The last 4km!

Jellyfish featured quite strongly in our weekend of festivities and games. We even made a jellyfish pinata. By Sunday, I was ready for the final swim.

I was really pleased that the younger children were keen to join me on this bit of the swim.All in Swanlake Bay, so it was safe. We all feel the loss of Rache, who was such a strong presence at our Swanlake Bay weekends.

With a calm sea, the sun shining, and Lou and Fiona kayaking, it made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

Swimmers: Me, Owen, Katy, Libby, Alex, Eira, Steve, Pepe, Gruff, Danny, MaryAnn and Allison.

We were like a line of ducklings, with Lou and Fiona bringing up the little ones at the end.
After a while some of the swimmers went back to the shore, and Libby and Owen took captains’ positions the kayak.

Allison, Steve, Johanna and I continued back and forth across the bay. Allison and I were so well paced we synchronised the entire 4km side by side. 

And then it was over…

The entire swim complete! It was lovely to finish it with the others, and to come ashore into the sun, feeling a sense of satisfaction.

My friend Jan asked me if the swim has helped the grieving process. It has. I still miss both Rache and Russ terribly. But it felt good to swim ‘with’ them, to actively think about them and to be in a place that I spent a lot of time with Rache. If such a thing is possible, I know that they were with me on every leg of the journey. I’ll never forget them, they will be part of my journey forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kanifest goes swimming…

Having reached Swanlake Bay, the idea of leaving again to swim off on my own to Freshwater felt odd. Especially so as the Kanifest* was just beginning. (*Kanifest: our annual extended-family get together for Kani’s birthday).

Rache loved the Kanifest. Lots of the people who’d come wanted to do a bit of the swim too, so I decided to do the final 6kms closer to Swanlake Bay in order for the others, including the young children, could join in.

So I planned two swims: one around the headland to Manorbier and the last 4kms back and forth in Swanlake Bay.

The weather was gorgeous and the sea was calm for us on Friday. Dan and Chris took the oars and shepherded 9 swimmers around the headland: Steve, Patrick, Pepe, Kani, Johanna, Eira, Mike, Lou and I. Owen and Alex came with us as far as the edge of the bay and then body-boarded back.

It was a lovely swim, bit choppy round the headland, but we stuck together mostly. Chris and Dan did a speedy bit of kayaking to alert a boat that was coming straight for us and hadn’t spotted the gaggle of swimmers.

I love swimming into Manorbier Bay, seeing the castle from the coast, and watching the people on the beach getting bigger and bigger. We were met by Helen, Elin, Gwyd and the twins, and headed up to the pub for a well-deserved drink!

 

 

Lost Boat and an Easterly Wind: Presipe to Swanlake Bay

Tuesday 22nd August

The weather hasn’t been in our favour this last week. High swells and strong winds. Storms and generally not really great for swimming.

After a couple of days, we walked round to Presipe to check on the boat, only to find it was gone. No boat, no oars, no lifejackets… and no fishing gear. All washed away by the spring tide. B**ger!

Luckily we had contingencies! But that’ll teach us to be more careful about where we leave the boat. It also meant taking the spare boat down very steep steps to Presipe beach.

I kept my eye on the sea conditions and there was a window on Tuesday when there was an easterly wind, still quite strong and the swell pretty high, but I hoped that the wind would make it easy to get along the headland from Presipe to Manorbier. (Ever hopeful!)

Kani, Eira and Patrick are now staying with us in Swanlake Bay, and Kani offered to walk along the headland with her eye on us, as we now have no radio.

Patrick began the swim with me, and we headed out into the sea, with the easterly wind behind us, and it soon became clear that having the wind behind us wasn’t that straightforward. Although it was heading in the right direction, it pushed our visibility floats over our heads making it really hard to swim, getting caught in our arms and every time I turned to breathe, the float was in the way. Really hard to sight as well.

