Wales. The weather and sea conditions look less than ideal but we don’t care. When you read this we will be waking up west. We are going to the Great Tit Weekend organised by The Bluetits, TYF and Celtic Camping. A weekend of swimmy celebration  with like minded souls from around the UK. The location is the Pembrokeshire coastline with plenty of swimming, eating, game playing, craft workshops, swim/coasteering and music.

The whatsapp group has been buzzing this week with what to pack. I am not quite sure why we are whipping ourselves up into such a frenzy when all we need to pack is what we take in our swim bags to the beach here in Brighton. But with the autumn equinox and storm after storm signalling the end of summer and our wild swim group growing significantly, may be it is time to consider the kit needed for cold water swimming.

This list is not exhaustive and really personal to me. I skin swim year round and fortunately don’t really feel the cold, so the neoprene accessories I pack are minimal. No wetsuit, no shoes, no gloves……..yet. It also does not include the cake, legwarmers and Uggs that accompany me in the winter. Also missing are the copious bags of crisps, red wine and middle age medication, that will be travelling with me to Wales but not returning.

  1. My woolly hat. I say that like it is singular but I have one in every colour of the rainbow. As a child my mum tried to force me to wear a woolly hat, which I did not consider cool, much like wearing a coat. Now I can’t wait to don one. The game changer is the fleece band inside which cover your ears. Bad hair days, which is every day when it has been in salt water,  are also very well dealt with.
  2. A sports cloak. Much like the vacuum cleaner being called a hoover, this product is more commonly known by the brand name dryrobe. And I have two. I swim outdoors a lot and I coach both open water swimming and surf lifesaving so having two does not feel excessive as they double up as work-wear. I have a short sleeved Charlie McLeod for autumn and spring and a long sleeve dryrobe for the sub zero winter temperatures. I use them as a waterproof cover to place over my dry clothes while I am in the water. When I travel I use the more compact Charlie McLeod. They are not cheap but they make a huge difference on a windswept beach and are roomy enough to get changed under. Are they worth it? If you get wet regularly and live an outdoorsy life, absolutely!
  3. A Towelling Robe. Although this is far from being a space saver in my kit bag, it is 100% cotton and so isn’t shedding micro fibres into the sea like other lightweight alternatives. It also protects my dignity and leaves my numb hands free to pull up my pants……if I have remembered them!
  4. Core Warmer. AKA Haramaki, which means ‘belly-wrap’ in Japanese where they originate from. After a cold water swim your core can take a while to warm up and this bit of kit is just the ticket. We have thick gloves and socks for our extremities but it is the core we need to focus on to prevent the ‘after drop’. The best thing about them is you can stick a hot water bottle in them!
  5. Flask. Another way to warm the core is a hot beverage. The only way to keep your drink warm is with an isothermal bottle or flask. My top tip is to take a cup with you as the flask keeps the heat in and so doesn’t warm your hands at the same time. Pouring your drink into a cup will transfer the heat to both your hands and your heart.
  6. Tow Float. I love my Puffin dry bag tow float. It’s main purpose is for me to be seen and keep my car keys in but it has been known to double up as a pillow when I take a float break in the sea and I fill it with disco lights when we swim in the dark. I am a Seabird so it makes sense that I am kept safe by a Puffin. Also it is the first biodegradable tow float to be introduced to the UK market. As the sea temperature drops it is so important to be seen if you get into trouble as time is of the essence.
  7. Swim Hat. This keeps my head warm and again is to make sure I can be seen. It is normally the only bit of neoprene I wear. I have a Zone 3 swimming bonnet (fastens under the chin) in bright orange to complement my tow float. I leave in on until the very last minute when I am getting dressed. It also covers my ears so helps stop water from getting in and the dreaded swimmers ear…….
  8. Earol Swim Spray. The key to cold water swimming is acclimatisation. I do this by getting in the water as often as I can. If you get an ear infection you can be out of the water for weeks. This spray prevents water from collecting in your ears, the main reason they get infected. Prevention is better than cure!
  9. Goggles. I have a small head so finding goggles is a tricky one for me. I recently got a pair of swipe goggles as market research for the Seabirds shop. They really are, and I am not just saying this because we sell them, the best pair of goggles I have ever owned. They were clear in and out of the water, didn’t leak, didn’t fog up, didn’t leave me with marks on my face. And you can get prescription ones for the same price. Being able to see stuff under the water on a clear sea day is one of my favourite things to do. I’d love to tell you it has improved my sighting, but it hasn’t. I can still happily head for the wrong buoy.
  10. Friends. I can’t fit them in my kit bag but swimming with friends, forming friendships in the sea, sharing experiences like this weekend with friends also makes you warmer inside.

Next weekend’s blog will be full of stories of our adventures in wet Wales. Right off to pack now!

Seabird flies the nest – to the South West

Every May Half Term we head for Kernow and it’s never ending coastline.

Every May half term as far back as forever we have over packed a car and sat on Bodmin Moor with no data signal for what feels like a lifetime. Only to be rewarded with a cosy cottage in some corner of Cornwall. It’s my favourite holiday of the year.

