Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.
I arrived at Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth a jangle of anticipation and nerves. I was looking for a lady called Lesley who I would try to recognise from a blurry Facebook photo of her in a bellydancing costume.
I’d been following TEDS (Team East Devon Swimmers) on social media for a good few months, summoning up the courage to join a sea swim. I was nervous of strong, lithe triathletes who could swim front crawl and would probably zoom off around the headland leaving me bobbing about like an abandoned cork.
But today was the day. I’d arranged to meet for one of the regular 6.30 pm swims and dip my toes in the (freezing) water, so to speak.
I noticed the peaceful, rounded silhouette of a woman looking out to sea, sitting on a wall by the railings. There was nobody else on the beach, and the water had a curious stripe of silty brown sienna and miles of cobalt blue that I now know tends to follow rain or high winds at Sidmouth.
Today the sea was still. Lesley welcomed we warmly, and led me through a few tips for entering the water. April is pretty cold in the sea, probably around 11-12 degrees Celsius as it’s had all winter to drop in temperature.
Cossie on under my clothes, I quickly stripped off and I put on neoprene beach shoes to stave off the “ouchy” pebbles so common to East Devon beaches.
And then we were in the sea, up to our thighs almost immediately down a steep shelf.
Nowadays I much prefer Sidmouth like this, at high tide, as it gives you no choice but to commit. I’ve waded out for ages in wild, bitter easterly winds in January and it takes courage to believe the water will feel better.
Once in to waist height, Lesley taught me to gently dip my hands in the water – “it helps to remind your body what’s about to happen”. Then a deep slow breath out to immerse body and shoulders into the water.
A whoop of exhilaration, then an unexpected surge of warmth in my body as I settled into the silky water.
Head up, breastroke, bobbing about, looking up at the red Jurassic cliffs. All encouraged, and tea & cake for afters.
I was hooked. I’ll be forever grateful to Lesley and the beautiful sea that day, for introducing me to a world of connection and adventure.