When we were young we never heard or even saw a wetsuit, let alone wore one and we swam merrily in the chilly waters of the Atlantic sea in our well worn bathing togs, staying in for hours at a time.
My younger sister and I used to pretend to be dolphins and we developed a technique where we half butterfly stroked, half dived as we made our way through the water mimicking the dolphins rolling motion.
Those hours in the sea have withstood us well and to this day I have no problem leaping into the sometimes wild, always cold, waters of the Atlantic for a swim.
I don’t swim madly or speedily. Instead, in much the same way as I ride my yellow bicycle, I ‘meander’.
Exploring as I go. Happy to potter, to see what I can see.
I suppose you could call it ‘slow swimming’.
Áit an Giorrai.
My sister is coming up over the hill when she spots it.
A baby hare, a leveret, nestled in the entrance of a disused rabbit burrow.
I am at my tent making coffee.
I hear her call quietly
‘Steph! bring your camera here for a minute’
Oh what cruelty is in us that, no matter what fear and terror we cause it (and its mother who, no doubt, is watching from afar) we must get a photo.
The Leveret is well tuned in the art of survival. It has a trick up its sleeve and plays dead. Not a blink of an eye or twitch of a whisker gives any indication it has noted our presence.
Crouching low, I take a quick photo before we crawl away backwards delighted to have seen such a wonderful thing.
‘I nearly stood on it’ my sister whispers
‘No you didn’t’.
We don’t ‘stand on things’ here.
We don’t trample indiscriminately but rather step lightly, despite our bulky human size.
Traipsing over the undulating low grassed hills, We see hare bells, eyebright, ladies bedstraw, birdsfoot trefoil, orchids, wild thyme, and many others, all entwining in each others roots and weaving themselves into a tight carpet on the sandy soil.
We thread even more carefully over the lichened rocks, festooned with mounds of sea pinks.
And sea birds eggs.
We return to my tent and sit under its awning looking out to sea and sipping our coffee.
After a few moments I say.
‘I am naming my camping spot ‘Áit an giorria’ (the place of the hare).
Come on in it’s delicious!
As I have already mentioned we ‘Peppard’s’ are known to be a hardy bunch when it comes to water, so you can’t blame our friends (as they stand shivering on the shore, toes barely in the water) for not believing us when we say ‘its delicious’.’
Oh Just jump in! get the initial shock over with’ We call impatiently, only our heads visible as we thread water.
Those who are brave enough have made it to knee depth and are now nervously dipping their hands in and patting the water on thighs and upper arms.
‘Come on, get IN!’ We shout bossily as we swim parallel to the shore.
‘Once you get down you’ll get used to it, you’ll LOVE it’ We lie.
‘See its not that bad’ Our ears are deafened by the shrieks of those who have taken our advice.
‘Its feckin freezing’ they splutter when they get their breath back and start to run out again.
We look at each other and throw our eyes to heaven.
This morning I am alone. I make my way barefoot across the rocks to the waters edge.
I love that solitary first swim of the day. I relish it and dream about it through the short winter day’s.
Its my chance to meditate, to become a creature of the sea, moving purposely but causing hardly a ripple.
Today the tide is well out exposing the mussel covered rocks
I wade in around them and at waist depth slide under the water. I lift my feet and float, moving with the tide. Undulating.
Then I start a slow breaststroke out to sea.
The turquoise water is crystal clear and I watch my tanned arms admiringly as they sweep in distorted circles just below the surface.
I marvel at how they look so much thinner under the water.
I might stay in here for ever.
I dive deep, eyes open, small herring fry scattering before my outstretched hands and some prawns sweeping passed, brought in on the tide.
A periwinkle shell moves across the sand, stopping every now and again to get its bearings. It’s a hermit crab.
I reach a rock with waving seaweed and see a small crab scuttle to safety.
All this in the holding of one breath.
I surface and pull a piece of the seaweed (its glutinous texture makes a good moisturizer)standing cautiously. feeling the seafloor with my toes.
A few years ago I stood on a weaver fish in this spot.
I have never known such pain and I hobbled back to my camp to ring a friend who surfed in exotic places.
‘Sounds like you have stood on a weaver fish! Boil a kettle and fill a bucket with the hottest water you can bear and place your foot in it’.
I did as instructed and within seconds the pain had begun to abate and then it disappeared altogether.
Today it is not only a weaver fish I have to watch out for.
Making my way back across the sand, I see I was not the only one slow swimming this morning. A Lions mane jellyfish lies stranded by the outgoing tide. I skirt around it and up the grassy hill to my tent.
Slow swim over for this morning.
Time for my morning coffee.
We see harebells, eyebright, ladies bedstraw……