20/100 – Stone Bay, Broadstairs 

This is one of my favourite swims and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get here. That’s partly because I tend to forget to check the tides before going to the coast, so while I’ve visited before this summer, Stone Bay has always held more ragged rocks than water. This time, however, the sea is high enough and the yellow buoys are floating on the surface rather than lounging limp on the sand.

The water is flat and grey and the waves are middling, but even in less than exceptional weather, with less than vivid colouring, cold water has the power to transform any day into a beautiful one. It wakes you up, reminds you you’re tiny and human and breakable and strong.

I kick out a line from one buoy to the other. I’m colder than I expected and it’s only by making a bargain with myself – I’ll go to the furthest buoy and back and then I’m allowed to get out – that I keep kicking. It’s not a short journey and the wind splashes the waves at a diagonal against my face. Strands of my hair twist in front of my eyes,  whistle together and lacquer themselves to my skin. They are thickened and sticky with salt.

By the time I’ve done the distance I agreed with myself, the cold has shifted and settled to be only a thing of boundaries. My insides are warm, so I set off again. The beach feels far away, though it’s not at all, and the vast sea seems empty but for me. The white spikes of a wind farm whir on the horizon, a little bit of man in the middle of the wildness.

The tide is on its way out and I strike my knee on a rock. It’s one thing that always surprises me with swimming – that you can be afloat and blissfully unaware of the bottom when it’s only centimetres below you. To kick off I feel like the water needs to reach my waist when in reality I could probably easily swim in half that.

Looking back towards land I can see the long row of brightly coloured beach huts curled round the bottom of the cliff, the chalky white expanse stretching upwards, then crested with big-windowed, multi-balconied houses. Above even those, the seagulls whirl and call mercilessly. By the time I’m out and dressed, cold sandy red feet shoved back into boots, the water that held the round yellow orbs aloft has departed and they lie once again motionless against the jagged black rocks, waiting for the next time the water will make them dance.

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