Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mid - Winter Swimming in Sydney

According to the ABC weather report, this week is, statistically speaking, the coldest week of the year in Sydney. The water temperature has, however, risen. Two days ago it was 16.5 celsius; today, it was back up to 17.

A perfect day for winter swimming: sunny, warm, blue skies and a light breeze. Wylie's was gorgeous right on low tide. I did twenty lazy laps of breaststroke, then had a hot shower and a hot mug of tea.

When I used to swim here in the winters during the nineteen-eighties, you had to make do with just the hot mug of tea - only a cold shower in those days. The baths were closed to the public during the winter, but as a member I had my own key to the gate. Winter swimmers in those days stuck to the regulation channel swimming attire of bathing costume, goggles and cap. These days, however, quite a few people are wearing wetsuit tops, triathlon wetsuits or even the full steamer with a hood. There also seem to be quite a few people swimming lengths in full face mask, snorkel and flippers. I'd be interested to know if the winter swimming clubs allow their members to wear any of the above nowadays. Personally, I'm happy enough with my speedos, cap and goggles.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Remembering Other Beaches

Although I mostly spent my teens and early-twenties at the beaches in Cornwall, I did manage to get to a couple of others. In my mid-twenties I came to Australia and swam at some of the best beaches I could ever have imagined, but I still remember these others as being the first beaches outside England.

Tresco, Isles Of Scilly
Copyright: Roantrum. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

Okay, it's not actually outside England, though on the long, rough ferry ride from Penzance it felt like it was. I went over to the Scilly Isles three times during the incredibly hot summer of 1976. Twice we stayed on St Marys and had a few swims there, but my favourite time was when we took the short ferry ride over to Tresco. The beaches were wonderful.

Montalivet Beach, Medoc, France
Copyright: manouelvanbasco. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

At the end of the summer season in Cornwall, I'd sometimes go grape-picking in France, usually around Pauillac. One year, in late September, a group of us decided to spend a week or so at the beach at Montalivet. We camped in the large sand dunes between some pine forests. During the week, the beach was virtually deserted, but on the weekend it became crowded with swimmers and surfers. It was, however, such an incredibly long beach, or series of beaches, that we just moved further along the sands. I remember there was quite a strong longshore current - my first experience of this. The water was quite cold, but, at night, we'd have a bonfire to dry off and warm up after swimming in the darkness.

Taormina Beach, Sicily, Italy
Copyright: herandar. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

The beach chairs were nearly all gone, and those that remained were vacant, when I was here in November. A week before I was here, I'd been in snow in Germany and Austria, so Sicily seemed warm. With that in mind, I went for a swim. The water was really warm (compared to Cornwall). My first ever winter swim.

Remembering Cornish Beaches

After uploading a post about some of my first experiences of swimming in the sea, I began to think about some of the beaches in Cornwall, England, that I enjoyed in my teens and early-twenties. I managed to find some photos online that I was able to use under the Creative Commons licence. Here are a few of my favourite Cornish beaches.

Fistral Beach, Newquay
Copyright: Darrenlambert. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.
When I was nineteen, I was working six days a week at a cafe in Newquay during the summer. In the afternoon, after work, friends and I used to go swimming at the town beaches, but on my day off I'd often walk over to Fistral Beach. It's the first beach where I saw people surfing.

In the background you can see Towan Head where I sometimes walked and watched the waves crashing against the rocks below. I was amazed to see that there was a swimming pool filled by seawater - I'd never seen anything like this before. It was privately owned, so I couldn't try it out. Ten years later I moved to Sydney and found public sea pools everywhere. Now, thirty - five years after first seeing this pool, I'm still swimming in similar pools every weekend.

Towan Head sea pool
Originally posted on Twitpic by mmechevrolet.

Crantock Beach
Copyright: Danny Robinson. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

While we were working in Newquay, we camped on the banks of the River Gannel. At low tide you could walk across a little footbridge over the river to Crantock. At high tide a man in a rowboat would ferry you across. We'd often go across to Crantock Beach for a swim. Some afternoons after work, we'd swim in the Gannel if the tide was in.

River Gannel at low tide
Copyright: Tony Atkin. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

Marazion Beach
Copyright: Ian Britton. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

I lived and worked in St Ives for seven summer seasons. Here too I had to work six days a week. Sometimes, on my day off, I'd travel by bus and foot over to Marazion. I loved swimming here. Somehow it always seemed warmer than the chilly Carbis Bay water. I also liked going over to St Michaels Mount to laze around and sunbathe (long before I heard about skin cancer).

Torre Abbey Sands, Torquay, Devon
Copyright: Paul Anderson. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

Not actually in Cornwall, of course, but the first beach I swam at while slowly hitchhiking down to St Ives when I was sixteen. Friends and I used to sleep in Abbey Park behind the beach. We'd sometimes swim from the beach, but often we'd go skinny-dipping from the rocks off Corbyn Head.

