36 hours in Ponds Forge, Sheffield. Or perhaps a bit longer.

This week the English National Swimming Championships take place in Ponds Forge, Sheffield. Last year we battled through Sheffield Wednesday supporters to just about see my daughter’s friend get gold. We were both overwhelmed by the experience – the noise, the number of spectators, the commentary, just the whole size of the place. It was different to any gala we’d ever been to.

It’s been her goal for a year to get here, but I’d say it’s the culmination of 4 years. 4 years of training first 4 times, then 5, then 6 a week. Of dashing home from school to check her phone, do her homework, gobble evening meal 1, and go to the pool – to return home to check her phone, down a pint of milk, and gobble up evening meal 2. 4 years of turning down chances to go out with school friends, and probably turning down friendships there too, but 4 years of bonding with other swimmers at the club who just get what drives her. Toughest of all, so far, was jettisoning art GCSE as the other swimmers say ‘it’s never done… you don’t have the time to do the best you can’.

Last night I sat in the car, windows open, outside the house, listening to Springsteen’s Rocky Ground. I’d just been at our first ever community clean up at the lido. Donning rubber gloves, a vicious scourer and a lot of disinfectant I’d taken on the ladies’ changing cubicles whilst others got going with paint brushes. Come 8.30pm we finished our pizzas and took to the water. Heaven. A 60 x 26m lido available for free play – no lanes, no widths or lengths to swim, just lots of jumping in and floating and looking at the clouds above. And lots of thinking about my girl and her trip to Sheffield.




Driving up felt like a real adventure. I’m not sure which of us was more excited – particularly not as we get to stay in a hotel together – or more relieved to have got rid of the car. The boys are joining us on Friday – a 6am train for them with secret bars of chocolate hidden in a washbag to see them through the early start.

People think as my twitter handle is @loveswimming and I rant on about galas I must be a pro – I couldn’t be further from it. I might have an itch about and an obsession with swimming the Channel but I’ve not had a swimming lesson since the age of 13… I’ve not got the grim determination either that she has in bag fulls.

It’s going to be odd come Friday morning. For 4 years I’ve waited til she looked across at me on the level, gave a thumbs up and then got on with being on the blocks, and then more recently as she’s more serious, waited for her to glance over at me with my officials’ kit on, for the discrete ‘good luck’ nod. On Friday I’ll be up in the stands, far away from her, and out of focus. Far from her for the after race damp hug.

Sheffield itself is awash with long limbed teenagers striding around with their mums scuttling to keep up. Like locusts they descend upon hotel buffets (‘3 croissants for now plus 2 for later in case I get hungry’)… Wagamama, Pizza Express. There is some serious carb loading to be done.

I know I’m a bit of a loose part now. I’ve done the chauffeuring, I’ve paid for the hotel, I’ve bought the kit, I’ve stocked the mini bar with as much as I could cram in, and now all I’m needed for is moral support and to pick up the tab for meals. I’ve also popped to Sheffield Waterstones – as you do if you need a nice grounding experience…

It’s dangerous being holed up here with a tupperware of crispy, chewy and buttery flapjack…


Real Channel Swimmers – have you come far? Taking on the @AspChannelSwim

I’ve been thinking about Real Channel Swimmers this week.

As I’ve completed miles 8 – 12 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/clare-hall-craggs-2017-channel-swim-10728 (this is a sponsored swim and I’d love it if you’d sponsor me for a mile or two) for Aspire and my arms have started to feel the first twinges of cold. I’ve had such a display of colours – greys, blues and bright whites – to watch above and to my side as I’ve swum outside. Those shifting displays have kept me going (and outside rather than cooped up in an indoor pool).

But what spurs on the Real Channel Swimmer, out almost alone in the sea, with just a tiny pilot boat beside to guide them, when the white cliffs have disappeared, the sky has turned black and they can’t see France? For 6 or 7 miles in the middle you can, apparently, see nothing of either country.

I thought about the four ladies I know of who’ve done it – solo – and their determination of putting one arm in the water after the other has spurned me on and turned off the voice in my head that has suggested jumping out and heading to my nearest indoor pool.


You can catch one of these swimmers, the brilliant and always smiling Parliament Hill Lido regular Sally Goble on Saturday Live – and you can find out more about another,  Jessica Hepburn who ate 21 meals with 21 women and swam  21 miles across the channel to find out if motherhood makes you happy.

I love the exchanges you get to have in, on or around the water.

‘Have you come far?’, shouted the kayaker over the water at me one very balmy day in August when we piled all into The Thames at Pangbourne for a swim.