We made good headway though, and reached the headland within about 40 minutes. With the unpredictable sea conditions, I’ve been worried about whether we’d be able to finish the swim, so we decided that instead of stopping at Manorbier, we would carry on to Swanlake Bay.

But getting to the headland was one thing, getting past it was another. The waves were huge and I could feel the tide turn. There was a point at which it felt like we were going nowhere.

Dan and Eira had taken sea sickness tablets so they were much happier this time bouncing over the waves.


For Patrick and I, though, it was demoralising swimming and swimming and making apparently no progress. It was a case of head down and just keep swimming, battling against the big swell.

Once I’d started getting some way towards the other side of the wide Manorbier Bay I looked up and couldn’t see anyone, no boat, no Patrick. Although the photos don’t really show it, the swell was too high to see above the waves, so I had to wait for a big wave to lift me up so I could see. I spotted the boat in the distance. Upright, and two figures in it. I’d had this situation before of being worried about them which really affected my swimming. So I trusted they were all together, probably Patrick and Eira swapping over. With Kani on the headland and direct access to the Coastguard, I figured they were okay.

 

I knew that Swanlake Bay was around the headland, and that once around the rocky outcrop it would be easy. But it was slow. The waves were hitting the rocks and we had to swim out to sea in order to avoid the risk of being washed against them. I switched to breast stoke. Much easier to see. And then suddenly the boat appeared with Patrick and Dan. Eira was in the water and had ditched the float. I was relieved to see them.

But having stopped, I found I’d been pulled back to Manorbier Bay. The demoralisation made me feel tired and cold all of a sudden, and I just wanted to get it over with. But determined to reach Swanlake Bay!

Finally we got round the headland, into much calmer water and so much warmer. Full of jellyfish though! The visibility was great, you could see the sand ripples at the bottom of the sea. My left hand had ‘claw-hand’ from the cold, where the fingers separate in the middle and you can’t get an easy grip on the water. The whole swim had been 2 hours, 40 minutes for about 3.5 kms.  But it was lovely to swim into Swanlake Bay – it felt like coming home.

This is one of Rache’s favourite beaches. I placed a pebble on the rocks where she used to sit.

And we went up to the field where Kani had already started cooking up a lovely hot lunch for us.

She said that lots of people had stopped to ask her what we were doing, and one group handed her some sponsorship money  – thank you! – We should have had a walker on each leg of the swim. I checked my sponsorship page and discovered that a Ben and Isa found one of my pebbles in Saundersfoot and sponsored me. Thank you!

Bad weather, and piglets

No swimming for a few days as the weather has made a turn for the worse. Winds up to 35mph and waves up to 10feet. Also, we had the unexpected news from home that our mother pig has given birth to 7 piglets.

But I am assured by friend Chris Blake (a self proclaimed nerd about weather forecasting) that a band of high pressure is on the way which should bring decent conditions, so hopefully we’ll reach our target by the end of August.

 

 

Skrinkle Haven to Presipe

Sunday 13th August

Still tired from yesterday and really didn’t feel like going out again. But the forecast was good, no rain. The conditions were set to get worse over the next week and we weren’t sure when we’d be able to get back in the water. Also, it being a Sunday, the Manorbier artillery range would definitely not be firing.

With the sea higher I could now see why it’s called Church Doors – there’s a great door-way in the rocks.

Not many on the beach today. Not yet. Some were waiting for the tide to go out.

 

 

After yesterday’s choppiness, I was wondering what it would be like going round Old Castle Head, stuck out there on a limb. Bit concerned, but the sun was out which always helps, and I had Russ in my mind saying ‘you’ll smash it’.

Swam out of the bay and across Skrinkle Haven where two jet skiers were pausing. Dan kept close to me for that bit and then he was off unraveling his fishing lines.

