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.
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.