Is THIS the world’s coldest, cruellest sea?


IT’S IN OUR NATURE to want what we DON’T have and to not want what we DO have. 

As evidence, witness the recent hot spell which we all initially welcomed like some long-absent friend, but eventually tired of as it sucked away our energy, left lawns parched, rivers and lakes cracked and dry and had us sweating like pigs in broken-down trains and offices when the overloaded air conditioning gave up. 

Worse, as night-time temperatures refused to drop below the 20s we couldn’t sleep. Sodding weather! We’d had enough!

What short memories we all have. How soon we forget the cold misery of March: cursing and shivering, we dreamed of warm sunshine as we donned heavy coats and hunched ourselves up to face the freezing al fresco rigours. Sodding weather!  We’d had enough!

And what in March would be some kind of torture — being forced to eat an ice-cream outdoors — within a month or so became an irresistible pleasure.

The recent hot, stuffy weather has tempted me into the sea. Even in the hottest of temperatures, those braving the plunge along the North East coast I calculate to be 0.001 per cent of the population. Of these, the majority never go in beyond their knees, squealing in goose-pimply horror as the cold water shocks their skin. 

Even in the hottest of spells the North Sea refuses to warm up. Those few seconds each side of full immersion remain among the most existentially challenging experiences known to humankind.

Occasionally I have waded out to mid-thigh depth, closed my eyes, counted to three ready for the shock of submersion. . . then chickened out and run for shore. This doesn’t always happened: normally I take the plunge.

Once submerged, the temptations is to leap straight back up. This must be resisted; within ten seconds (best to count silently) your body begins to adapt. Within 30 seconds the experience even becomes remotely bearable and — wait for it — just every now and then approaches the almost enjoyable. I normally stay in for about 10-15 minutes, bobbing about like a cork.

Sometimes I inadvertently swallow sea water, an unpleasant experience that reminds me of water’s unique split personality: from rivers or lakes it is a refreshing, life-saving drink; from the sea it is a foul-tasting concoction that would drive you mad with thirst. Thirst! From drinking water!

Once out of the sea, dried off on the beach and back home (luckily I am only two minutes away) comes the real bonus, the zingy alive feeling that reminds me that I should do this every day, an objective I will never achieve.

Resist taking a shower straight away. Salt water, despite its unattractive side, has beneficial qualities, especially for old, creaking bones such as mine. Allow these qualities to get to work.

Many people will travel hundreds of miles for a holiday by the sea, then sit on the beach and just stare. Not even a big toe is dangled therein. No-one quite knows why this is, although the best explanation comes from Elaine Morgan’s Aquatic Ape theory which argues that humans evolved from life in the oceans, something always present in our collective memories.

Cold water swimming (or in my case, cold water messing about) has been proven to be good for the heart and the circulation. I have no empirical knowledge to back up the following statement but would suggest that often it is a healthier, safer alternative than popping pills to ward off the blues.

Global warming means soon all those  Mediterranean holiday resorts will simply become too hot to handle. Holidaymakers from Spain and Greece, as well as the UK, will soon be flocking  to the likes of my beach at Cullercoats.

But here’s my small wager. No matter the extent of global warming and no matter how high the thermometer rises, that stubborn North Sea will resolutely refuse ever to turn warm.


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