AUTUMN SWIMMING; MAD OR MARVELLOUS

Monday, December 10, 2018


Cold water and dwindling sunshine; choppy seas and muddy river banks. This is swimming in autumn. I've experimented with year round swimming before, but normally I'll be in a wetsuit or it'll be just a quick plunge as part of Christmas day celebrations. This year I've left the neoprene at home and have been regularly swimming despite the falling temperatures. Surprisingly, I'm quite enjoying myself. The cold water gives you an enormous endorphin rush and swim spots that are busy in the summer are now empty.

Deserted by the river Cam.
Nature's changing room.
Admittedly, there are times when I don't want to get in; it's windy or cold, my toes are numb, I've forgotten my gloves. There are a hundred excuses for every occasion. Also, I'm not a seasoned wild swimmer, so generally my entrances in to the chilly water are far from graceful. I shriek and swear, I grit my teeth, I slip on the muddy river bank; I am the opposite of grace and zen. And if I take photos, I have to rearrange my face especially for it, to exude happiness and calm, rather than pure oh-shit-its-cold-ness. Then after a few minutes I exit the water and it's a race to put on my clothes before my hands turn in to numb claws.

Slipping in to the water whether I like it or not!

Claw hands!
But trust me, if you decide to take the plunge then you are rewarded by a rush of well being and a happy glow that lasts the rest of the day. The feel good factor can get incredibly addictive. And if that doesn't persuade you, then if nothing else it's an instant winter boredom cure. Suffering from cabin fever? Terrorised by Christmas film reruns? I know just the thing! But remember, if you do decide to give it a go, then be safe and do your research first. Click here for outdoor swimmers advice on cold water swimming. Hope to see you all wearing bobble hats and diving in to the freezing ocean very soon!
 



Wild swimming packing list; 10 things I put in my rucksack!

Saturday, October 6, 2018


What I carry in my bag depends on where we are going, how cold the water is, what season it is, and so many other things. But here is a short list of what I might carry with me.

1. Swimmers - well duh! I love Batokos swimming costumes, they are made from 100% recycled plastic and come in the best patterns. In cold water I might wear my Oneill 2mm shortie wetsuit.

Warm water swimming in Croatia


My wetsuit - great for playing in cold water. Glen Etive in Scotland.


2. Travel towel. Mine is a plain blue one from Mountain Warehouse but there are all kinds of fun patterned ones out there if you're feeling flashy.

3. Water. Most swim spots come with a hike. My 'Hydro Flask' never leaves my side.

4. Lightweight snack. I normally carry biscuits - after a cold water swim your body has burnt lots of energy trying to keep warm. Sometimes, if the water is cold enough, I will eat ALOT of biscuits.

5. Swim shoes. These are really helpful for traversing sharp rocks and I find they help my grip on slippery rocks as well. Other people prefer bare feet if it's a bit slippery. In a pinch I will also wear my merrel sandals, which are the most comfortable thing I've ever put on my feet and are suitable for getting wet.

6. Raincoat. So you've had a great swim, finally dry and back in your clothes, then the heavens open and you get a drenching. Not good. I love my NorthFace coat.



7. Warm clothing. After you swim your body temperature will be lowered and it's important to keep warm. You'll be surprised how cold you can feel, especially if there is no sun to warm you up, and in the UK, often there isn't! Sometimes I'll even wear a woolly hat in to the water.



8. A friend. Unless it's a spot I frequent often, I rarely venture off wild swimming by myself. And if I do then I only go where there are other people. I would recommend always swimming with other people.

9. Suncream and insect repellent. You'll enjoy your swim more if you're not worried about being eaten alive by mosquitos. Just bear in mind that whatever you put on your body, ends up in the water. I once swam in a lake that was coated in a layer of oily sunscreen; I couldn't help but think that this couldn't be good for the lake or the fish that lived in it.

10. Decent rucksack and waterproof bag for storing wet items on the journey home. Reuse an old plastic bag, use a mini dry bag or if you really want then you can get trendy mermaid bags made for carrying wet swimmers. I love my waterproof Trakke rucksack. It's the best!