We have spent a fortune on holidays over the years. It is our biggest outgoing. Pre-kids we would just book plane tickets to somewhere new and wing it when we got there. Or find a deal on Ceefax! Post-kids we’ve had, New Years in northern France, skiing in Europe, Easters in Wales, Octobers in Devon, city breaks, camping breaks and not forgetting the two week headliner in the summer holidays which have earned me the nickname of Judith Chalmers. Every opportunity and definitely every school holiday we pack our bags . But the Cornish half term holiday is my favourite.

There is no inland area more than 20 miles from the sea in this coastal county. It has a coastline of over 400 miles with 158 miles designated as Heritage Coast. I think it is clear to anyone who knows me why the proximity of the sea is so important to me. It’s main income is tourism which can cause overcrowding on the single track lanes and small ports and villages designed for a much quieter existence. But if you avoid peek season i.e. the summer holidays and tourist hotspots you can always find a quiet cove all to yourself.

We stay at different locations every year. Sometimes north, sometimes south and occasionally west – the further west you go can add considerable travel time! The coastline varies dramatically and so therefore do our holidays. We always take surf boards. stand up paddle board, camping stove and lots of neoprene. The sea, coastline, tides and weather will dictate what we do. But every day we will get wet. Words cannot describe the colour of the sea in places here. Aqua Marine? Turquoise? Cyan? It must be something to do with the unique quality of the light. Swimming in these crystal clear waters is like no where else on earth.

The WiFi and data coverage is crap and Truro has only recently got a Primark, so on paper, it’s a teenagers idea of Hell. But actually if you take them away from the bright lights of the big city and the glare of gadgets you will actually find your child again under that surly stare. And although they would be loathed to admit it publicly, they long for low key as much as we do.

Early Summer is my favourite time of year. In in the countryside it is even more pronounced. Cow parsley towers over your head, grass is still lush and green before a summer of scorching and the air is beginning to warm. Barefoot living becomes a real possibility and beaches to nap on lulled by a sea breeze is a prized pastime. My favourite flowers bloom in early summer, bluebells, sea pink and red campions line coastal paths filling these desolate spots with hope. For someone (me), with a lifelong relationship with depression, the cushioned warm cliff grass trodden on, barefoot, can bring me joy. Actual joy. However fleeting, a real happiness, that I wish would stay longer.

But like all good things, these holidays come to an end. And so we look to the next year and decide on the next location. Only this year we won’t. This year is our last. After over a decade of Cornish retreats our time as a foursome is coming to an end. The eldest is off to foreign climes to play football (soccer) and study next year and I cannot see the youngest agreeing to come without her. She will be missing from all of our future holidays but it will be this one where she will be missed the most. She is my water-baby, my first born fish, my mermaid.

Author: Seabird Kath

Note from Author: I am writing this in a sun room on the banks of a creek on the Roseland Peninsula. There have been at least two squalls blow in from the river Fal whilst I have been sat here. Sunny it aint.

Essential packing for UK holiday list includes:

Towelling Robes & Hammams; both of these are absolutely essential. The UK is not that warm and when you’ve been in the sea as long as my kids have they need the towelling robes afterwards. They are the envy of other beach users as they curl up for post swim snoozes in them. Both have said it’s their best thing to take on holiday. This year I forgot our hammams – lightweight to pack as emergency towels for impromptu swims whilst walking the wild coast line. But they double up as picnic blankets or actual blankets and a scarf on chilly evenings.

 

 

Camping stove, mugs and steel pints; We take these to the beach in the evening and while the kids swim, skim pebbles, surf or build sandcastles we boil the kettle for hot chocolate, fry sausages for supper and drink chilled beer or wine. A sunset spent like this is like no other!

Games; our favourites vary as the kids grow older. Uno is and always will be a hit but we have also loved Monopoly Deal, Dobble and Travel Yhatzee. All small enough to fit in your handbag and take with you to cafes and pubs.

Sharpies; a bag of pens can be taken anywhere to draw on anything ( vandalism not encouraged). Pebbles and shells can all be decorated and hidden for others to find. We have a secret swim spot we visit every year where we have pebbles hidden that we redecorate every year.

Underwater water camera; we’ve had gopros and cheap versions of, and a Nikon Coolpix camera. The kids have spent hours taking video footage of each other in the sea and we have visual memories of our holidays now.

Well fitting wet-suits; – buying wet-suits that your kids will ‘grow into’ is a false economy. Unless the wet-suit is tight fitting, it will not work. There needs to be minimal gap between skin and neoprene for trapped water to be warmed up by their body heat. If it is loose it just won’t work. Ocean Sports do an amazing selection of kids wet-suits – mention you are a Salty Seabird and you may get a discount! Those not in Brighton – Surfdome are online, have a great ethos (paper packaging, donate to sea conservation), great customer service and a great selection.

Wild Guide books; Never leave home without one. They are basically our holiday guide book for anywhere in the UK. You will find that secluded swim spot with this as your bedside bible

Happy Holidays!

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