The Walberswick shiverers

“Scaling the sand dunes, I ran down the deserted beach, flung off my clothes and waded into the surf.”

Light winds, leaden skies and brown, churning sea. Walberswick in late October. Past the public loos, through the warren of beach huts, over the dunes and onto the beach. After weeks without a swim, my cast finally off and my wrist free, I should feel more energised about going for a dip.

Instead, Molly and I stand on wet sand. Kicking at pebbles and talking about getting stung by jellyfish, we look out to the always grey North Sea. The beach is deserted. We drop our bags and begin geeing ourselves up, before I decide this fretting needs to stop. I quickly yank off my jumper, my T-shirt still nestled inside it. I struggle out of my jeans and make a run for it.

Purposeful strides become tentative steps. The water is achingly, bone chillingly cold. At thigh depth, already gasping for breath, I take the plunge. This is my first proper swim since a few leisurely strokes in the River Lark, when the weather was sticky and summer still upon us.

I swim in quick, short bursts. The horizon lifts and tilts with the waves, a fishing boat seemingly bound straight for us as I reach a sudden drop in the water. I’ve been in for around a minute and feel as if I’m getting used to the icy drink. Dropping my feet to the seabed, I stand, shoulders out, and get an enormous endorphin rush. Its intensity and length is overwhelming and while I manage a few more strokes, I know that much longer and this heady rush will turn into uncontrollable shivers.

Molly is equally braced and so we wade back to our clothes, watched by a dog and its owner who toy with the edge of the surf. Changing swiftly, both aglow, we talk about how that was just about the right length of time for a dip in late October.

Walberswick is such a magical place. It feels strangely sheltered for this stretch of open, wind-beaten coastline. I think of Roger’s swims here. His freezing Christmas day dip and the languid swim that marks the final page of Waterlog. Those closing passages, with talk of swimming through the maze he’d found in Scilly two years previously, the hint of swimming offering a chance at redemption and rebirth, are my most favourite in the entire book.

I’m not sure if I’ll swim again this year. I certainly shan’t without a wetsuit tucked in my bag. But I do know that this journey to the places where Roger swam has been, and still is, magical. I’m determined to finish it in 2014, when the days are longer and the water less chilly.

4 Comments on “The Walberswick shiverers

  1. ” Changing swiftly, both aglow, we talk about how that was just about the right length of time for a dip in late October”.

    How I laughed in both empathy and jealousy!
    You crystallise the experience perfectly in that sentence.

    Keep going Joe.
    This is my favourite piece of internet writing.

  2. Thanks Yanny, you were missed. Plenty more to do, we’ll swim every day next summer.

  3. I’ve just found your wonderful story and linked to it on my Walberswick Swimmers blog, I hope you don’t mind… Come and join us one day!

    • Hi Claire,

      Not at all, thanks for the link. Sounds lovely, I’d love to come up and have a dip. I’m off to Burnham in a few days, can’t wait. Lots more swims to come.

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