Friday, 2 August 2013

and is pretty keen on wild swimming

Despite my name none of my ancestors were seafarers. They all lived inland, working the land and later the mines, weaving silk and baking bread. But the sea has always had a massive grip on me, I loved childhood trips to the seaside, playing "I can see the sea!" games from the back of the car. Never mind the weather once we got there I'd been in my bathers and down to the sea. I think I learned to swim in the sea but I can't remember actually learning, I could just swim. Mind you I was a particularly buoyant child. There I'd be bobbing about in the waves while Mama, Papa and GlamourPuss shivered up on the sand. The latter most likely fully dressed and possibly in scarf and gloves too. Don't get me wrong, we had nice summers but my dips started with our first outing of the year at Easter, no matter how early it fell. In the summer Papa Starke would join me, and in the heat wave years, GlamourPuss could be persuaded but woe betide getting her hair wet. Our one full family trip abroad was revelatory. The sea was warm with no waves! It was the Adriatic where even Mama Starke was persuaded to get her bikini wet. It was nice but...

It didn't have the breakers I'd played in at Rest Bay in Porthcawl or my favourite Rhossili on the Gower. I loved the out of control feeling I got from the waves deeper out. I was much more adventurous in the sea than on land. Swimming was the one sport at school where my build and ability met. Friends of the GlamourPuss had a caravan at the seaside and a boat and water skis. Can you imagine my ten year old indignity and jealousy at being left out of her holidays with them, why didn't they invite me too?? It was almost as bad as not going to see The Osmonds, when I was the massively bigger fan and so much more likely to marry Donny.

I moved to Scotland and for a while didn't really realise that..I lived..beside the sea. And then I did. But back then the local beach wasn't so appealing for a dip and I rarely had the chance to travel out to the gorgeous beaches of East Lothian. When I did, even on the hottest day, the chill of the North Sea came as a bit of a surprise. I stayed and got older and much, much wimpier. Years passed and I barely dipped a toe in.

The urge never went away though. I still felt the same excitement at any glimpse of the "proper" sea. I made my first trips to the Med. It was sparkly and blue but like the Adriatic a bit tame.

Another first, this time inter continental travel. If I'd known that our flight to Curaçao included a touch down at St Maarten (in a 747, look for the videos) I might have had qualms. It was great though and gave me my first view of the Caribbean. Now that was proper sea, but warm with fishes. Every morning we got up early and had a good long swim before breakfast. One day with Mr Starke busy conferencing I decided to swim out past the very small headland into the next bay. For the first time in years I felt the power of the sea. And realised how small I was and probably invisible to boats and jet skis. I'd lost my childhood bravado and turned back, but I returned later with Mr Starke and we did it together. Arriving on the neighbouring beach felt like a proper expedition.


Last summer, Australia. I squeezed myself into a wetsuit and tried snorkelling for the first time. Not holding my breath was a challenge at first but once I got then hang of it, wonderful.

Yes that is a shark but a tiny harmless one


Autumn 2012 we welcomed our new arrival, Dogstarke and she has proved herself to be a salty seadog and loves swimming too, but she likes to have company, so I've done a fair bit of paddling. I expected to do some proper swims on our holiday to Ile de Re this summer but all the best beaches had signs a bit like this

And it would have been mean to go in on my own, so we stuck with (tri)cycling

I felt cheated though. I really wanted to swim in the sea again. And then we had a heat wave. Cue more paddling at our city beach. It was a bit murky to risk full immersion I thought. Masterstarke did and came out strangely tanned -was it a critical mass of FakeBake precipitating out? A better bet on a gorgeous sunny day was Kingsbarns in Fife. There the water was clear and very, very cold. Full immersion but only a few splashes and I was out. This seemed ridiculous, I've got more blubber now than in my chubbiest youth, why couldn't I stay in longer? WasI just becoming a terrible wimp? Does 400 miles make that much difference to the temperature?

Last weekend I got my answer. It's not so much the latitude as the longitude that counts. We were enjoying ourselves at Portavadie on Loch Fyne. I had a paddle with Dogstarke and wanted more. It was gorgeous, a little pebbly on approach yes but really, "lovely once you're in", I even liked the feeling of the seaweed between my toes. My only disappointment? I failed to persuade Mr Starke to join me. I couldn't really complain, he was skimming stones for Dogstarke.

Loch Fyne at Portavadie


So it seems that the west coast, washed by the Gulf Stream is warmer. Perfect for swimming? And the midgies can't get you offshore.

I'm off to Skye soon, hopefully I'll be able to test my theory there.


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