It’s entirely logical, but a bit sad that some of the loveliest beaches are in places where the weather isn’t exactly clement. Orkney, Guernsey, South West Wales: they’re stunning, but my friends who see the sea as a place to cool down between bouts of sunbathing wouldn’t quite see the point of visiting them in September. Which of course means that instead of suffering the onslaught of a summer of coke bottles, ice lolly wrappers and sunscreen, they’re beautifully clean and even on a bright September day, hugely empty.
On a recent trip to Brittany, I had a lovely dip in the Plage du Sillon at St Malo. Further up the beach there were some fellows in wetsuits with plasticky board things, but at midday I seemed to be the only person just wearing a cozzy. And actually, although there were waves, they weren’t as big as they were in the Costa del Sol, so I could actually swim. And was most grateful to see off the after-effects of a bit too much cidre the night before.
This was my only venture into the briney on this trip, although both St Malo and nearby Dinard have natural seawater swimming pools, something I’ve yet to experience. A better swim, in deep water, but less of a sense of the big outdoors, I would imagine. And le bas sablon, which we only visited for a beer, has something in between: a beach cordoned off from the marina by a barrier which creates a sort-of mini-dam. Return trips definitely on the agenda.
I embarked on a recent holiday in Southern Spain full of resolutions to swim every day because – we had our very own swimming pool! Unfortunately, while I was expecting the pool to be small, I didn’t quite realise how small a pool can be (and look at the picture – I didn’t deliberately try and make it look big, but it does!). It took 4 strokes for me to swim it at its longest (and I’m a short person) and it was too narrow to swim around in a circle. I tried, I really did, but longer than ten minutes proved a little frustrating. Even more frustrating was that next door had a beautiful-looking infinity pool that was, by my estimation, a good few foot longer (and square rather than elliptical, so generally bigger) and I never plucked up the courage to ring the doorbell (and, had there been no answer, just go and use it – our gardens interconnected and we saw no-one but gardeners there the whole week).
The clever amongst you will have noted that swimming options aren’t actually limited to private pools on the Costa del Sol. And yes, we did go to the beach most days and I did spend time in the water. But whether we chose Windy Week or whether I’m just a wuss, the breakers were just far too strong for me to swim through. I had great fun with them, and did wade a long way out to try and get beyond them, but any actual swimming was out of the question within sight of the beach (that is, my friends being able to still see me). Having said which, as a getting wet experience, it was probably one of my most picturesque this year. And no worries about warming up again afterwards.
In early August, I went for what has become my annual swim on Hickling Broad, the beautiful wildlife reserve in the Norfolk Broads (I’m the little black blob in the water there – see?). It’s a bit safer than the rest of the broads as it isn’t really tidal and there aren’t any funny currents, at least not in the bit I swam in. The main hazard is sailing and rowing craft, but there wasn’t much about when I swam (the canoes had gone for the day). There’s a little beach (normally full of ducks and geese) to swim from and this year I had my neoprene socks to help me scramble in and out over the rocks and very soft mud. Getting there was a bit traumatic as we were moored on the other side of the dyke (I don’t like swimming from the boat as you don’t know how deep the water’s going to be when you get in and anyway, how am I going to get back up?) and I had to do a walk of shame in my cozzie past drinkers at the Pleasure Boat Inn and lots of people moored up for the next day’s regatta. However, it was worth it – choppier than previous years, but the water still benignly warm.
A recent singing weekend on the Mumbles Head near Swansea was going to be a perfect opportunity for a bit of sea swimming. Our hotel even overlooked the bay. I had it all planned when I was going for my dip, that’s right, early evening (between rehearsal and concert). But of course the sea doesn’t timetable itself like that, and the sea was about 40 minute’s walk across squelchy sands during my dipping window. So, determined not to miss out, I went out before breakfast and (minus neoprene socks, which I’d forgotten) carefully made my way down the slipway and swam off there. I wasn’t expecting much as the tide was still far from fully up and Mumbles may be the more picturesque end of Swansea but it’s still pretty urban, but actually it was lovely – very quiet and an amazing sense of space, sea and sky. And swimming was a doddle – no wading out through wild breakers. As I was alone and not entirely sure of local attitudes towards swimming (there weren’t any ‘no swimming’ signs, but then again the ‘local activities of interest’ maps didn’t include swimming, but maybe it’s a bit boring if you live on the coast) I didn’t stay long, but was entirely satisfied to go on a coastal walk having done my bit. I even gave my cozzy to a friend to take back in their car. So, why did noone tell me that the beaches in The Gower were so lovely? We saw Langlands and Caswell bay and I’d happily have gone in at either of them (having been a bit grey in my pre-breakfast dip, it was now glorious sunshine). At this point we turned inwards and pubwards, but I’m told that the next bay along, Pwll du is even better. All of which means that I’ll have to go back soon…