It is one year since arriving and I am now leaving. The biggest memory I will take back with me is one year living by the water. Water is ever present in Shetland, latterly, in fog and mist but on the clear days, and even on the not so clear days, I have been swimming in the sea with a really good friend in the village, on my own and once to a magical place on the West Side on the most sparkling of days. When the fog rests across the ground, it is easy to forget the magical swimming days but even last Saturday, we went swimming in the sunshine and left the beach in the rain.
It takes a while to get ready to go swimming at the beach, and often it takes longer to sort stuff out when you get home, but I walk down the road, in the wetsuit with a jumper on top, to meet my friend and we walk and chat on the way to the beach. She has given me the confidence to really enjoy the sea, its depths, its clarity, its coldness and its power to bring me to the very present moment and feel alive.
Last Saturday, the sea was pale green, reflected from an overcast sky. Each time, the sea is different in colour, clarity, choppiness, or calmness and each time we are accompanied by different creatures, a cheeky seal or birds or a crab and sometimes jelly fish but always, and every time, it is a wonder and the sound of water is a healing property. Sometimes, the sun glistens across the surface of the water and you are part of a different world – not of land but of sea.
When the sea is pearlescent green, but still clear to the sand bed and the sky is washed out white/grey, and I wade in confidently, it is an exhilarating moment. Striding up to knee height is easy, thigh height and sea water seeps in between your sea slippers and the bottom of the wet suit climbing up your legs but it is not until the sea water reaches to the top of our legs, do you feel that you are in sea water 60 degrees north. Keep walking, do not stop. The northern temperature bites through the zip at the back of my wetsuit, flooding my bare back with an icy reminder of cold and still I keep walking until, just until, I can breathe and have stopped swearing and waving my arms around and then, surprisingly, after about five minutes of cursing and squeaking, the water warms, or my body cools – either way, body and water harmoniously exist side by side to bring the mind exactly to the present moment. When I swim, I no longer feel the coldness. It is then that the sea water laps down the neck of the suit and reminds me of the temperature
Keep going, don’t stop. I could have done more becasue I have only just begun to understand the water. I wasn’t born by the sea but it has become my ever present friend over the last year.
Keep going – do not stop, this is one of the beauties of living here. Raw, alive, cold, awake, harmonious– sea swimming at Levenwick beach, at Scousburgh Sands, at St Ninian’s and on the West Side.
Some days in Shetland are crystalline. They don’t always start that way but develop in the the most glistening of days. Swimming in this rock pool with Foula in the distance was such a day. Everything glistened and we swam without wet suits. A true and clear world was reflected back from the pool and the sky in clear colour of blue and green. On days such as this, there is no finer place to be with a great friend, astonishing beauty, no noice, no litter and a completely natural world.
And then I went home to my beautiful house, which faces the sea, with all its doors and windows open, just smiling.
Levenwick Beach is perfect for sea swimming. We wade out, keep going, swim across the bay and back again. In the summer we met a group of 10 yorkshire ladies – all sisters and aunts and cousins, who went in the sea every day on their 2 week holiday. They were also there, chatting and laughing and it is heart warming to see people enjoying this place.
One day, I went to Scousburgh, with another friend. I started swimming in the wet suit, got acclimatised then peeled it off and went back in, in just my costume. We brought the suits and shoes and gloves back in a large blue tub. It was a fine afternoon spent on one of the finest beaches in Shetland. A local group of 4 women were leaving as we were arriving. Women love the water.
And, then there is the local swimming pool. I still go every day and swim gently or hammer out 50 lengths. The women here are powerful swimmers and I’m so impressed by their strength and stamina to swim solidly like seals for an hour – me, I potter but swimming has been part of my life for 40 years or so. The pool at Sandwick has few people using it. Over the past year, attendance has grown but yesterday, I had it to myself to start with. The staff are brilliant. They know me and my routine and they are all really lovely, accomodating people. Swimming is an activity that has been my companion for a year in Shetland and for many years before arriving. All forms of water immersion are mindful.
On Thursday, A friend is coming to stay for a week from Sheffield. She wants to go sea swimming so I will lend her my suit and socks and gloves and I will borrow a suit and we will go. I will not tell her how the cold takes your breath or that you will bob up and down on your toes to acclimatise. I will be quiet so that she can enjoy her own experience 60 degrees north and hopefully take away something rare to remember. We will maybe go at late sunrise with knitted hats on.