Tidal swimming pool in Margate
Walpole Bay Tidal Pool about to peek out from under the water

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool: now you see me, now you don’t…

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool. As if playing a mischievous game of hide and seek, twice a day it slips quietly away under the water — if you should lose your concentration and look away — only to peek back up a few hours later. You have to be patient: it won’t come back until it’s ready. Sit and watch, and hope, as the tide recedes. It feels like a titillating game that, even though I know the outcome, still makes me breathless with excitement. Gradually the curved yellow hooped tops of the steps become clearer. Then, the faint outline of the walls that edge the pool can be seen — not the walls themselves to start with, but eddys and whorls created by the water flowing over the stone, whisper something is here. Soon enough, as the tide recedes some more, the outline of the walls with water rushing over the top of them. Finally. Finally. It is back in all its splendour. Peek-a-boo! As the tide rushes out, a tarrying section of the sea is trapped within its walls: tamed for our splendid aquatic entertainment.

It doesn’t always feel tame though, this place. I’ve spent the last seven days in my small, still, safe, white, and oh-so-predictable flat. Staring at a computer screen. This place is big and grey and blue and rusty and salty and windy and open. The sky is huge.

Stripped down to my swimming costume, I pick my way along the slipperly wall to reach the steps, and lower myself gingerly into the water. I wince. Exhaling slowly helps me catch my breathe. I set off for the far side of the pool — I know it takes me four minutes to traverse from one side to the other. Toes hurt, arms sting. Other than that I’m fine. God it feels good to feel alive. There are a few other swimmers in the water but they are far away. I spot the odd wetsuit here or bright hat there. As I swim I watch the shadowy silhouettes of walkers and day trippers edge slowly around the wall of the tidal pool while the tide is high. Playing chicken with the sea. I guess they are enjoying the thrill of being surrounded by water but having safe passage? Their presence makes me nervous though. What if that child and father slip?! The sea is cold. Anglers in full rubber waders stand on the furthest sea wall casting their rods out to the sea beyond. I’m glad I can’t see the sea life.

Every there-and-back across the pool I check myself. How long have I been in? How do I feel? How much more can I push myself to swim? Do I feel safe? The wind is picking up and the cold on my forearms, when they are exposed to the wind, is biting. My hands are numb. The water seems saltier than it was the last time I was here. 20 minutes pass, then 30, and 40. How much is enough? Reluctantly I decide it’s time to get out and pull myself up the steps, negotiating the thin metal rungs of the steps with feet I can no longer feel. I lumber along the wall as best I can, back to the comfort of warm clothes and hot tea and laughs and smiles of the swimmers on the beach. This wonky-shaped, hide-and-seek, pool, is all of our saviour right now.

Although I’ve been coming here, to this tidal pool, for a few years now, it always seems thrilling and mysterious to me. The sea only ever lets you swim on its own terms: it dictates where, and when, and for how long. It will let you visit but will always tell you when you’ve overstayed your welcome. Even more so this place. It seems to toy with my emotions. It flirts with me, then hides at will, then peeks out again when it’s ready, as if to test my faithfulness. Are you still here, Sally? Do you still love me? Are you waiting? Will you still be here when I come back?

I do. I am. I do. And when you hide again, I will wait, and I will wait, until you appear again. Do not doubt me. I will be here. Just you see.

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Sally Goble

Sally Goble

Swimmer, writer, eternal optimist