Norfolk Sea Swims

Waxham, July 2020

Warm evening, warm sea, rolling waves and a bunch of playful seals. If Carlsberg did swims, they would probably be like this.

On the way to Waxham – on the sea-battered north east Norfolk coast – I stopped briefly in a forlorn looking Sea Palling. I’m not sure if it was the Coronavirus effect or just the filthy weather, but it was utterly deserted. Mine was the only the car in a car park you often have to queue for. There were lights on in the amusements, but as the saying goes nobody was home.

Just a mile or so south, as I pulled into the car park at Waxham Beach, the sun appeared. Instant warmth and fierce light. It was a sign of how well this swim would go. The beach is a short scramble up a sand bank past the Shangri-La holiday let. A week or so before, we had for the first time found ourselves overheating in our thermal wetsuits at Dunwich, so we decided not to use them this time.

Matt at Waxham Beach

It was while changing next to the groynes on the beach that we first spotted the seals. A few grey heads appearing 50 or so yards out, then disappearing quickly. Nearby Horsey is well known for its Grey Seal population, which colonise the beach to breed in the winter, but I wasn’t expecting to see any here. I also thought once we waded into the waves they’d retreat. Quite the opposite.

There must have been seven or eight of them in the water with us and we spent a glorious hour in their company. The waves that rolled in rose high enough to briefly obscure our view of them, and when each wave had passed you’d find the seal who was 50 feet away had ventured much closer and there would be two where seconds before there may have been one, and much further out. It seemed like they were playing a game, using the waves to see how close they could get.

Another rolling wave reveals a seal behind it
Great work Matt for bringing the waterproof phone case

Most of the seals were adults, large glistening grey heads with dark wary eyes fixed on us at all times. But clearly there was a pup amongst them; much smaller, lighter in colour with these jet black eyes full of curiosity. Bolder and more playful, it was the pup that gave both Matt and I a start when on several occasions it breached the surface just feet from where we treaded water, realised suddenly how close it had got and bolted away in a rush of spray. The Visit North Norfolk website advises to enjoy the seals from a distance. This is exactly what we were trying to do – especially if we had adults guarding a pup – but the pup itself had other ideas.

The sea was bath warm, and it was a good 50 minutes before we felt the coldness setting in. The seals continued to watch as we changed, then one by one disappeared.

A truly magical experience, and for me just about perfect sea swimming conditions. Waxham is definitely top of our list of places to head back to, and that Shangri-La holiday let would make for a fantastic base for a week of swimming with the seals. I don’t think you could ever get tired of it.

Black cloud rolled past all evening, but the sun was out at Waxham

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