Swimming with paddleboarders, minnows and seaweed – and the body that never was

Gylly beach, Gylly beach. I’ve only been here four days but I’ve swam out from your shoreline four times already. Who knew that such a place existed? I think I love you, Gylly beach.

The sand is white and unspoiled, the water clear and cool at 15c. You can feel the chill of the water seeping across from the Atlantic, but none of the power of Atlantic waves: the sea is gentle and mostly flat. No breakers here, just a calm lapping of sea onto shore. One day when I swim here the water is so still I can see the reflections of bright yellow marker buoys in the sea’s surface.

On Thursday I meet three complete strangers (prearranged) in a car park at 630am for a pre conference swim. By the time we arrive on the beach there are already several people in the water. A perfect start to the day. I can’t help myself and have another dip on Thursday evening.

Saturday morning I’m on my own, and the lifeguards cheerily say that they will watch my clothes and valuables as I wade in for a swim. Up and down along the beach I swim, eight times in all. The sun shines and an imposing large red tanker lingers on the horizon, against a backdrop of wispy clouds and blue sky. Every now and again a novice paddleboarder or two wobble uncertainly past me. Down beneath a constantly changing scene – startling piles of seaweed, wormy sand piles on the sea floor, while shoals of tiny silver minnows surround me. Every now and then a larger fish swims by, alone, – big enough to no longer need the protection of its shoal. Swimming one way I look out at ships, the other towards the beach and the constantly changing beach scenes. Mostly I look down, concentrating on the life below the surface. I pity those head up swimmers who miss this view. I swim for an hour, enthralled.

On Sunday I come again. One last swim before having to head home. The sky is grey today and there is a faint whiff of rain. The beach is busy regardless. Of course it is. To the left end of the beach a paddle board club, to the right a surf lifeguard club training tiny kids in sea safety. They dash in and out of the water rehearsing simulated rescues.

I swim and swim and float a bit, drinking this place in, and chat to anyone I bump into. “Is it always this flat?” “Do you swim all year?” “Do you know how lucky you are?” I ask. I spy a lady in a bright pink swimming cap with bright pink crocs on her feet, swimming along. We stop and exchange pleasantries. I compliment her on her cap and tell her how visible she is, admiringly. She is older than me, and rounder, and very jolly. She has an impressive bosom. In her Cornish accent she tells me a tale of a day when she and her good friend had swam out to the yellow buoys away from the shore, and how her friend had put her hand out and touched a barrel jellyfish that was so hard that she screamed, thinking it was a dead body. As we are treading water, and she is telling me this story, wide eyed, another local swims quietly up behind her and taps her on the shoulder. She screams and laughs uproariously, as do I, and as does the male swimmer who has no idea that his timing was so perfect. And there we are, the three of us, strangers, treading water and laughing our heads off. Gylly beach will do that to a girl.

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