Lockdown loch down

I talked a bit in the previous post about the things we’ve been keeping busy with while in lockdown. One area of my life I have been missing so much was my daily swims.

From last autumn I had been in loch Sunart more or less daily for a swim. I’ve blogged about my wild swimming before and how much it means to me. I think I have also talked about moving from fully neoprene clad wetsuit swims to just wearing a swimsuit in early January. I continued to swim throughout January, February and into March while there was snow on the ground, frost on the seaweed and stones on the shore and plummeting temperatures in the loch, dipping to around zero on several occasions but certainly hovering around the 3 degrees mark for weeks and weeks.

Mostly I swam alone, sometimes Scarlett joined me, once Ady did. I regularly swam on Sundays with a group of local friends and had done a few big organised group swims. I was booked on to join lots of those this coming year, the first few dates have already passed and I think all of this years swims are likely to be cancelled as they require such high levels of planning for both the location, time and date of the swim but also the logistics of planning safety support, registration and the event itself.

I stopped swimming when the UK went into lockdown. It felt like an unnecessary risk to be taking, my usual swim location was a drive away (only about 2 miles but far enough not to want to walk to and from home in the cold, particularly the post-swim walk home when wet too.) and the car park is closed.

But I missed it, oh how I missed it. I walked most days down to the beach at the end of our track, a little bay of the loch that I had previously not really explored. I got to know it really well and started to understand how the tides there worked, what the beach looked like at very high and very low tide and everything inbetween. I learned the topography of the shoreline, where the bed drops away to become suddenly deep, where rocky reefs and tiny islands may lie exposed at certain times and submerged at others.

It was not long before I was seeking something extra to do on those walks, some way to mark the days and one day I took a photo of a tiny patch of the beach on which the tide had washed up a beautiful selection of shells and pebbles.

Mother nature is the best beauty curator

And that was that, from then I was looking down.

On my next visit to the beach I gathered some shells and ‘wrote’ the phrase LOCKDOWN LIFE by arranging them on the sand.

We were enjoying a heatwave here so the following day I made a sunshine out of shells.

The heatwave continued and I started to kick my shoes off, roll my jeans up and paddle in the loch while making my shell art as the water and sunshine on the shells created beautiful iridescent rainbows if I made them just under the water.

Inevitably having felt the water on my toes my jeans got rolled up progressively higher every day as I waded out just a tiny bit further into the loch…

My shell art has became a part of my walk every day. Sometimes I go to the beach already with a plan, sometimes I just decide when I get there and take my inspiration from whatever is on my mind as I walk across the beach looking at the shells. I tend to write some ponderings about whatever the shell art is along with the pictures when I post them on social media (I’m nic.goddard on instagram if anyone is interested in following me and seeing a bit more of them.) The act of collecting, arranging and thinking of a story to go with each picture is calming, meditative and really appeals to my creative needs.

I am loving the idea of land art, ephemeral art, transient art. It is beautiful to watch the day to day, week to week progress of the shells I have gathered and arranged being slowly altered and moved back by the incoming and outgoing tides and returning to random scattered shells and stones once more. They have been homes for tiny creatures, play host or shelter to yet more tiny creatures and form the ever changing ever shifting shore and bed of the loch tossed about by nature, by chance and for a tiny brief part of their story by me.

I have taken great comfort from the online wild swimming community during lockdown. Lots of people are still finding ways to swim, others are sharing archive pictures of swims of the past. A lovely idea was dreamed up by a fellow wild swimmer to create a project called the Swim Sketchbook Exchange which instantly had loads of us scattered across the UK signing up to take part. The idea is that we all do 4 pieces of art or any sort in a sketchbook and then pass it on to the next person, who also does 4 pieces of art and then passes it on and so on. After 10 exchanges everyone will end up with a book filled with 40 pieces of art by 10 different people – something to cherish. There are very few rules other than the art must be wild swimming inspired.

So far I have seen some amazing, beautiful pieces of art being shared online and can’t wait until the exchanges start. I’ve already done my four in my book and decorated the front cover ready for the first swap next week.

There is a postscript to this story of swim-spiration and loch inspired creativity. Which is that while these pursuits have been and continue to be really important in getting me through these weird times and have been excellent in connecting me with more new friends and fellow wild swimmers the loch just kept calling. And calling. AND CALLING.

And so, while it was still April, a month which I feared I may not swim in at all, during the continued heatwave, on a flat calm day in waist high water I got back in the loch for a swim. I had assessed all of the risks to myself and to others, was on my ‘allowed’ walk from home and as a very experienced cold water swimmer with an able swimmer watching me from the shore (Ady!) able to wade out should he need to I swam again.