‘No, not really.’ I replied.

‘Have you come all the way from Henley?’ (NB several miles of swimming and a few locks and probably a couple of weirs away)

‘Er, no, just the car park up there!’

Favourite Thames swimming spot near Pangbourne – but not that near to Henley

Yesterday I bumped into a familiar face at the lido, and we launched into a chat about the temperature. How far I’d swum, how far she was planning to go, how good it was now the numbers in the water were thinning out  but where had all the balmy swims at 16’C gone?  The lido becomes more sociable the fewer swimmers there are. The families with their picnics and floats, the head up keeping special hair-dos out of the water breaststrokers, the teenage packs out to impress each other, all gradually depart leaving the hardier swimmers of all shapes and sizes who might be trying to ‘over winter’ or just swim as long as they can as the temperatures drop.

I’m wondering how many of them are Real Channel Swimmers. And if one day I might just be brave enough to join their gang.


Very cheesy pic of me post mile today – apparently posting selfies will encourage people to donate??

A swimmer’s take on Chesterfield. Or, there’s more to Chesterfield than that crooked spire.

When you’re ploughing up and down, and down and up, trying to clock up mileage on the Aspire Channel Swim Challenge it’s good to have something to focus on. Sometimes I try and unpick a problem, but this week I’ve been thinking back over our summertime swims. Today took me back to a tip top one in Chesterfield.

We had a week in the Peak District with my sister and her Labrador (stars of our Chatsworth expedition) filled with walking, eating Bakewell Pudding & Pies and all kinds of other pies, and needed to drop her back to the station. Round and round the roundabout we careered in the car, failing to find the right exit for the station. They made their train with seconds to spare no thanks to an unscheduled diversion up the wrong road…

Such is my dedication to (or obsession with) swimming when going round this roundabout in Chesterfield I spied one of those brown signs to a swimming pool / leisure centre I immediately googled it. The 13 year old competitive swimmer needed to notch up some ‘sets’ indoors, and so we discovered Queen’s Park Sports Centre. 

The centre is newly built and very, very well designed. From the sparkling clean pool village to the showers (where a 70 year old offered me his shampoo when I *gently* cursed leaving ours in the car – don’t get that in London do you) to the chat at the lockers (another 70 year old odd man who grimaced when I admitted we came from London after a bit of a chat about his workout – 90 mins in gym then swim!) to the 25m pool itself.

Oh, what a marvel, we had a lane EACH and swam for half an hour uninterrupted by anyone. What bliss. It’s an 8 laner and the two of us were in our own private heavens. The doors at the end of the pool were open, so fresh not chlorine-laden air was circulating, and it felt cool not sweltering. Thank you to the pool manager whose small gesture in keeping the doors open makes such a difference to the swimmers (and presumably his life guards too).

When we’d done our laps the Super Swimmer offered up some training tips. At the end of 3 lengths of fly under her instruction I stood in the shallow end, wheezing away, ‘Mummy, you look absolutely knackered!’ Too blooming right.

We had fun in the play pool – just next door – where there were a series of play showers squirting water at various intensities into the pool. Ace.

Afterwards overflowing with happy endorphins, grinning from ear to ear (and wondering if it was selfish to get such immense pleasure from an individual sport and not a shared activity on a family holiday…), I spotted the king of bakeries and pie shops in the town centre, Jacksons the Bakers, so time for a supermarket-style-sweep of their pie and scone section… Broccoli and stilton, pork pie, raisin scones, cranberry scones… Pie Fest Ruled OK on Holiday.


Today I swam at Parliament Hill Lido in London in skins in 18’C water – clocking up 26 lengths aka another mile on my Aspire Swim Challenge. So far I’ve done 6.13 miles. If you’re a fan of Chesterfield swimming pool, would like to support a charity which looks after people with spinal injuries, or like reading about pie-shopping trips, may I ask you to sponsor me please?

Thanks for joining me on my journey – and if you fancy finding out more about the church in Chesterfield with the crooked spire, photographed  by David Ross, visit Britain Express.


Swimming at Chatsworth. No we didn’t use their pool.


If someone suggests you *might* be able to swim in the river in front of Chatsworth House, do you shudder, keep your clothes on and stroll over to the entry gate with your credit card, or pack your kit and head far away from the front door?

The outdoor swimmer’s bible, Wild Swimming, suggested being ‘discreet’. So we parked and meandered across the stunning parkland in the August evening’s sunshine trying to look really discreet with our towels under our arms as everyone else drove away from the house.