Around the headland, it was choppy again, the water undecided about what it was doing but I was determined to enjoy it. So I watched the seabirds, skimming over the water; a cormorant lifting up and flying to a rock to dry itself; seagulls low over my head. Birds sitting on long ledges looking out to sea as though they were watching a show at the theatre. 

One of the problems I find with the choppiness, is losing my sense of direction. It’s very disorientating. The waves can spin you around and you find you’re actually going backwards. Swimming close to the shore helps; concentrating on something nearby to gauge progress and swimming towards something visible.

 So, there I am, focused on a grimy looking buoy, heading closer and closer, till I realise it’s not a buoy and it’s looking directly at me.

I came face to face with a seal, its head out of the water just like mine, only mine was a bright yellow beacon saying ‘come and eat me’. Yes… I freaked out. I felt so vulnerable. 

Just after Dan took this picture, I called him to come closer; not sure exactly how he was meant to protect me, but I just thought I could leap into the boat if the seal started getting aggressive. But instead of coming closer, he laughed and told me there was another seal on the other side. Thanks Dan. [This was brought up later in the ‘debriefing’ 😉 ] 

 

The seals were fine. Just curious. And actually it was incredible to be in the water so close to them. There was something mysterious, nostalgic, primitive about being out in the sea with these huge animals and with ‘apparently’ no support boat J)

 After that, around the head of Old Castle Head, it all got very choppy. The wind picked up and it was really tough going.

I’ve been trying to record the swims with a GPS tracker but without much luck. It keeps packing up half way through – maybe it loses signal? One thing it does is it pauses when you stop swimming. Around the head, although I was swimming and swimming, it kept pausing because I was being pushed back by the water. It was demoralizing. I inched along around the head, till I could see the yellow sands of Presipe. Still a long way off, but it showed some progress at least.

I was relieved to see people on the beach. I’d been worried there was no path up to the top, and couldn’t face the thought of swimming on to Manorbier (another 2km). With the beach and people in sight, it all felt better.

The psychology of it absorbs me – so much is in the mind. The motivation, the demoralization. I am fascinated by how much power the mind has over the body, our energy levels, our moods, our ability to go on.

 I must have been gradually moving closer to the shore, as suddenly, I spotted sand ripples at the bottom and could see my progress moving fast over them. And then the waves pushing me into the shore, onto an amazing sandy beach – virtually secluded – and a steep windy track up to the top.

We were both woozy. 2km in 1.5 hours.

At first I didn’t feel cold, but then it kicked in, I got Anna’s hand knitted bobble hat on and we walked up the steps and back to the café at Manorbier YHA for a stomach settling pepsi.

My body was still swaying two days later.

Lydstep to Skrinkle Haven

Saturday August the 12th

We were up early doing parkrun again at Colby Gardens, and then onto our current favourite café , the Overlander, in Penally for breakfast before starting the swim. Parked in Manorbier YHA carpark, the end point of the day’s swim and walked back to Lydstep and retrieved our kayak which we’d been allowed to stow away with all the other official boats.

We didn’t know exactly what to expect from Lydstep round to Skrinkle Haven. We went out at noon, 3 hours before low tide in the hope that we’d have some of that tide to help us around. The water was choppy and we had a fairly strong Westerly wind blowing straight into us.

Getting out to the headland was fine, fairly flat, but as I eased around Lydstep point, the waves were crashing against the barnacle covered rocks. Not a day for swimming close to the edge today.

I wanted to stay relatively close though as I was concerned at being pulled too far out.

There were a couple of jetskis bombing about as well. When the swell is high and they’re bouncing over the waves, it’s hard for them to see swimmers. You’re so small against the seascape. Even the bright pink visibility float isn’t that visible. Dan wanted to be far from the rocks, for obvious reasons – our boat is a blow-up kayak.

The pictures don’t do justice to the sea’s choppiness! It was tough swimming especially at the beginning, feeling the power of the water. But after a while, I relaxed, and tried to enjoy the sensation of being bounced by the waves. It was like a giant bouncy castle, my body lifted and ducked with the swell of the water. 

