I’ve never been able to look at a body of water—pool, river, lake, sea—without wanting to get in it. As a child this was easy to achieve, I would simply pretend to fall in. As an adult I am more inhibited. Fortunately, the intrepid souls at the Outdoor Swimming Society are pioneers in finding good spots to swim and asserting the rights of swimmers to enjoy wild water in the UK. There are very real dangers associated with swimming wild and a warm summer inevitably brings tragic headlines, but organised events, like the Bantham Swoosh, are a brilliant way for swimmers to experience wild swimming under safe, well-monitored conditions.
This is my second Swoosh with my swim buddy, Rebekah. Our first, however, was an evening swim so we face the horrible realisation that, despite driving down to Devon on Friday night, we need to leave our Exeter Premier Inn at 5am to get to Aveton Gifford in time for the start. At least there is a beautiful sunrise to make the early wake-up call a little more palatable. The previous year was unremittingly grey so the bright blue sky is a welcome change. We park in a field and catch one of the cheerful retro Tally Ho buses to the start.
As two swims have been condensed into one there are double the number of swimmers this year, 800 instead of 400. It does feel crowded at the start and there is a long queue for the portaloos, but after that the process proceeds smoothly in the relaxed manner I’ve come to associate with the OSS. We change into our wetsuits and stand around in a field chatting to some of the other swimmers while we wait for the safety briefing. I battle with chafing on my neck and Body Glide wasn’t up to the job last year, so I slather my neck in Vaseline instead. Rebekah suffers from the cold, so she contemplates various additional layers. Her stylish, ear-warming swim bonnet is a given but she’s vacillating about whether to wear booties as well. Why wouldn’t you wear them? Another swimmer asks. Decision made. When we’ve been briefed we chuck our bags in a van and shuffle towards the start.
The water is a balmy 16 degrees, we hear, in comparison to the 14 degrees it was last year. It still feels cold as we edge in, but the sunshine makes a big difference. My luminous yellow swim hat looked a little loud when it arrived in the post, but in the river, they are cheerful beacons, bobbing along.
Doing an event for the second time allows to you to relax and enjoy it more. The water is beautifully clear, though there is a lot of debris, and we stop frequently to look around us and appreciate the scenery. It’s been a busy time, so I haven’t made it to the pool in the last few weeks, but my arms feel fine. The official ‘swoosh’ is marked by a pink shepherd’s hut, but we stop swimming earlier this year because the current is so strong we don’t actually need to swim. We spend the last ten minutes floating on our backs, enjoying the sun on our faces and the sensation of being swept along by the tide. Before we’re ready, the safety crews are guiding us into the beach for the finish. We’ve been in the water just over an hour and a half.
The most tiring aspect of the day is the trudge back over the sandy dunes, but a mug of hot chocolate at the finish goes down well and helps to get rid of the taste of salt in my mouth. We can’t face a pint of ale at 9am so we eat our pasties with a can of coke instead. This year’s swag is a yellow Hammam towel which will be a lot more useful than a medal. After we’ve eaten and got dressed behind a van in the parking lot, we head back over the dunes to watch the Kids Mini Swoosh—from the finish they are towed around the corner on jet skis and then dropped off to swoosh back to the start. It looks like a lot of fun.
It turns out that Vaseline does work better than the Body Glide to prevent chafing on my neck, but it’s a lot harder to wash out of my hair.
A brilliant swim and another outstandingly-organised event from the Outdoor Swimming Society.