I’ve not been every day since but I have been in at various tides and times. Always in very shallow water, close to the shore with one of the others watching me.
Other local friends have also been swimming applying similar common sense and one even checked in with the official guidelines to ensure it was within accepted things to be doing.

The first time I paddled I could actually feel the lockdown related tension, anxiety and stress leave my body. It felt so real it should have been visible on camera as a big rush of grey rising out from the top of my head. It was amazing. The first swim when I actually felt my whole body submerged and cradled by the saltwater was just perfect. I have now had high tide, low tide, calm water, choppy water, colder water and warmer water swims.

During lockdown getting down to the loch has been even more important to me than ever.

Lockdown Life

How are you all out there?

We are all still well. In many ways for us life is not massively different, in many others it is unrecognisable and will never return to how it used to be.

It’s relatively easy to list all the things that we have not been able to do as a result of the pandemic. We should have been at a live podcast show this week down in Glasgow. We should have been at a cinema event screening a David Attenborough film with a live theatre link up to the man himself last month.

We were expecting a visit from Davies’ friend for a few nights followed by the rest of his family collecting him and staying overnight too.

We should have been with friends in Northern Ireland for Easter.

We should have had visits from our friend Mairi, our friends David and Debbie. My parents should have been here for a ten day stay in April.

I should have done at least three big group swims.

All of these are things which have been cancelled, postponed, refunded, crossed off the calendar.

Then there are the things which have not happened yet but we know won’t be happening either. Davies should be counting down the days to his first big solo trip, flying to meet Megan’s family and friends, to see where she lives and works and studies. Then he and Megan should be returning here for months and months of time together stretching ahead of them.

Scarlett’s volunteering with the local Cats Protection League training was scheduled for the spring with the intention of her actually getting stuck into some practical volunteering over the summer. She had plans to enter her baking into as many competitions at craft and produce fayres as she could. All of them are already cancelled.

Davies’ final end of module assessment for this years OU study has been cancelled. His fledgling art business which was heavily reliant on selling at those same fayres is stalled with him reporting no sales each month just as he should be getting up and running.

Ady’s job with the NHS as a care at home worker has been the biggest baptism of fire imaginable. He conducts his rounds in full PPE with new directives almost daily on keeping himself and his clients safe from the virus. Training courses have been cancelled, he has only met new colleagues at a distance as they hand over stocks of PPE or exchange email and text messages.

My various jobs have all headed off in different directions. I am furloughed from my work at the centre, have no work at all from the various holiday cottage cleaning (obviously!) and due to advertising sales dropping to nothing the writing work for the paper is curtailed to an absolute minimum of just a couple of columns a month.

Financially we are doing OK thanks to one of us working, one of us furloughed and only needing to spend money on absolute essentials such as household bills and food.

In terms of staying busy we are doing just fine. We have always spent the majority of our time together, mostly at home and are used to enjoying the space we inhabit and finding largely home-based activities. Learning from home, socialising online, baking and crafting, at this time of year sowing and growing, having creative activities on the go are all how we have lived for the last decade or more.

We have deliberately chosen to live our lives somewhere that we love being with easy access to the things we love. We have space, views, are close to nature, near to water and woodland. That has the trade off of being far away from family and friends, remote from shops, cinema, leisure activities… at the moment of course we would be able to do none of those things anyway.

But it has also been incredibly hard. Davies, Scarlett and I have not left the house other than for daily walks since lockdown began. I am missing my various work colleagues, my Sunday swimming friends, the local friends I would bump into in the course of a week. I am desperately missing my more distant family and friends who I should have spent at least some time in the company of over the lockdown period. I am mourning being able to make plans, organise things and fill up the weeks and months ahead with exciting and interesting things to look forward to.

I have been in daily contact with a close family member who despite not having been tested has clearly had COVID 19 and that has been terrifying to deal with – for them obviously but also for me from a distance. Unable to do anything even remotely practical or helpful or emotionally physically supportive, just waiting on daily updates and holding my breath hoping for the best and trying not to think about the worst.

I’ve been tending my seedlings, transplanting my little plants, watering and protecting, thinning and watching. I had sufficient germination rates to give seedlings to my neighbour – the one who’s horse supplied our compost! Our raised beds are now filled with compost, had been turned over and picked through by the chickens and then netted and the first little plants moved in. We’ve had to cover the beds with sheets and fleeces against late frosts and have lost the first batch of sweetcorn but have more germinated and growing well indoors ready to plant out in another couple of weeks.

We’ve even had our first couple of tiny harvests of salad leaves.

