And beyond, the sea

Margate, 2pm, Sunday 23 June 2017

It wears its disguise well, this place. At the top of the tide, with the sea at its highest, the swell of the waves covering rocks, sand, beach — all manner of things — you wouldn’t know it was here. If you paid attention you might wonder why four rusted poles stand to attention in the water in quite that formation. It wears its disguise well.

But, today, locals and swimmers gather cheerily. A group of salty sea dogs sing sea shanties on the promenade safe above the water line; a home-sewn banner tied to a railing flutters in the stiff breeze. Gradually as the sea shanties get louder, the songs telling tales of sailors and their bravery, the sea starts to recede.

I scour the space between the rusted poles: still nothing but waves. I watch and watch, and then after what seems an age scanning the water for signs, I spot the very tops of some curved metal railings — of what I know to be the handrails to some steps leading down. The curves of the handrails peek out tantalisingly from the top of the waves, like a Victorian peekaboo show. Those gentle curves hold the promise of so much more beneath the waves.

Before long, the tide recedes further, and the tops of the walls that mark the edges of the tidal pool are finally revealed. Now the pool’s boundaries can be seen clearly — with only dribbles of sea washing over the tops of the walls.

And then there it is. The Tidal Pool in all her magnificance — the walls holding in what is left of the outgoing sea: the water trapped, contained within its walls, for us to swim in.

The swimmers and spectators have been patiently waiting for this moment, and all who will swim make their way down to the pool. Some wade in from the beach, some pick their way along slippery, seaweed-covered walls of the pool until the water is deep enough to dive or lower oneself in. Crabbers stand on the pool wall, dangling buckets, hopeful for a catch.

I had already slipped into the water, while nobody was looking, while the salty sea dogs were still singing. I wanted this tidal pool to myself. I swam from side to side, back and forth, the expanse of water calming me, the murk below, blue skies above. I needed to swim for a while alone with my thoughts, with the luxury of the space to myself. As I swam in one direction my breathing allowed me to look shore-ward to the assembled revellers, and in the other direction out from the safety of the pool to the sea and the horizon.

For a few blissful moments before the celebrations began, I swam right up to the wall, to the edge of it all, and gazed at the sea, beyond. But from within these walls, the sea outside seemed somehow bigger, wilder. I suddenly shuddered and felt happy of the company of other swimmers and the comfort of the pool walls holding me in their embrace.

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool in Margate celebrates its 80th birthday this year

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