Being an island in the north Atlantic Ocean, it’s not surprising that us Brits have an affinity with the water.
But growing up in the Pennines, about 40 miles as the crow flies from the nearest bit of coast and 70 miles from the mandatory seaside trip to Whitby, there wasn’t a great deal of sea around for me to become the next Captain Cook.Still, thanks to my dad’s own formative years being spent in Plymouth due to my granddad’s career in the navy, I’ve always had an affinity with being in water.
My sister and I played down by the river, mostly splashing at the sides along with the usual futile attempts to dam an entire river with nothing more than pebbles.
I paddled and waded and at one point I remember daring to go further out until the bottom started to steeply slip away, so I crept back to the safety of the bank.
Eventually, I plucked up the courage to lift my feet off the bottom and swim across the seeming chasm of the unknown, which was probably no more than a couple of feet. I still remember the feelings of exhilaration and achievement that I’d just done something dangerous, though my dad – a strong swimmer who used to go wreck diving regularly – probably had more than an eye on me the whole time.
Once the fear of the current, the depth, and the unknown,was overcome, I happily passed backwards and forwards between the banks, my only regret being it took me so long to do it in the first place as we were leaving too soon after.
When I moved I again lapsed until the kids arrived and we tried to take them regularly-ish to one pool or another so they were comfortable in the water. This wasn’t really swimming. More like walking around in water holding onto a child. The occasional few swimming strokes with them on my back, usually ended quickly as their grip tightened around my neck and lack of oxygen became a bit of an issue.
When we moved down to Kent, one of the attractions for me was having the sea so close by. Without kids, I can walk and have wet feet about ten minutes after closing my front door, with kids, it’s anything from 20-45 minutes!
Being by the sea, to us, meant it was important the kids were comfortable with the water. I’m not saying I want the to set a new cross-channel record, but it would be good for them to respect the water, and have the skills they need to enjoy it responsibly.
Swimming lessons began, and are going well. The Boy loves going underwater, but isn’t as old, big or strong as others in his group so we’re currently in a holding pattern of progression. The Girl has overcome her initial reluctance, and now loves splashing around in the ducklings class, so hopefully she’ll be comfortable when she starts the proper classes later this year.
For my part, the pool isn’t a big draw – I want to do get out into the wild open water.
Last year I decided to be more proactive and whenever possible I took the chance to have a dip in the sea at various beaches we visited. It wan’t as often as I’d ideally like, as it’s usually not practical to disappear into the sea for long periods of time with kids who can need two adults’ attention, but I loved it every time.
Casting my relatively fragile body out into what is only really the tiniest fringe of the vast body of water that covers most of the planet is both terrifying and exhilarating.
There’s still that unease about lifting my feet off the bottom, not being completely sure about what lies ahead, but once afloat, it’s incredibly liberating.
I probably overthink it, but essentially by getting into the sea, you’re part of a watery highway that could take you anywhere.
On our trip to Cornwall last year, I took a cheapy flipper and snorkel set I’d got from Decathlon and had an awesome time at one beach. I just snorkeled along in relatively shallow water, watching crabs scamper along on the sand beneath me.
I could have gone on for hours, but would no doubt have finally looked up and being in a completely different cove, with no idea which way I’d come, and my attempts to get back would see me being eaten by some a sea dragon (they’re usually friendly in the stories I tell the kids, but you never know…).
Now the sea by me is not as clear as Cornwall, and the beach is more shingle than sand, but I’m looking forward to getting the mask back on and having a look to see what can be seen.
Even if it’s nothing exotic, it’ll still be cool to just find out a bit more about the bit of the world I live in. Once I know, I can either carry on exploring or simply get back to keeping myself afloat on the edge of the English Channel.