Ten years ago Charlotte swam in the sea. Ten years later she has returned to her salty roots. So what has changed?
Guest Article by Salty Seabird Charlotte
Ten years ago I belonged to a different outdoor swimming group. It was a group (of mostly men) who prized distance and speed and endurance above all else. How many times you could swim round the Palace Pier. How rough the waves were. How much you had to battle the current to stay on course. I went through the winter with them (just). I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Once I had to climb up onto the barnacled struts of the Pier to find my breath again, overcome with cold, fatigue and my own overarching ambition. The last time I swam with them I actually had to be dragged out of the sea by another swimmer after I lost my goggles and a contact lens being tumbled in massive unswimmable waves. Nothing like shame to stop you suddenly in your tracks.
And now ten years later, post spinal surgery and at least two stone heavier I have found my love of the sea again thanks to the Salty Seabirds. The last ten years of my life have been about finding boundaries to protect my highly sensitive nervous system. I have realized that I do not like swimming out of my depth. I do not like big waves. I like calm seas. I like splashing about and feeling the sun on my face. I no longer feel the need to push myself to near death experiences in order to feel alive. I do however like connecting with the natural environment and I like the cold. Anything that makes me concentrate on my breath whether it be yoga or sub zero waters brings me into presence. The elusive present. And what a gift for an overactive brain that is. The cold sea brings me resolutely and immediately into my body. I have spent so much of my life not liking my body. My miraculous body that walks and eats and sleeps (most of the time) and dances and has given birth and is infinitely stronger than I think it is. Here again is a way in which the Salty Seabirds has been liberating for me. For our Seabirds come in all shapes and sizes, as diverse and beautiful as gulls and gannets and petrels and shags. And how glorious and released are their bodies in their natural habitat. I never thought I would rejoice in the thought that I am increasing my body’s brown fat (whatever that is). But I do. It is a kind and accepting group. It is community functioning at its best- everyone joined purposefully in a sole pursuit. Our tangential lives intersect for brief moments of escape. The same faces. New faces. No questions asked. But always the same shared euphoria afterwards. For me I love the sweetness of the post swim walk up the beach. As the cold sinks through my heavy amphibian limbs, as analgesic as that first Friday night gin and tonic. I like sitting among the flotsam of our belongings. Feeling the earth beneath me, looking out to sea, thinking “I was in that”.
Note from Seabirds: We receive such wonderful positive feedback from the Salty Seabirds that affirms the need for a Swimming community group that is fluid and free from constitutions and committees. The Seabirds swim free and cannot be governed by rules and regulations. The Seabird Community are kind, compassionate and inclusive – the sum of our parts is what makes it work. Charlotte’s experience is all too common but when the time was right we all found each other – our flock.
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:
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.
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…
As my daughter and I inevitably begin to spend less time together, swimming gives us some snatched moments together
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.