Trakke rucksack come everywhere with me!


Everything else is up to you. Aside from this, many of my best swims have been opportunist and I haven't had anything with me at all. A surprise skinny dip is definitely good for the soul. Remember to be brave but be safe :)

Top Ten Swim Spots: South West Edition

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Everybody's opinion on this varies, but here are my own personal favourite swim spots in Cornwall and Devon.

1. Prussia and Pisky Cove
These tiny coves are right next to one another and are crystal clear and great for swimming. Situated in between Helston and Penzance, there is a tiny car park for Prussia Cove a ten minute walk away. Read the full article here.

Prussia Cove
Pisky Cove

2. Pedn Vounder and Porthcurno
The swimming along this stretch of coastline is incredible. In between Pedn (nudist beach with tidal lagoons) and Porthcurno there are secret little inlets and tidal beaches to explore. Beware, on some days there can be a bit of a swell here, so don't go expecting it to be flat. For more information click here.


3. River Dart
Beautiful swimming in this atmospheric river. There are pools of all shapes and sizes all along the Dartmoor river stretch. Access from Newbridge car park a short drive from the village of Ashburton. Plenty of campsites nearby.



4. Battery Rocks and Jubilee Pool
This is my hometown swim spot. Around the back of this pool are steps carved out from the rocks, providing access in to deep, and normally calm, waters. You can dive straight in to the water here and go for a long swim if that's your thing. Alternatively, if you want less of a wild swim, then pop in to Jubilee Pool, which is life guarded and has good facilities. This spot is easily accessible from the town of Penzance.



5. Carbis Bay
A calm flat bay with white sands and clear waters. This place is good for snorkeling around the rocks and long sea swims. Ignore the hideous construction going on just beyond the beach!



6. Foggintor Quarry
One of the first places I swam in Dartmoor; beautiful and atmospheric, the water is clear and surrounded by high cliff walls. We walked to get here, but I believe this spot is also accessible from the road.


7. Kynance Cove
Beware! This spot is Cornwall's worst kept secret and is often inundated by crowds. Go early or out of season. Easily accessible, there is a car park at the top of the beach.


8. Portherras Cove
Beautiful water and a bit wilder than the other beaches. I love this place in the height of summer for a bit of peace and quiet.


9. Bakers Pit (Georgia's Lake)
Great ex quarry with easy access to the water. Can be fun in the summer for floaties and jumps. Near to the village on Nancledra, drive down the tiny road and park up on the side.


10. Nanjizal Sea Caves
These serene tidal caves are beautiful and remote. For the full experience walk along the cliff path to get here, it's a short walk from Lands End or Porthgwarra. Read the full article here.


The Black Cuilin Mountains; Loch Coruisk

Saturday, September 22, 2018


It has been over a week since we embarked on our Scotland camping trip and I am tired. Last night we had a rough night's sleep in the car and a 4.30 am wake up to catch a ferry from the Isle of Lewis back to the Isle of Skye. So we're feeling a bit lazy. Too lazy to embark on the 3 or 4 hour mountain walk to get to Loch Coruisk, which is supposed to be 'the most magnificent of all Scotland's freshwater Lochs'. Fortunately there is another way to visit this spectacular swim spot: by boat, which sails around the coast and up a large saltwater inlet in between the mountains, before docking up only a ten minute walk away. So, boat it is.
The boats depart from the shore in the teenie tiny village of Elgol and we call in advance to book our tickets for the half three sailing. Done.
On the boat over we are given hot chocolate and a biscuit (score) and are entertained by the skipper's lively prattle about the local history and wildlife. Most interesting is the primary school which sits on the shore here, so small and so close to the sea that on a rough day the kids must get a drenching in the playground. I find out that only ten kids go here... being a part time teacher, I wonder if they're hiring.
Elgol School

Our boat - the Misty Isle


After we disembark from the boat, we follow the path in between the mountains to find ourselves in an enormous, mountainous amphitheatre, surrounded by the tall, misty mountains of the Cuilin range. In the middle of this amphitheatre is the famous Loch Coruisk; steely coloured and mirror like, it has a mysterious feel to it. Water horses, Kelpies, are supposed to live here; mythical, shape-shifting water spirits that have the strength of 100 horses. I feel like at any moment they might appear, racing in to the water from across the mountains.