Our hosepipe was not long enough to reach the beds and we were pondering an online purchase of hose but then chanced upon some washed up black pipe on a beach walk, likely from the fish farm across the loch. We gathered it up and Ady performed gaffer tape technology to create a hose extension which has worked perfectly. Beach clean, repurposed litter, free irrigation – a win all round!

The grass which we removed from our raised bed sites has been relocated to a previously bare patch of sparse gravel below our decking. We can now add ‘lawn removals’ to our list of skills!

Our chickens have continued to provide us with a huge supply of eggs so there has been lots of baking going on (we already had bulk supplies of flour, sugar and yeast, Rum life prepared us well for keeping a good supply of tinned, dry and frozen food, a habit we have not lost). We even had an egg glut allowing us to share the spares with our neighbours. We now have four of our eight hens broody so our egg supply has dropped and Ady and I are removing the very cross hens from the chicken house every day to help them break their broodiness and ensure they eat and drink. We don’t want any more chicks just now, despite the cuteness. I’ve been recalling the year on Rum when we were super efficient with chicks and ducklings and had numerous nursery pens filled with babies across the croft and perfected the snatch and grab technique of lifting a hen and her newly hatched brood to move them into a safe-from-the-crows pen.

We had a very low key Easter compared to the one we had planned. Having been assured by both Davies (19) and Scarlett (17) when I said goodnight to them on Easter Saturday that yes, actually they would still like an egg hunt the following morning when I surmised that they would not, I spent some time before they got up creating a hunt around the house and garden with clues for them to follow.

I have a yen to fill our decking with pots and containers of herbs and flowers. My vision is a beautiful oasis of pretty blooms, scented ingredients and a haven for bees. I’ve sown plenty of herb and flower seeds in preparation and have some more lavender plants on order that Ady found a special promotional offer online for, but I am slightly lacking the pots and containers. There are some beautiful stone and terracotta pots in garden centres but they are closed, far away and expensive. So I have been trying to ‘pimp cheap pots’. Last year Scarlett, my Mum and I coloured some cheap plastic white pots but they faded in the sunshine so I thought I could fix beach found treasures to them like pebbles, shells and sea glass.
A first attempt at this with the hot glue gun failed miserably and with hilarious results!

The planned layout- looking good!

the sad reality – a rapidly naked pot as the glue failed and the stones dropped off

Improving – a new skillset to work on acquiring

I now have a large bag of waterproof interior and exterior tile grout and adhesive which arrived yesterday having experimented with a small pot of ready made grout from the local shop. It worked well and I learned that certain stones are better (at least one flattish surface to gain maximum adherence, not too heavy, washed and dried really well to loosen any sandy bits). So I will do some more stone gathering and have another go at that on the next nice day to be outdoors.

I also had a go at creating a basket-style pot with some gathered bits from the woodland. It is the wrong time of year really to cut materials as the sap has already risen. You should also allow it to mellow and then soak it to make it pliable again rather than using it ‘green’ but I am impatient and yet another winter has passed by when I have not managed to gather stuff at the correct time so I thought I’d have an experimental go at making something. It turned out OK and I will line it with a compost bag (when the bag I am almost finished is all used up) and plant it up too.

I have now filled in the gaps around the top with some more material.

I’ll share more pictures of the decking as my planned vision hopefully comes to life.

We’ve been enjoying the garden so much during the beautiful sunny spring we have had. Spending lots of time out there planting, watering, messing about with compost and pots but also sitting chatting and enjoying the stunning view. One sunny morning Ady and I sat under our parasol reminiscing on how we used to go to the pub across the road from us on an early Friday evening each week after work for a drink in our pre-parent days and talking of pub lunches in beer gardens in our very early days together. Ady went in to make lunch and came back out with groaning plates of food and a pint of cider each. Pretending our garden is in a pub and having a lovely lunch is now our sunny day treat once a week or so.

Scarlett and I have been night sky gazing a fair bit. We watched the two recent supermoons, did some satellite spotting and have been gazing at Venus which is super bright in the night sky just now. We have also been enjoying the night time wildlife of the bats swooping around and the owls calling. On a good night I can do a passable owl call and often get a hoot or two back in reply which always delights us. This week we took flasks of hot chocolate with us and watched sunset and moonrise at the beach over the loch which was just magical.

Like so many others we have managed to stay in touch with friends online. Davies and Scarlett have long conducted most of their social life via video calls and online chats and actually I too have made and maintained many friendships online but have been enjoying weekly group video calls with one set of friends, we spent a virtual evening with friends in America recently and the friend who was supposed to be here collecting her son and I still shared a few drinks and a catch up chat thanks to the internet.

an evening in hats.

A bit of a catch up on what we have been doing and what we should have been doing.

We hope this post finds all our readers doing OK in these strange, strange times.