My wild swimming adventure
I’ve never seen myself as a strong swimmer.
Sure I’ve done a few triathlons, and last year after the first lockdown I worked my way up to swimming a mile in the ocean while on my 2 month escape to Greece…but I’ve never found it easy, I guess in part because I am so inconsistent with my training.
Living in East London I don’t have many options for wild swimming, there are the docks of course, which I have braved a few times, but most of my swimming takes place in the Aquatic Centre’s 50 meter pool…which although is lovely and I am very lucky it’s my local pool, is also a little boring just doing laps.
So last year when I saw a company called The Wild Swimming Company was putting on a 3 day wild swimming retreat near Bournemouth I thought what the heck and booked almost immediately.
Did I do any training in preparation…very little.
And so as I packed my stuff on Monday I was very much “all the gear and no idea”, but Richard from Wild Swimming assured me that the retreat would be suitable for all abilities and as long as I could confidently swim 200 meters* without stopping I’d be OK
*Cue Monday night dash to the pool just to check (yep I’d be fine)
Let’s just say the last 3 days have been INCREDIBLE.
We stayed in a YMCA in Studland…12 ladies from around the country and 3 members of staff. I was sharing a room with Gemma and Sam, and I am so glad I went for a shared room, as it absolutely added to the fun…the 5.30am start for the swim on Day 3 most definitely wouldn’t have happened if I was in a solo room.
Our first swim on Tuesday was out to Old Harrys Rock…roughly 2K from where we started we were told, but we would do it in stages and there would always be the option of being towed by the canoe if you couldn’t manage it.
The nerves really started to kick in as we wet-suited up and started to enter the water. The team was assessing our swim abilities on this swim, and I’m not sure I gave a very good impression.
I was wearing flippers (for the first time) which gave me cramp in both calves, and I’d picked up an old pair of goggles rather than my lovely new ones, and they leaked throughout.
PLUS. I can’t swim in a bloody straight line, so I’m sure I did double the distance. But in better news I have a new phone case thingy which means I can take photos while in the sea.
Told you I can’t swim straight lol Good times. Dinner that evening was in a secret location….and they were not kidding. The minibus literally drove up to a non-descript part of a dual carriageway, and we piled out and made our way through bushes to a clearing alongside Poole Harbour…just in time for sunset. A few of us even went for a moonlit swim. Good food, good company, beautiful surroundings, and doing things out of your comfort zone, what’s not to like? I mean when else do you get to take photos of yourself in stunning places in a wetsuit ha ha.
I was excited about day two, but not really prepared. The swim would be very different. Swimming not in a bay this time, but out and through Durdle Door a 200ft limestone arch, in Lulworth and then through quite rough and choppy water along the coast.
It was like swimming through treacle at times…making me question if I would even make it to the end of the swim. We were in the water for a similar amount of time to the day before, but it felt 10 times more challenging.
The views were spectacular, and I couldn’t not swim through the doors, even though we were warned only to swim through if we could swim the whole section front crawl at full pelt due to the swell.
But I was knackered after that first bit, and it made for a difficult hours worth of swimming afterwards. When we got into calmer water in Man O’War Cove it became somewhat easier, we regrouped and I absolutely loved it, and finally I found my rhythm.
So much so that Rich didn’t recognise me, and thought I was someone else because my swimming was so smooth, and I managed to swim in a straight line for a change, with the cliffs to my left-hand side as a way of keeping on track.
There were options to go onto the beach and walk some sections, and some ladies got the occasional tow from the canoe, but some of the ladies were absolutely flying.
I was impressed with how the mixed ability group were managed, and how the changes in weather, tide…and other water type conditiony things were taken on board.
After coming out on the beach the other side of the doors to which we climbed down, we had a 40 minute climb back up to the car park. I was already feeling quite weak and fatigued and this was on the hottest day of our trip. My legs were like jelly.
I overheard a little girl climbing up, saying to her Mum,
“Why do they build the hills so steep?”
When I eventually got to the top, I literally wanted to lay on the grass and sleep. I am not sure I’ve ever been as fatigued, even after a marathon, even after my triathlons, even after a tough mudder.
But there was the most glorious piece of homemade cake, millionaires shortbread to be precise to boost our morale and give us some much-needed energy.
I slept in the minibus the whole way back lol.
The afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach, although some were back in the sea swimming, others opted for a hike with Rich…there literally was something for everyone.
And we were treated to an awesome evening of BBQ and Booze lol.
The 5am start was tough…but worth it.
