I’ve always loved the sea. Even as a child I would be the first one to run into the waves and whenever I’m near a beach I feel inexorably drawn to the water’s edge, even if only to paddle. I’ll tell whoever I’m with that I want to test to temperature, to see if it’s warmer or colder than expected. Perhaps now I’m an adult I feel I need an excuse for a desire that I can’t quite name; to be inside the sea again and feel the power of the ocean even from its shallowest, safest extremity.
Like many things in life, getting in is the hardest part; if you’re only up to your knees it could go either way. Commit, and get fully wet, or go back to the warmth of the sand or cobbles. But the thighs are the tipping point; once you’re in that far you may as well take the plunge. Then there’s that moment that makes you gasp – it’s always a BIT cold, even if you’re in the Mediterranean – and then the glory begins. One with the sea, you ebb and flow, truly carefree, possessions left to take their chances beneath a towel, while you become part of what you really are: something wild and natural and untameable. No responsibilities, emails, worries, jobs to complete, at least for however long you can manage to stay in the waves. The only decisions to make are how playful to be. Just float, and look at the sky? Stand, and gaze at the horizon? Plough up and down, in a sort of pointless power struggle with the current? Or find the point where the waves are at their most ferocious, and wait there, prone, ready to belly-surf to the shore in thrilling surge of nature’s force. Impossible to create that sensation anywhere else.
I don’t live near the seaside and perhaps that’s why it will forever have the association of holidays and freedom to me. I suspect that now, even if I did end up living somewhere that enabled me to see the sea on a daily basis, I’d never tire of swimming in it, or just walking beside it. Even as a child I used to find that spending time on the beach filled my head with ideas and my heart with a kind of determined energy – inspiration would be the word I couldn’t articulate back then.
Wild swimming is one pleasure that this wretched virus has actually afforded me more of, not less; so far this year I’ve dipped myself in the sea at Frinton, Whitstable and Bognor Regis, with Broadstairs soon to be added to the list. If there was ever a time for a British seaside staycation, this is it. Once the tube is less of a risk, I’m also keen to try out the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond. It’s something that’s been on my mental ‘could-do list’ for a long time, put there by a long-ago reading of Bridget Jones’ Diary, in which she mentions that it has mud on the bottom (amusing footnote: not her own bottom. I love Helen Fielding). If it wasn’t for The Virus, a solo trip there for a refreshing dip would probably be the subject of one of these blogs but as it is, I’ve been having a great time in the sea. One day when my little four-year-old daughter is older, perhaps we’ll go together. Right now she isn’t quite the fan of wild swimming that I am; in fact my attempts to submerge myself when she is present are usually prevented by her anxiety that I’ll be swept away, and she stands erect up her knees, spade in hand, vehemently urging me back. ‘No, Mummy! Come back, Mummy, I don’t want you in the sea!’ For now, of course, I’ll usually give in, to assuage her anxiety. There’s plenty of time. Even if you only paddle, if you tune into it, you can feel the power.