Even though it’s not far from London, I’ve never swum at Folkestone before. We wind in the car round one way streets for a while, following brown tourist signs to the beach, before coming out near a packed row of cafes. A fountain spurts out water while small kids run through the twinkling jets and not an inch of the grass surrounding the play park is clear. There are so many people out enjoying the mild sunshine.
We continue round to park close to the front but away from the huge crowds, and in contrast the beach is almost quiet. There are families and old couples strolling along the path beside the shingle and a few people dotted about the toffee coloured pebbles that substitute for sand. We walk along, past pastel bright beach huts that are concrete and blocky underneath, but made pretty by the paint. Long groynes constructed of grey boulders jut out into the ocean, making sheltered bays for fishing and swimming. One of the bays is perfect for swimming, but there are a few people by the water’s edge and I like my swims more solitary, so we keep walking. But sometimes there’s a good reason why lots of people are in one place, and past this spot the sea is rougher, waves crashing hard on the stone. I accept the handful of crowd and return. As we descend to the shingle we see a sign – Mermaid Beach – and I want to swim here even more.
It gets deep fast and the water is not too jolting. It still surprises me though, the temperature. I was expecting the mildness of the tidal pool at Walpole bay, but the majority of that water sits there, warming in the sun, rather than roiling with the rest of the ocean. The water here is still enough to bring shivers up my arms as I wade and make me question the wisdom of diving in. But I push off anyway.
I kick toward the flat line on the horizon, the pale pewter light where the sky meets the sea. There’s only a few people in the water, despite my fuss about crowds, and none of them are around me. The water changes colour as the light does, the changeable British weather flicking through overcast and drizzly to sun soaked and back again. There are less sparkles on the water, the sun more overhead than slanted, but as I kick out the waves thicken and I rise and dip with them, kicking up to hold myself high before swooping down to the hollow. I turn and wave back at the beach. From here it all looks so small.
I paddle back in and the current slants me in with it till I’m almost parallel with the coast. I can hear the water sucking at the shingle where the land gives way to the foaming, rocking water. I swim out to the horizon and back again a few times. Birds spiral above and a gull dives down to land on the surface just a few feet away. It rides there with the wind, unperturbed by me, and I stop swimming to watch it. I softly splash closer, but even though the rise of the waves keeps us apart, he feels me coming, flutters his feathers, and flies away.
I’m swimming for the Alzheimer’s Society.
Please sponsor me!