Lelant Beach (Porthkidney Sands)
Copyright: Ross Burton. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

A short walk along the cliff path from Carbis Bay. At high tide you had to swim from the end of the cliff path over to the dunes.

Perranporth Beach
Copyright: Tony Atkin. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons licence.

After I left Newquay, I spent a bit of time hanging around Perranporth and St Agnes. More good memories involving beaches and swimming.

Sennen Cove

I only came here once, but I loved it. It was a really hot, sunny, cloudless day in that remarkable (for England) summer of 1976.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Winter Swimming in the UK

I went swimming at Wylie's Baths today. The seawater temperature was 16.5 degrees celsius, and the air temperature was around 12 degrees. Hearty stuff, I thought, until I remembered going for a winter walk around Hyde Park's Serpentine when I was in London in January. The weather was bitterly cold - sections of the lake were frozen. As we walked past the Serpentine Lido, I thought about how cold winter swimming in the UK would be.

Yes, apparently, they really do break the ice to go for a swim.

And it's a very cold shower afterwards.

Have a look at some of the photos of the Sepentine Swimming Club. They have an annual Christmas Day Race when the water temperature is below 4 degrees celsius.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

First Freshwater Swimming

Recording my first experiences with saltwater swimming got me thinking about my first experiences with freshwater swimming. These days I take it for granted that I can swim in beautiful creeks and waterholes when I'm bushwalking in the National Parks around Sydney, but opportunities were more limited when I was growing up in England. Or, at least, I thought they were until I started following the activities of the many Wild Swimming groups in the UK.

Pennington Flash, Leigh
Copyright by Margaret Clough. Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons. (

When I was in my early teens and living in Lancashire, a group of us used to go swimming in Pennington Flash during the summer. Flashes are lakes formed by the flooding of areas of coal-mining subsidence. These days, Pennington Flash is a pleasant country park, but when we swam here it was still a wasteland of slag spoil heaps and dumped rubbish. I doubt that the water quality was very good. Still, we survived.

This was my introduction to freshwater swimming. I can't remember swimming in fresh water again until I was in my twenties and living in Ambleside, Cumbria.

River Rothay at Waterhead, Ambleside
Copyright Gary Turner. Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons. ( )

When I was living and working in a hotel in the Lake District at Ambleside, I used to swim at the mouth of the river where it flows into Lake Windermere. I'd walk down from the hotel across Borrans Field and swim in the river near the ruins of the Roman fort. Although the water was quite cold (it was Spring), the days were usually sunny and the river was clear and beautiful.

Hampstead Mixed Pond

Copyright by David Hawgood. Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons. (

A couple of years later, I was living in London. It was a particularly hot summer, and the ponds on Hampstead Heath were absolutely wonderful to swim in.

First Saltwater Swimming

After looking at my photos of Coogee Beach, and thinking of all the years I've gone for a swim here and at other beaches in Sydney, I began to think about the beaches I first swam at as a child and a teenager in the UK before I came to Australia.

Monkstone Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales
For a couple of years in the mid 1960s, I used to go on holiday to a campsite on a farm between Tenby and Saundersfoot in South Wales. There used to be a steep path down the cliffs to the beach. We spent most of our holidays on this beach, and that's where I first swam in the sea.

Carbis Bay beach, St Ives, Cornwall
When I was a teenager, I hitchhiked down to Cornwall, and, eventually, found myself in St Ives. I came back down here every summer for the next 7 years. I have swum at quite a few beaches in Cornwall and the Scillies, but my "own" Carbis Bay was my favourite. It was just a short stroll down the hill from the hotel where I worked and lived. Perfect for afternoon dips and for some wonderful midnight swims.

St Ives

Blackpool Beaches (Lancashire)

Then there's good old Blackpool. I'm not sure that I actually swam here, but, as a toddler, I certainly paddled here frequently in the summer. Definitely my first encounters with saltwater.

All photos from Wikimedia Commons

Rhyl Beaches (Wales)
I also spent quite a few summer days as a small child paddling at dear old Rhyl. I even remember having a midnight swim here as a teenager.

Photo by Bob Abell. Copyrighted but licensed under Creative Commons for reuse ( )

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Coogee In Winter

This is more like a Sydney winter's day. The rain has stopped, the sun is back and the skies are clear. The sea temperature is still 18 degrees celsius. Mind you, the westerlies have started blowing, and they are bitterly cold. Still, all in all, a perfect day for winter swimming.

These last few years, I've been going to Wylie's Baths for my winter swimming, on account of it having solar heated showers to warm up my old bones. Today, however, I forgot to bring my $3 entry with me, so I walked down to the beach to swim. I went in the pool below the Surf Life Savers Club. It must be 20+ years since I swam here in July. Today was warm enough in the water, but a bit chilly in the wind. Plenty of people were taking a dip in the clear, sparkling saltwater, either in the pool or in the ocean. Tomorrow, though, I'll remember to take my entry fee to Wylie's.