As we explore further inland the tourists melt away and we feel as if we are entirely alone. The mountains are high and craggy, blocking the wind and the loch is smooth, silvery and silent. It's a cold strip off but the water is delicious and nowhere near as chilly as I was expecting.


"Can you not swim too far please?" Aaron asks 
from the shore. He's on lifeguard duty like usual; choosing not to strip off and join me this time but worried about my feeble swimming abilities in such a wide and cold body of water.
"Why don't you just come in? It's actually really warm," I reply. Aaron just gives me a look. He's heard me say that one too many times; the classic boy who cried wolf.


I mean it though, it isn't particularly cold compared to some of the other Scottish lochs we have visited, in fact this might be one of my favourite swims of the trip so far; the isolated location of this loch is a definite winner, and the water is deep, glassy and cold but not so cold that I feel like an ice cream.

Slippery rocks make for a dodgy take off.



We only have an hour and a half ashore here so all too soon we find ourselves hurrying back to the boat. As much as I have loved Loch Coruisk, I don't fancy an impromptu camp out under the stars without so much as a blanket, and only Aaron and my soggy swimming costume for company. Maybe another time... wild camping here would definitely be an amazing experience. There is also a bothy nearby in Camasunary.

Stop off at the seal colony!
A few hours after we first embarked on the Misty Isle, we are back in the car en-route to Glencoe and on the search for a wild camp spot to spend the night. I could have spent longer in Skye and it was with regret that we drove back over the bridge and in to mainland Scotland. Skye is everything I was expecting and more; I can't recommend it enough and if you do get a chance to go, then make sure you make a stop off at Loch Coruisk, well worth a visit.

Stats
Month: August
Temperature: 15 degrees
Bed: Rocks
Weed factor: 3/10
Atmosphere: Misty and mysterious.
Good for: Walking, swimming and wild camping.
Top tips: If you don't fancy the long walk to get here, then I really recommend taking the boat. The price was affordable and they give you a free cuppa and a biscuit. Or walk here and book yourself on the boat back. If you opt to walk instead of the boat, then lots of people start at Kilmarie. Beware that the terrain isn't always the easiest and you will need to pass the 'Bad Step' a tricky section of path on steep terrain.
Access: For the boat, park at the car park by the harbour in Elgol. Alternatively start in Kilmarie to walk. Both villages are served by buses.
Facilities: There are toilets and a small cafe/shop in Elgol.


No Van? How to turn your car in to a camper!

Thursday, September 20, 2018



If you have a van then the world is your oyster; you can drive, park, sleep and not just see, and swim in, amazing locations, but sleep by them too. If you want the freedom but buying a van just isn't an option, then you might want to consider the 'car camper'... still interested? Then keep reading for my top tips.

Morning view from one of my favourite camp spots.
About 5 years ago we decided to go on a spur of the moment surf trip to the south west coast of France. Initially we planned on camping but this has it's own problems; overcrowded sites, noise pollution, availability, overpriced... So instead we decided to sleep in my boyfriends old Vauxhall Estate and we had a surprisingly successful couple of weeks sleeping, swimming and surfing in beautiful locations; the car camper was born.

Vauxhall Astra turned car camper!

Since then we have gone on many swim and surf trips in Europe and the UK, and along the way I've picked up some top tips and tricks that made our lives easier.

1. MAKE YOUR BED

If you have a car where the back seats recline flat then perfect! You're all set to go! If you don't then do a bit of research to see if this is possible, as this is crucial for comfort. Your next step is to get yourself some memory foam (3-4 inch). Either buy or cut it to size, stick a sheet on it and voila! You now have your very own backseat bed. As you can see we are suckers for luxury and normally take our pillows and duvet along for the ride as well.

