I revisited a previous stage in my cold swimming mind-over-matter journey the Sunday before last, the stage where you question your sanity for wanting to get into cold water that everyone else is appreciating from a dry, sensible distance. It was eight days since Windermere and the Big Chill swim and I had been pretty ill for most of them, quite suitably, with a stinking ‘cold’.
I had been looking forward to this sea swim though, been keen to get well in time to do it. And I almost was.
Just as I mostly recovered from the cold, I also mostly recovered from the normal person perspective on jumping in the sea in February.
The sunlight was low and sharp at Boscombe beach, a pool of surfers were hanging and bobbing about on the west side of the pier, lots of couples were out with their dogs for Valentine’s Day. If only the canines knew how they feature in this special day of romance. I think they would be flattered.
The sea took me away from the beach, away from Dorset, all the way to the furthest shores and deepest waters, it took me to the weirdest sea life and tallest ships. And for a few minutes of breast stroke in gentle waves I was on holiday from the world as we know it.
At nine degrees, it probably was a good place to ease back into the open water instead of a pond in Hamsptead which would be more like four or five. I certainly wasn’t out to test the limits of my immune system.
I had a support team of my friend and her one-year-old son. He kissed pebbles as I swam, and my friend had my once humble scarf, now convenient but ineffective swimming towel, at the ready for when I came out. Which was not long after I got in.
After the swim the leisurely holiday feeling stretched out as the shadows lengthened and everything grew a warmer colour. In the shelter of the thin wall that runs down the middle of Boscombe pier, I sat on the wooden decking with my support crew and ate chips and drank tea with a huge post-swim appetite.
My theory is that we have evolved to want to eat so much more after swimming because fat makes you more buoyant. Just a theory.
We had a side-on view of the surfers in the water, never getting closer to the shore but hoisted up and then down a level by passing waves now and again as they waited to catch a breaker.
Then my friend pointed out a couple of smudges of rainbow either side of the sun. This baffled me as it went against how I understood rainbows to be formed. Such spectacles of light spectrums sit on the opposite side of the sky from the sun, generally.
Turns out these were sun dogs. Perfect, vibrant smudges of rainbow, equidistant from the sun and level with it above the horizon. Apparently they are caused by the sunlight refracting through ice particles high up in the atmosphere.
But that fact risks distracting from the romance of these sun dogs. Like a celestial reflection of the happy canine’s role in the special day enjoyed by lots of lovestruck couples, these two were perfectly paired in their sky world, separate but brought to life by a single, higher force of nature.