Wild Side

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Come on an adventure into the wild. A tale of deep dark seas, rolling waves and swimming seals.

A sudden urge to experience the open seas around Bryher, to explore, be adventurous and push my boundaries had me planning a swim from Rushy Bay, around Droppy Nose Point and into Great Par.

Graham, Sam and his buddy Benjamin were to be my support crew on kayaks, there to be moral support, offer words of encouragement and if I whimp out a lift to shore.

The evening is dull, silver white light and cloud hide the evening sun. The wind is picking up and it feels as if a storm is brewing. As I stand down at Rushy awaiting the kayakers, the cool glass clear water is rolling in, steadily creeping towards me as the tide edges up the beach.

I can see across to my right our planned route. Through Stony Par, home to Bryher’s seal population and out around the iconic seal and elephant rocks of Droppy Nose Point.

Someone once said, and maybe it’s said too flippantly, that you should do one thing everyday that scares you. As l stand there, anticipating what will be my most challenging swim yet, I wonder if scary is the right word. Surely it’s not good for you to be scared. Challenged, thrilled, pushed out of your comfort zone maybe but not scared. Today I’m certainly pushing myself.

We set off, the four of us on an adventure. The swell is noticeable and the current pushes and pulls us as we navigate our way over the rocky reef that seperates Rushy and Stony Porth. At low tide this is completely exposed, now there is about three feet of water running over it.

As we make our way into seal territory I can feel my adrenaline rising. The seabed below me is full of granite boulders and waving weed and I keep my eyes sharp and wide, on the lookout for dark shapes moving around me.

It is only when I stop and look around that I can spot the seals, watching us. A small seal is a fair way off and this is fine, I can cope with that. I swim on keeping the point of Droppy Nose directly ahead. Suddenly a call from Graham causes me to stop and I realise that there are two or three seals much nearer to us. “One behind” shouts Sam. As I turn in the water I am faced by the huge head of a large bull seal. His deep, dark liquid eyes seem to stare right through my soul. He is only about six feet away and I suddenly feel very tiny in the water and scared. Really scared. “Shit shit” I shout in a voice muffled by bubbles. I’m not sure I can do this, I feel that I want to get out of the water as fast as possible.

The small seal

How disappointed with myself would I feel if I gave into my fears and got out. I decide, battling with the voices in my head, to keep going. I force myself to put my head back in the water and keep swimming. Keep breathing, keep swimming.

The coast of Bryher slowly slips along as we reach the point of leaving the bay and heading out around the end of the rocks and into the unknown. Again my fears take a hold. The water becomes very cold, it also gets much, much darker below me and the swell begins to tower above me. It is only the encouragement of Graham and the boys, and the fact that I don’t feel like swimming back through the seals, that forces me on and out into the wild seas.

In the winter time the raging seas crash over these rocks and those images run through my head now as we round the point. It looks stunning from my seals eye view. White water is breaking over the rocks, leaving an icy blue swell rolling and swirling at its base. I try to stop for a brief moment to take in the landscape around me.

My swim is not graceful, it’s about surviving. I try to remember to breathe, roll and be as efficient in the water as possible but the waves lift and move me about like a cork and the rocks and weed loom out of the dark water, causing me to catch my breath.

The coastline continues to slip past and soon we are back at Merrick Island and I feel a sense of relief. I have been here before, I can do this now, almost home.

My swimming becomes rythmical again, I concentrate on my stroke and begin to enjoy the swim.

As we reach the shore of Great Par I have a feeling of triumph, of achievement and pure relief to be able to get out of the water. I feel sea sick, tired and the adrenaline rush has left me shaky. Apparently a little seal followed me all the way and as I turn and look back to where I’ve been, there she sits, head bobbing looking back at me.

I can’t say that I enjoyed it, not in that tranquil, mesmerising, meditative way that many of my swims are. But it was special, wild, beautiful and I’ve broken down some more fears.

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