2. CURTAINS

These are a necessity, both for privacy and to keep out the morning sun in the summer months. After a lot of research I stumbled across the foldback(binder) clip method. Get yourself some clips from any stationery shop and a few meters of thick black material. You can also use blankets or scarfs if you have these to hand. Cut the material to the size of the windows and attach the foldback clips along the top.
Slide the tops of the clips in to the seams between the windows and the roof of your car. There you have it! There are plenty of other methods but this is the one I found the most manageable for my particular car.

3. MOSQUITO NETS

You can get car window mosquito nets for as little as three quid each on the internet. These nets not only keep the bugs out but also provide some security and privacy if you're sleeping in the heat and want the windows open.
Follow link below ↓↓↓↓
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Pair-Anti-Insect-Mosquito-Sunscreen-Car-Window-Net-Door-Mesh-Outdoor-Camping/263738567374?hash=item3d680b2ace:g:9DMAAOSwIM9bFmo8

4. PACK LIGHT

Storage is the number one problem when car camping. Especially when you are not only carrying clothes, food and cooking equipment, but also an inflatable canoe, inflatable Paddle board, tent, bedding, two surfboards, wetsuits etc. Etc. Then storage can really turn in to a problem. 
I don't have an amazing answer to this but keep it minimal (do you really need a four ring gas cooker?), roof racks are your friend and use the space behind the front seats for essential storage. We actually removed the bottom part of our back seats to increase this space and normally keep our suitcases here.
Everything else is turfed in to the front seats when we need to go to bed. Not glamorous but then again we are sleeping in our car so...

4. BUNGEES AND GAFFA

Gaffa tape is always your friend... we've used it to fix our tent, fix our car, tape up tarpaulins, tape up curtains. Put it on your list.
I also love bungees. They are useful in so many ways but one of the ways we use them is in creating a floating washing line and storage space across the width of the car. Hang damp clothes and towels from here, attach a camping bulb for nighttime and in a pinch use it for storage. Done.
Bungees and gaffa are just two items that have made our life easier over the years, but in fact there are so many useful essentials that I've written a full packing list. Click here to see!

5. RESEARCH YOUR ROUTE

Research wherever you are going carefully. When driving in Europe for example you have to carry certain things with you by law and will most likely need to get stickers to alter your headlights. 
Again, if in Europe, decide whether or not you are going to avoid tolls roads or not. Driving from one side of France to another on the toll roads can cost you up to £100... so suddenly your budget break on the fly isn't looking so cheap! I would recommend avoiding toll roads if possible, as through experience they really don't save you that much time, and if you do decide to use them then get a 'Sanef Toll Tag' as this allows you to skip the sometimes horrendous toll road queues. You also need to ask yourself, how easy is it going to be to find a sleep spot? Is the area quiet or built up? Will you feel safe here?


6. FIND A PLACE TO SLEEP

In some places it's easy to car camp and in other places it's not so easy. The north coast of Spain, the west coast of France and Scotland were particularly easy to find appealing places where you could stay the night. Other places we have been, for example Switzerland, Sardinia and Corsica were more of a struggle. 
For our last trip we used the 'Furgo Perfectos' app, which is a Spanish app that pinpoints sleep spots around Europe and provides essential information about facilities (e.g. water and toilets). If you don't mind company then I highly recommend using an app or website as it does all the hard work for you!
Alternatively we've spent the night on beaches, lakesides and in church car parks, as well as up mountains, by rivers and a couple of times on quiet residential streets. Top tip: take notice of signage; normally if the signs say no overnight parking or no camping then they mean it. 
On a more positive note, the entire time we have been car camping we have only been moved on twice. Once in Sardinia and once when we tried to sleep in Hossegor, where there are bylaws forbidding this (too many surf bums, us included, doing the same thing).

Lakeside sleeping on the west coast of France.
Abandoned mountain carpark in Scotland

8. BE RESPECTFUL

When wild camping (car or no car) it's important to be respectful and leave everything exactly as you have found it. Be quiet, arrive late and depart early, don't leave rubbish, don't light fires etc. 
You know what I mean. Just be a good egg yeah?

Sardinia seaside for late night dinner and a quiet kip.

