The Great Tit Weekend  – Part II – A Tale of Two Seabirds

We had the most wonderful weekend in Wales at The Great Tit Weekend.

 

Cath and Kath do a ton of stuff together. By the very nature of being business partners our daily lives are entwined. We share values, experiences and thoughts on an almost daily basis. More recently we have been told that we look alike and asked if we are sisters, (what parent would call both their daughters Katharine/Catherine?).  It would seem, to the onlooker, we are morphing into the same person. But we couldn’t be more different. So this week’s blog is written by both of us about our shared experience of the Great Tit Weekend from our differing perspectives.

13 Salty Seabirds went to Wales for a weekend of sea swimming.

 

Kath’s Story

I was really looking forward to swimming in Wales, I have visited Pembrokeshire a few times before at different stages of my life but not since being a Salty Seabird. So exploring the beautiful quiet coves in the water rather than from a cliff top or harbour wall was really appealing. But as the day to depart drew ever closer I began to get anxious. I manage my mental health by balancing my life with regular downtime which includes swimming. But the other tools in my box are sleeping, reading, walking – all of which I do in solitude and silence.

I have learnt that, although I enjoy the company of others, after a while I need time away. This is for lots of reasons, the main ones being;  i) I am deaf on one side and the constant white noise of crowds being filtered out so I can actually engage in a conversation is really tiring. So is lip reading and my eyes are constantly darting around trying to keep up with the conversation ii) when you have anxiety, as I do in groups, particularly in groups I don’t know, suppressing the urge to run out of a room or finding the strength to enter a room is exhausting. The idea of bunk house accommodation, with nowhere to hide, a definite lack of sleep and meeting new people is my worst nightmare. But the fresh air, beautiful countryside, like-minded lovely people and new places to swim and explore are a dream come true. I can’t stop the waves but I can swim in them!

So how was it? It was wonderful. I had my moments of silent screams but they came and went. When Cath went to the room early on Saturday night every part of me wanted to follow her but I didn’t, I stayed and I danced and I laughed and I wasn’t just OK I was happy. Sunday morning I went down to breakfast on my own, saw Laura in the queue and devoured a full fry content with her charismatic company. On the way back from Abercastle swim I struck up a conversation with a stranger and we didn’t stop talking until we go back to our cars. I sat blissfully at peace, quietly with Claudine on the pebbles after a morning swim. I jumped naked into the Blue lagoon to a rapturous round of applause with Sam and Kelly.

All of this was possible because of the sisterhood of swimmers. The brilliant Blue Tits that organised the weekend and the Salty Seabirds, some of whom I had never met, that joined me for a weekend away. The sense of connection and community amongst us was strong and the smiles never stopped. The post swim highs continued into the follow week as I remembered more moments of joy and fun. Naked women in cow troughs, freezing foofs and questionable dancing. People helping others into or out of the water. People sharing stories, advice and friendship. Not once were the memorable moment’s ones of fear or stomach knots.

I’m never going to be able to approach new faces and places like Cath. She has a rare gift of being able to talk to anybody, I watch her with people in awe. She is naturally warm and friendly and brings an energy to social situations that can’t be described. I can jump off a 12 metre cliff naked but I struggle to talk to strangers. Which is why two C/Kaths are better than one.

Cath’s Story

I was really excited about the Blue Tit Weekender. I haven’t done much wild swimming away from home and Brighton and had seen so many beautiful photos. I was looking forward to meeting the Blue Tits too. They seemed like our gang. Lairy women embracing the cold with two fingers up at ‘middle age’.

I did manage to mess up my foot 5 days before we went so I was worried about not being able to get about. Extra footwear in the bag and off we went. 4 of us in the car up the motorway. A long old journey punctured with essential (and usually slightly overdue!) wee stops and lots of chat. It was a good laugh – like weekends away when we were younger. Lots of laughs and singing along to shit old songs on the radio. Hannah commented as we nearly arrived that “I had nearly forgotten that this wasn’t the fun bit” we had such a good time. Of course Kath was driving so I can’t speak for how much she enjoyed the journey up! (Thanks Kath!)

On arrival there was a lovely smiley Blue Tit in a dryrobe pointing out the way down to the reception and more smiley women waiting in the canteen as people gradually arrived.  I felt comfortable amongst these people – they were our gang and we fitted straight in.  One of the smiley woman waved and pointed at her ‘SaltyAF’ Seabirds hoodie – this was Loz, Lorraine in our Salty Seabird Group. Hadn’t managed to meet us at a swim yet but had signed up and come along to join us. Brilliant! She and husband Andy fitted right in with us and we fitted in with all the others.

The whole gang (100 of us) mainly, but not solely, BlueTits shared a common love and a common purpose – to enjoy the water and enjoy the hell out of the weekend. Within that environment everyone was inclusive, friendly and chatty. We met two young women from Manchester (who we named the ‘Mancy Tits’) who had come along knowing nobody. They came and hung out with us when we went for a swim on Saturday afternoon. Someone joined us on that swim who had grown up 20 minutes from me and had headed up to Wales to swim without remembering the BlueTit Weekend was on! When in the waves together all barriers are down.

Saturday night and I was starting to feel tired and flagging a bit  – but Kath got the Salty gang in the mood with all over face tattoos courtesy of Hannah, Laura dished out beards and pirate accessories and we got in the swing of it enjoying the evening’s entertainment. There was a powerful sense of community and camaraderie in the songs and the room that really moved me.

