Sea Suffolk Swims

Walberswick, March 2020

Our second swim took us to the Suffolk Heritage Coast on a beautiful bright (but cold) morning in early March – where winter dips in the sea are the norm, and Ed Sheeran’s favourite sausage rolls await afterwards.

Writing this in the second week of Coronavirus lockdown, it seems even more surreal looking back on a swim than it usually does (which is pretty surreal, given the whole experience is so disconnected from our usual, landlocked lives). I’ve heard that when the restrictions were announced, London’s legions of second home owners descended on their seaside properties along the Suffolk coast, preferring to see the pandemic out in their spacious sea view mansions than the virus-ridden city. You can hardly blame them.

But on this Saturday morning there wasn’t a Range Rover in sight, just a handful of locals out for a stroll on the Green. “Rather you than me” was the response from one when Matt proudly announced we were going for a swim.

Today there would be none of the indecision of our first open water swim at Shotford Bridge. Through the deserted car park, over the bridge – a popular crabbing spot, with a few dismembered claws here and there – and the dunes to the shingle beach, and we were there – a calm North Sea as far as the eye could see. Selecting a (sort of) secluded spot in the dunes we got suited up. This was a breeze for Matt, who had by now very sensibly invested in a changing robe. Less so for me, writhing under a towel with the uncooperative suit in front of a few mildly curious dog walkers.

We got around 20 minutes in the water and it was glorious. As with the previous week it was the biting cold hands and (for me especially) feet that forced us out again. We swam parallel to the beach. It’s not about the distance you can put between yourself and the shore; neither of us are strong enough swimmers to head Reggie Perrin style in the direction of Holland, and I have a strong reluctance to appear on Saving Lives at Sea, being pulled awkwardly into a lifeboat while the narrator says something vaguely condescending about “underestimating the currents”. Beautifully calm as at it was, we each felt the undertow scouring our feet and shins after each small wave broke.

Afterwards we repaired to The Black Dog Deli on The Street, run by Mrs B’s cousin Andy and his wife Stefi. Our pride was dented a little when Stefi casually announced that a group of local swimmers take to the sea every morning, without wetsuits. I think Roger Deakin even refers to them in Waterlog. The homemade sausage rolls at the deli, a favourite with Suffolk boy Ed Sheehan, were the perfect finale for the swim. Bonus entertainment came from a chain-smoking Greek man from Skiathos, who held court on the subject of turtle conservation while cleaning the bird shit off his Mercedes.

A fabulous morning. Next week we would be heading inland again to the Little Ouse at Santon Downham, but we would be back here again before long.

On Walberswick beach

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