9. CAMPSITES ARE YOUR MATE

Break up the car camping with staying every few days in a campsite. Here you can shower, wash icky cutlery, fill up water bottles etc.

10. ENJOY IT

Car camping can get frustrating sometimes. I mean I would do pretty much anything other than sell my soul for a kitted out VW transformer, but remember it's supposed to be fun! And one day when you can afford a van you can look back on all this and laugh.



If you decide to go car camping then click here to see my optimal packing list.


Watkins Waterfalls; Swim Snowdonia

Thursday, September 13, 2018


I breath a sigh of relief as we drive around the mountain ridge in the dusky light and I spot smoke from about a hundred campfires disapitating in to the nearly night sky. We have been driving for six hours and as we arrive on to the site, which is nestled on the banks of the mountain tarn Llyn Gwynant, I am surprised to see that the quiet campsite I was expecting is actually a tent city, the smoke from the fires creating a thick smog in the air. Despite this, we manage to find a spot that isn't too busy, or smokey, and set up camp. By the time we have finished I can't feel my toes and my fingers are knotted and freezing. It is so so cold. Two days ago it had been twenty seven degrees in London, now it is seven degrees but feels like minus two. The consolation is the night sky; there is no light here and the sky is frosted with stars.
After a cold night, we wake up and decided to head out of the campsite early. Although in a spectacular location, I'm craving a bit of peace and quiet, so we drive to our first stop Llyn Dinas, one of the nearby tarns. Here there are no crying children or stag parties starting off their morning with some warm tinnies of fosters, instead it is perfect seclusion and mirror-like stillness.

Llyn Dinas
After brekkie and a paddle we drive on to the bottom of Snowdon. Here is the beginning of the Watkins path which eventually leads to the summit.

The Watkins Path follows the river up the lower reaches of the mountain.
At the bottom of the path there are hints of the waterfalls further up, clear silvery water flowing over pebbles, and snatches of blue water pooling in quieter stretches. As we ascend the path the pools grow bigger and the clarity and prettiness of these pools far surpass my expectations. Unlike the peaty waterfalls in Brecon Beacons, these are smaller, but much much clearer.



Many of the pools are busy with paddlers; whole families, decked out in wetsuits, jump from the rocks in to the water. We continue on and when I spot a waterfall buried behind thick undergrowth, I follow my instincts, and we bushwack our way through head height bracken to take a closer look. We are rewarded with a waterfall fed pool that is completely private and hidden away from the other walkers and revellers. Perfect for skinny dipping, it's more of a plunge than a swim, but refreshing all the same. 



After my plunge we continue to follow the Watkins path up the mountain. We decide whilst we are already here, we will attempt to summit Snowdon. We knew the rain was coming in but what could really go wrong? It was only a bit of rain right? WRONG! Cue a hefty lesson from mother nature. It was when we were half an hour away from the top that I realised that I had foolishly underestimated Snowdon; we were inside a rain cloud, buffeted by strong winds, soaked through, cold and trying to climb up steep, slippery scree. Another twenty minutes and I was done. Visibility had become so poor that I wouldn't be able to tell if we had reached the summit or not. Instead of continuing, we decided to take a quick selfie and just tell everyone that we climbed to the top anyway. See the evidence below... prove that we're not at the top!
We head back down the mountain and it takes two hours to descend in horrible conditions. On reflection I underestimated Snowdon and I would strongly advise any novice climbers to learn from my mistakes and follow all their safety guidelines. Click here.
Alternatively, don't bother climbing Snowdon and just check out the waterfalls which are well worth a visit on their own.




Stats
Month: August
Temperature: 15 degrees
Bed: Rocks
Weed factor: 1/10
Atmosphere: Moderately busy, beautiful and fun.
Good for: Walking, swimming, jumps.
Top tips: Parking can be tricky if visiting in summer, arrive early or get the bus. 
Access: There is a car park at the bottom of Watkins Path. There is also parking along the road here. We arrived quite late and managed to get a spot on the road. The path is clearly marked and there are lots of other walkers around heading in the same direction. The sherpa bus service runs to the Nant Gwynant car park.
Facilities: There is a small cafe at the bottom of the path. 

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