Fowey estuary – Cornish swimming
“That afternoon I swam out into the harbour mouth, just to get a feel of the water and currents, I hadn’t intended it to be more than a short trial run, but was just settling nicely into the rhythm of the swim, and deciding that I might as well keep going, when I was suddenly intercepted by the coastguard.”
Molly and I park up in Fowey slightly delirious, spilling out of the car and stuffing our bags full of swimming kit after a six hour drive from London. It’s a stunning early September afternoon, still a whiff of summer in the air despite wispy clouds doing their best to obscure the sun.
Bounding down steep, narrow lanes we are desperate for water, the occasional glimpse of a yacht moored in this deep, wide estuary suggesting we are close to finding a place to take a dip.
There’s already tacit acknowledgement that repeating Roger’s feat here is going to be impossible. Swimming back and forth across the mouth of this busy river, still crammed with summer traffic, without the aid of a guide and away from the watchful eyes of the harbourmaster up on high, is too daunting a task. Still, I feel a small swell of guilt for not sticking to my predecessor’s daring plan.
After all, it’s not like there hadn’t been a chance. Less than a week before, the sixth annual Fowey Harbour Swim had followed in Roger’s quest, tacking out from Town Quay to Whitehouse. An organised take on his illicit long distance jaunt, it came too late to change our plans, but shows just how much influence Waterlog seems to have 15 years on. I had given a sigh of relief when I realised I was not going to be able to make it.
Instead, Molly and I scour the harbour for convenient entry points. Leaning over the wall by the yacht club, the deep blue waters are clear, fish darting around in shoals, boats puttering along after a day out at sea. Prying eyes are everywhere, though. Fowey, and Polruan across the water, surely make this one of the most awkward places in the UK for stealing a swim without being seen by all and sundry.
We take a quick look at the map and wander back through town, shooting off down a walled path which appears to lead along the water’s edge towards the coast proper. Here we find a public landing place. With steps leading down to the lapping water, tucked beneath the yacht club and with no one to see us getting changed, this is the perfect place for our small take on Roger’s Fowey voyage.
Neither of us have neoprene shoes with us, so tread carefully over the barnacle encrusted rocks towards the drink, lowering ourselves in gently where they naturally shelve away into the depths. After six hours sweating on motorways and Cornish tracks, there’s an icy edge to proceedings, which quickly gives way to a warm buzz as we swim in big circles. Molly breaststrokes out to ‘Dell Buoy’, the nearest moored boat, about 50 metres away from the shoreline. I follow and we pose for pictures, peering into the deep as a huge shoal streams out to sea, laughing about atrocious puns doubling as boat names.
We spend 15 minutes pottering, treading water and listening out for any craft that might come zipping through on their way to The Prussian King for a pre dinner pint. As the Fowey to Polruan ferry lets out a lazy honk across the estuary, we take that as our cue to clamber out and get set for another swim, racing against the setting sun towards Helford Passage.
Back on shore, our quick change into dry clothes is observed by Pop, a black retriever who seems less interested in swimming than checking whether I’ve got my underpants on the right way round. Her owner turns a blind eye and stares out into the Atlantic to spare my blushes.
Swimming across here would have been dangerous, albeit a Waterlog rite of passage. Instead I content myself in the knowledge that this journey is all about following Roger, rather than emulating him. My mind turns to Helford and an altogether different kind of dip.