We past climbers who were abseiling down giant tilting rock formations, then climbing up. I am in awe of people that can do that. For me, the phrase ‘sewing machine leg’

 

 

springs to mind. That sensation of involuntary leg spasms like pressing the treadle on an old sewing machine.

The caves were huge, often with precarious roofs that looked like they would collapse with just one more wave. There are landslides here. I should be more careful swimming close to the edge.

Finally got a glimpse of the sandy beach at Skrinkle Haven. It’s so reassuring to see the destination, and watch it getting closer and closer. There were lots of kids playing in the sea with body boards and paddle boards.

Skrinkle Haven is split into two beaches, one very wide and sandy but cut off from the footpath by a thin line of sharp rocks. The other  (Church Doors) very rocky with a narrow entry to the sea.

We pulled on warm clothes. I left my pebble on a rock in front of all the kids playing in the sea. I can hear Rache enjoying the view, even if sitting on a rock of seaweed might not have been to her idea of comfort. Missing you Rache.

No fish today. Not even one tiny mackerel. So I picked the giant puffball mushroom that’s been growing outside the tipi for a few days, and we cooked it on the fire with rice.  Yum.

Penally to Lydstep

A tidal conveyor belt

The next day we got up early and took the bus back to Penally to swim the big stretch to Lydstep. I was really pleased that the weather was good, the sea calm, and we’d both had a good sleep. But when as we got off the bus in Penally, there was the red flag flying and the sound of gunfire. Particularly frustrating, as I’d checked the website in advance and there was no mention of firing for that day. A man at the sentry point commiserated ‘they never update their website’ and then ‘I reckon you could sneak round and probably wouldn’t get hit’. I didn’t like the sound of probably.


So we aborted the swim and rescheduled for the next day when Ellie Thomas was able to join us in the water. Her family brought their binoculars to follow us from the coast path. It was great to share this longest stretch with a seasoned open water swimmer.

 

The weather was mostly sunny, the swell was 2.5ft and it was 3 hours before low tide. My hope was that with the tide still going out, it would pull us around to Lydstep in no time!

 

And it did! In places it was almost like a conveyor belt, pulling us round the headland and between rocks.

 

We saw cormorants perched on rocky outcrops looking out to sea, whole flocks of oystercatchers skating over the surface. We saw  nesting holes, perching ledges, great caves and huge tilting rocks.

We came across a few climbers finding their footing on great walls of rock. That’s something I could never do.

We started getting cold after about an hour, and there were places where it was harder to swim, but it was so satisfying to be swimming with the power of the tide that we were able to keep going without any problem.

Close to the rocks  the visibility was incredible. Under the water looked like a kind of moonscape with great white rocks, and craters bulging and cracking; waving with seaweed.

Lots of different types of jellyfish: the normal giant barrel jellyfish, but also the smaller pink ones and purple ones and then one I’d not seen before: little white heads and long long skinny tentacles. I didn’t trust those ones, and kept getting little stings down the cleavage of my costume. I’m sure they were shedding bits of their tentacles! 

 

 We arrived in Lydstep after an hour and a half. Roughly about 5km. Dan had caught 2 mackerel and 3 pollock

 

 

Ellie’s boys Bryn and Morgan met us enthusiastically, and they found a special place to put Rache’s pebble.

We all built sandcastles and ate chocolate biscuits.

Tenby to Penally

Mackerel at last!

It was a calm day the next day, perfect for going round the headland. We caught the early bus to Tenby arriving at 9am ready to get around the tricky bit (Castle Hill and St Catherine’s Island) while the conditions were good.

The tide was quite far in. There was a Romanian man fishing. He’d been there since 6am and caught a couple of mackerel, and a Gurnad. I was jealous, I love mackerel.

 

Dan got the boat down, we got changed and slipped into the water. It was hardly moving.

