While the UK was gripped by the most stringent lockdown rules I refrained from dipping in the sea for one specific reason and that was the request from the RNLI that people stay out of the sea. Coastguards up and down the country did not want to risk the health of their crews should a rescue be required and I respect that wholeheartedly.
For weeks, despite being an experienced outdoor swimmer and the sea being just there, I made do with regular plunges in a small pool in the local burn. It was not the vast openness of the sea, but it was cold and enough to hold me until I could venture slightly further afield.
I am very lucky to have been in lockdown in rural Northumberland at my parents’ house. Among the things that have sustained me is walks in the countryside and the views across to Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island. A few times we have jumped in the car and gone the short distance to Lindisfarne for walks, seeing hardly anyone else on the island. Finally, we parked up near what is known as The Snook and set off to walk around the coastline, starting and finishing on Goswick Sands.
The idea was to end the walk with a sea swim on this vast beach, but after ten weeks out of the waves it was just too much to bear. Dutifully, I passed a beautiful little bay called Coves Haven, but up ahead was another temptation. Sandham is a sheltered bay that it cleaved in two by Keel Head, providing irresistible conditions for a swim. After a short internal battle I dropped my bag on the sand, stripped to my bikini and headed in.
Since my towel and swimming shoes were in the car ready for my later swim, it just goes to show that you really don’t need anything beyond a swimsuit to enjoy the sea. The water was cool, but not chillingly so, and it seemed limitless after the confines of my plunge pool. It took a while to wade in deep enough to swim, with the sand clear beneath the ripples of the waves and not a jellyfish in sight.
I gamboled about in that protected cove, welcoming back an incomparable feeling of euphoria that I’d had to live without since leaving Portobello more than two months earlier. I dried off in the sunshine as we continued round the coast before putting my clothes back on.
Just before climbing up the bank from the bay towards the obelisk, we spotted a young deer amongst the rocks. He came down on to the beach to explore and noticed our presence, but it didn’t seem to bother him. Many of the animals in this part of Northumberland have grown bolder during the lockdown, reclaiming the landscape for themselves. We stood and observed the deer for five minutes or more.
By the time we got back to Goswick Sands, I was ready for another swim. The wind had crept up and was whipping sand along the vast beach and had the same effect on the sea when I got in. The difference to my earlier swim could not have been more acute. I stayed near the shore due to the ferocity of the wind, only getting just deep enough to lift my legs off the sand and swim.
Waves caught me right in the face and it was an effort to keep myself oriented, but still wonderfully cold and wet. Afterwards, the warm wind sandblasted me as I crunched back across the dried-out seaweed. The coastal version of autumn leaves, satisfyingly crisp and smelling strongly of salty sea dogs.