The overall highlight for me was the Blue Lagoon swim on Sunday morning – as I limped round the path heading down to the water we were greeted by the sight of a great mass of women. Colourful swim hats, cosies and robes to naked fabulousness. It warmed my heart and made me glad to be alive. We are empowered, proud of what our body does not what it looks like. It really looked and felt like being in a fairy story or legend, I had rounded a corner and come upon the powerful women, Selkies or Swim Witches. Happy in their skin. Wonderful.

Now I am a bit shyer, and “British” about the nakedness. Not bothered at all if others want to, but a bit shy to get my own personal tits out. Not at the Blue Lagoon. Off it came and in I went and it felt amazing. Powerful. Joining the sea witchy coven! Then to look up and see Kath coasteering stark naked and jumping in from a high drop to great applause. Fan-bloody-tastic. So glad to have found my tribe I love them all. Yes, I can talk to strangers but I doubt very much I will ever be able to jump off a cliff naked (or otherwise!) like Kath, especially in front of over 100 people – legend! (and thanks again for driving all the way up and back and the extra bits to save my mashed up toe x)

Thank you to all that joined us in Wales from Brighton and to all the lovely Tits we met over the weekend. It really was a wonderful weekend. The magic of the sea cast it’s spell and strangers left as friends.

Next year Scotland. Who’s in?

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!

The question everyone asks about Cold Water Swimming…..

People always ask me how cold the water is. I don’t know and don’t care….or do I?

Some people ask how to acclimatise to cold water swimming. Others ask how to warm up afterwards and beat the after drop. There are lots of technical questions about various pieces of kit, where it is safe to swim and how long you should stay in for. Cold water Swimming is of the moment and there are lots of people taking to the water to improve their mental and physical health which invariably begs the question how is it good for you. BUT the question that is ALWAYS asked without fail is “What’s the water temperature?” (Normally asked by people who don’t even swim in warmer months so I am always left a bit unsure as to why they have asked!)

And do you know what? I have no bloody idea and I don’t bloomin’ care. Or do I?

The Outdoor Swimming community is growing and so is it’s presence on Social Media. My feed is full of the most beautiful photographs of idyllic wild swims. But it is also full of  photos of the thermometers. The colder it gets the more I get! There are discussions on the best thermometer to use to measure the temperature of the water. My ‘lick my finger and hold it in the air’ thermometer does not measure the temperature in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit. In the summer the sea can be as warm as a bath, my internal thermometer measures this as ‘barmy bathing’. In the winter it is cold enough to take your breath away, which shows on my internal thermometer as ‘bloody baltic’ . Anything below 5 degrees requires a profanity and is as ‘f@?$ing freezing’.  In the winter you would think our flock would migrate to warmer climes but in fact as we drop out of double digit sea temperatures our numbers increase as locals look to improve their wellbeing by partaking in cold water swimming.

It is hard to actually measure the temperature of the sea in Brighton.  In the summer, Brighton’s Beach Lifeguard Posts and year round, Brighton Sea Swimming Club regularly display the temperature of the sea on beach front boards. But it doesn’t always reflect how the water actually feels. The energy of a ground or wind swell that create waves and chop can make it feel a couple of degrees warmer.  Underground fresh water streams empty into the sea all along the seafront which causes the temperature to vary considerably. If there has been significant rainfall the river Wellesbourne increases the cold freshwater entering the sea at Poole Valley. Even in the summer months you can find yourself in a really cold spot.

This is my second winter of skin swimming. Last year felt much colder and seemed much harder. There are lots of reasons why this may be the case. i) I have a significantly larger layer of brown fat! ii) I have an ever encouraging wonderful flock of Seabirds to swim with making the whole experience easier, iii) I have spent a ton on money on kit for warming up afterwards, iv) I am much more in tune with my senses and know exactly when to get out pre swim shakes. OR is the sea just warmer than last year?

For the majority of the Salty Seabirds, this year marks their first year swimming in the sea year round. They have been told tales of the 2018 Beast from the East and have been longing to swim in sub 5 degree temperatures. We have enticed them with stories of how cold it gets in March only for false Spring to arrive and temperatures almost reached double digits again (according to my internal thermometer). Many have researched the effects of cold water swimming on mental and physical wellbeing and are chasing the elusive cold water cure. Adaptations like duck diving, wave jumping and full stroke with head in, are made to ensure that vagus nerve gets the shock it needs. Fortunately being with the flock can also make you smile on a bad day whatever the water temperature.

Although rivers and lakes are significantly colder than the sea and the further north you go, the colder it gets, I wonder if they have experienced warmer water this year. The Scilly Isles haven’t left double digits but I do not know if this is their norm. We have fresh water field trips in the pipeline – The Seabird Sussex Swimble Series – over the coming months to ensure our junkie habit is fed as the sea temperatures increase. We are looking for our skin to burn, our breath to be taken away, our fingers to fumble and for the post swim high to last all day! As long as this happens I do not care what a Seabirds watch, baby’s duck thermometer or aquarium thermometer say the temperature is. As long as I squeal as I get in, shake as I get out and share the swim love, I am a happy Seabird!

Author: Seabird Kath

Cold Water Swimming Hack!

How to beat the after-drop after cold water swimming

Discovered a few weeks ago whilst river swimming….

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I took an isothermal bottle  full of boiling water, my daughter’s mini hot-water-bottle and two core-warmers; one cotton for next to the skin and an ultra-warm one. Once out of the water and dressed (and while my fingers still worked) I filled the hot-water-bottle with the boiling water and popped the hot water bottle into my “roo pouch” of haramakis! Together with my robe, I built up a nice, warm core, which radiated heat.  Adding tea and amazing marmalade cakes, made for a delightfully happy, post-swim seabird! Been doing it ever since to beat the after-drop

cold water hack

 

Author: Seabird Catherine

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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