 

We stayed close to the edge to avoid the various boats going out from the harbour and then I sped through a hole in St Catherine’s Island – it was a great feeling –  like I was being sucked through a funnel.

 

 

Out the other side was a lovely gentle tide going down towards Penally.

 

South Beach is a really long beach facing Caldey Island. Lots of people playing, walking, digging. Dogs and kites and lifeguards. And underwater, the visibility was so good I watched shoals with thousands of tiny fish darting around me, in and out of seaweed.

It was peaceful to swim a long stretch watching all this underwater life, and not having to work  too hard. About 3.5 kms in 1 hour, 15 minutes.

And the exciting news was that Dan caught 2 mackerel! Small but perfectly delicious.

We arrived at the far end of Penally beach to the sound of gunfire. The artillery range was in use. And then the clouds opened and the rain started down on us.

Bobble hat on, 5 layers of clothes, raincoat and dashed for the bus.

Back at Swanlake Bay, we cooked baked potatoes and mackerel on the fire – mmm, can’t beat it!

 

 

A beautiful sunset, and later the moon, – almost full. I’m gradually slowing down. I love living so close to the land/sea, cooking on a fire, collecting water for washing, moving slowly round the coast. It feels enriching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monkstone Beach to Tenby

Mussels on arrival!  

After the difficult swim around Monkstone Point, I was determined to get into the water a couple of hours before low tide, in the hope that we wouldn’t find the sea pulling us in the wrong direction. So we were up, out and ready to launch the boat at 10.30.

The beach was deserted apart from a couple of people walking their dogs on the fresh unprinted sand.

Left a pebble for Rache on the rock, looking towards Tenby, and we set off.

It was just me and Dan today as the girls have gone on holiday to France.

 

We had thought we could stop in Waterwynch Bay if it was too rough and challenging, but the sea was definitely calmer and we weren’t swimming against the tide.

Dan got his fishing lines out and we moseyed along, past caves and great rock formations.

At Waterwynch Bay, there is a terrace of white buildings tucked into the bay. A river coming into the sea here gave the water a bit of an edge and the current made it a bit harder to swim, but we decided not to stop in Waterwynch but carry on to Tenby.

It was lovely seeing Tenby far in the distance, with its recognizable spire as a kind of beacon to head towards.I really love Tenby, and the view of it from the sea is the most spectacular with its coloured buildings and Castle Hill where the sunshine meter is kept.

There were lots of boats in the bay, jet skis and dinghies, and buoys to have a quick rest on.

On investigating the buoys closer, I realised they were teaming with mussles under the water, so I picked a bucketload.

The first catch of the trip! Unfortunately, Dan hadn’t had any luck again with the fishing lines.

We got out at the far end of North Beach, by the old RNLI ramp. All in all about 4km in 2 hours. Definitely needed a cup of tea and some lunch.

 

 

We stored the boat under the ramp and headed off to look for a place for Rache’s pebble.

 

One of my favourite places on North Beach is Goskar Rock, a rocky outcrop right in the middle of the beach. It’s such a defining rock – has been there for centuries.

In old postcards of Tenby, it’s there – with families playing in the sand just as they are today, only with slightly larger swimming costumes.

 

I felt that Rache would like to be sitting on Goskar Rock, in the centre of the beach watching all the families digging dams and sand castles.

 

 

Back in Swanlake Bay, we cooked up the mussels with garlic and butter – yum! –  and had a lovely evening with Kelli who is over from Holland for a while.

Not a day for swimming

The weather’s pretty harsh today so no swimming. Good for surfing though – here’s Kani and Dan catching the waves.

And it gives us a chance to charge up our phones  in The Swanlake Inn in Jameston – thank you! – and have a sneaky sunday lunch while it’s pissing with rain outside.

All set to go back on the swim tomorrow. Next stop Waterwynch Bay.

Thanks to everyone who’s sponsored so far – we’ve raised £2,250.