We were a sight for sore eyes walking down the lane in the dark. We were the only ones on the beach, with the lights from the yauchts in the bay twinkling.
Sadly the sun didn’t play ball for a sunrise, with it being a foggy morning. But the swim was glorious none the less. It was cold, but not unbearable, and the sea was so calm that I enjoyed actually doing some swimming to keep me warm.
I managed 18 minutes before coming out to warm up with a mug of tea and a pastry.
This is the thing I love about organised trips. All of the thinking is done for you. You just need to turn up and do as you are told…the logistics are pretty much all worked out for you…and as busy women I know so many of the other women felt the same, it really is a treat to have all of that stuff taken care of.
The final swim on the trip was a real treat.
But we had to work for it.
We set off for Dancing Ledge all a little fatigued I think (or maybe that was me). I wasn’t sure what to expect….it sure as hell wasn’t clinging to a rock hoping I wouldn’t get swept out to sea or the rock climbing that proceeded that lol.
The views were spectacular as we walked down the rolling hills towards the ledge, but as I knew from the day before what goes down has to come up, and I worried I didn’t have it in me.
Once we got onto the first ledge we knew there was only way down and that was climbing. The team were great in talking each of us through the climb, step by step, and offering extra support or a hand where needed.
We worked as a team lowering tow floats and shouting words of encouragement and before long, we were all safely down on the second ledge…ready to enjoy what we affectionately named “The Jacuzzi”
Dancing Ledge is part of the Isle of Purbeck’s rich and proud quarrying history but is popular now with walkers, climbers and coasteerers…of which there were a few groups.
Believed to have been named after the effect that the rocky ledge has on the sea at certain times and tides, which makes the water seem to “dance”, Dancing Ledge is one of several quarries struck out of the limestone cliffs of this stretch of the Jurassic Coast.
The swell was too big for us to venture further than the carved out pool this time, but that alone was invigorating and of course we had the climb back up to look forward to…but not before, yes you guessed it…CAKE.
I wasn’t looking forward to the first bit of the climb up, I don’t have much upper body strength and I knew I’d have to rely on the strength on my legs to push me up. But Rich and Mel told me where to put my feet and then told me to trust myself…and after an initial wobble, I just went for it and was up quite easily.
I always find little (or actually quite big) life lessons on these things.
I wanted to take the easier options for this final swim trip, with talk of swimming at the calmer and more easily accessible Swanage Pier…but maybe I would never have experienced Dancing Ledge if that was the case and what a shame that would have been.
Perhaps sometimes I underestimate what my body can do, and the power of my mind to overcome fear and to get me through the challenges.
When I think about how much fitness I lost during the first lockdown when I couldn’t exercise, and how far I have come confidence-wise in terms of being around new people again…and signing up to new fitness challenges.
Maybe I need to give myself more credit.
These trips also remind me that so many women experience the same worries, the same wobbles, will people like me? will I be the slowest or the fattest? what if I let everyone down? what if I make a prat of myself?
In 3 days, 12 women laughed and swam, got naked and indeed made prats of themselves and we all came away better for having that experience.
Today I feel tired.
My Garmin told me I burned 4500 calories, did 11K steps and climbed 42 flights of stairs yesterday.
Which explains how I managed to sleep for 9 whole hours and still need quite a slow start to the day. But I also have had a strange energy that has meant I feel motivated to keep this up. So at 12.30 today I did CrossFit which was epic, AND I have registered for the Dock to Dock swim which is in 3 weeks’ time, 1.5 miles in the Docks…that will give me something to train for right?
There is something magical about being in the ocean.
I experienced it in Greece last year when I spontaneously burst into tears the first time I got into the sea, after 4 months of lockdown…and then just like Moana I have been called back to the ocean over and over again.
There is something very humbling about being in nature…not the picture-postcard pretty stuff that you admire from a far, but the jaw clenching, “will I survive this shit” kind, that pushes you to your limit while simultaneously reminding yourself of what feeling alive really feels like.
My relationship with wild swimming is just beginning and I’m excited to see where it goes.
A massive thank you to the Wild Swimming Company Team, Rich, Mel and Sam you went above and beyond to ensure we had a great time, and the 11 other ladies in the group you were incredible.
This is an honest review of my 3 days, I was not paid or gifted this experience, I was just a normal punter like everyone else, but felt compelled to share my experience.
Check out The Wild Swimming Company for details of their next adventures…there are spaces available on their September retreat. I will be back in 2022 for sure. If for nothing other than the epic cake lol.
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