Burton Bradstock – a September sea swim

“Burton Bradstock is clearly a place where locals like to come, planning a day around its simple attractions: the beach, the bathing, a spot of fossil hunting, the shelter of the cliffs, the exceptionally good cafe, the odd frisbee, a magazine, or perhaps a book.”

The water of Lyme Bay is wheezing heavily as we plunge our feet into the shingle of the beach at Burton Bradstock. The waves roll in almost perpendicular to the shoreline here, where Chesil Beach begins (or ends depending on whether you’ve made your way down the coast from Portland Bill) and there’s a distinctly heftier swell off the beach than a few miles away at Lyme Regis, where we enjoyed an icy dip just after the sun came up a few hours ago.

With the sun high and bass fishermen casting far out to sea along the beach, we quickly whip off our clothes and make a run for the water. One stride, two strides and the shingle between our toes disappears. Three strokes from shore and we’re well out of our depth. I’m swimming here with my girlfriend Keeley and my best friend Tom. His better half and our lovely friend, Emily, is on towel duty on the beach, ready to wrap us up when we eventually emerge from the frothy waves.

Taking my cue from Roger’s approach when he swam here for Waterlog, I allow myself to be enveloped by the sea. The power of the water here is far more noticeable than at the sheltered beach at Lyme, something which Roger Deakin notes in a passage about Iris Murdoch almost drowning on this stretch of coast during one of her renowned sea swims. At Lyme it’s all glassy surfaces and dives to the surface to check out the seaweed. Here it’s all about keeping moving, watching the waves and ensuring you stay close to dry land.

The water at Burton Bradstock on this bright late summer/early autumn day is what might politely be termed bracing. But a few hearty strokes and my body is used to the chill. It seems that the more I swim in open water, the quicker my body adjusts to those low temperatures. How long that’ll last into winter, though, remains to be seen.

Keeley decides to head in, Emily helping her maintain a modicum of modesty as she changes on the bustling beach. Meanwhile, as our nearest bass hunter sends a huge weight flying into the deep, Tom and I stop for a water conference. Treading water, we talk about that feeling of being ‘in nature’, something Roger returns to often in the book and which Alice Roberts touches on in her Wild Swimming documentary. Swimming in wide circles, looking up at the stratus clouds and staring down the straight expanse of Chesil Beach, there’s very much a feeling of being in the scene, rather than simply looking at it.

We ease our way back to shore, wet shingle clogging our jeans as we struggle to get them back on after we’ve dried off. In the Hive Beach cafe, munching on a huge plate of sardines, I wonder what Roger would make of things here. He talks of this being a ‘locals spot’. Today, it’s a magnet for visitors, the last vestiges of summer weather drawing out the crowds. The Hive Beach cafe is a stunning place to eat, although with its own cookbook and a rather decent wine list, perhaps some way from what Roger would remember when he came here in the 90s.

But with other swimmers heading into the water as we leave, I once again return to the feeling I’ve had at other places on my travels for the blog: that Roger would love just how many people are willing to overlook a nip in the air and simply dive in, wherever that may be. Burton Bradstock remains the delightful swimming spot Roger visited in Waterlog. Just as lovely, maybe a touch more popular and all the better for it.

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