What fun! It was squishy and squelchy underfoot but once swimming it was utterly glorious, decadent – and felt almost like a stolen swim. Whilst there were no ‘no swimming’ signs the fine owners of Chatsworth certainly don’t advertise river swimming as part of their attractions to the well-healed visitor.

So we frolicked and swam in the river and then frolicked some more. The best view, perversely was not towards the house but away from it, where we saw a fish jump in the water and a large herd of pale coloured, aristocratic deer. I’m not sure if we were spotted from the house, as it’s hard to be discreet when your party consists of 3 adults, an enthusiastic teenager and an even more enthusiastic black Labrador. It would have helped if we’d changed before we got there. We launched the duck thermometer, which read 15’C just before Labrador Grace dived in to retrieve it, crunch.  Actually it’s more fun not knowing the temperature, so perhaps it’s best as a fetch toy.

As for Chatsworth itself, that’s for another day. There is indeed a Chatsworth swimming pool, open to members, and housed in a rather attractive building elsewhere on the estate. Another challenge might be to swim in the lake to the side of the house…. which is so beautifully photographed on this page.


Competing for recognition. Teenage twins battle it out in the pool and on the track.

Early on our children realised, unconsciously or not, that it would be a good idea to do different sports from one another. One snowy Sunday aged 3 1/2 he decided to try out at her ballet class. Dressed in blue and white striped pyjamas he gave it a go. Disaster. It was no fun at all for her to have her class invaded by her pesky brother. After that she never went to ballet again, the teacher had spent too much time praising her twin, she just couldn’t go back with or without him. So years later she took up competitive swimming, and he football later adding athletics and cricket into the mix.

Today he is utterly fed up that she won’t recognise him for his successes on the track. After the first race she couldn’t hide how impressed she was, asking him about his times, his splits and for how long he led. But now she’s not quite so vocal.

She’s fed up because he no longer congratulates her on her victories in the pool.

I think this is nonsense, he’s swift to praise when she comes home clunking a medal or brandishing a new personal best and she’s quite good at patting him on the back. But it doesn’t matter what I think, or what we say, it’s what they think that counts.

Urgh, how to encourage both children to be generous. Normally they get on pretty well, but of course as siblings they’ve got the ability to really annoy and persecute one another. We can’t draw on much experience as parents as neither of us enjoyed many podium moments when we were growing up (but I did win my first event at Durham Regatta many decades ago and I did get a medal for my Aspire swim the length of the channel swim…).

I know we don’t get recognition for many things in life, but boy does it taste sweet when you do. Whether you’ve won a new piece of business, a project you’re involved in has made a mark, or you’ve scored a new job – when people comment and notice it makes you glow, doesn’t it. When you get a medal or a gong or something more it’s all the better. I am so proud of being able to wear my British Swimming lanyard at galas now when I officiate (what?! well it shows I’ve spent hours poolside enough time swotting over the rules to qualify as a junior judge).


I fear social media makes us crave recognition, be it a like or a share or a retweet, all the more.

This post was gestated in the glorious steel lined tank of Parliament Hill Lido where the water’s up to 15’C now but no one else seems to have cottoned on that it’s warm enough to give you that #FridayFeeling


Books for swimmers this Christmas

I am late with recommendations. The dreaded Festive Flu struck me down and saw off all invitations to Christmas parties. And inclinations to bake and knead and fill the house with wonderful smells. Urg. If you’ve been hit you have my sympathies.

51tux2pnckl-_sx316_bo1204203200_Last time I did one of these round ups I got a message saying someone had read one of the books I’d talked about and it’d then made it into the kit bag of one of Team GB’s staff at Rio 2016. Who knows if  The Three-Year Swim Club helped our golden tally… like to think it might have!

I’m recommending 3 books:

Find A Way

Leap In (out in Jan)

The Outrun 

41uz8e9o16l-_sx309_bo1204203200_First up this time is Find A Way by American ultra endurance swimmer Diana Nyad. I have been somewhat mesmerised by this book and Diana’s quest. I started it, read of her first attempt to swim between Cuba and Florida when she was in her 30s, and then I got derailed in the chapters on the terrible, terrible abuse she suffered first at the hand of her father and then her coach. Gut wrenching. I went back, curious to see how she put her demons behind her, and to find out how a challenge which had defeated her as a 30 year old still held it in its powers 30 years later. Diana is an extraordinary woman. The distance from Cuba to Florida is a moveable feast as you’re utterly at the mercy of tides and currents – as you would be when attempting a Channel crossing – but we are talking over 100 miles. But unlike the ‘hop’ from France to England, she was also at the mercy of swarms of jellyfish and sharks and was forced to wear a strange garb to swim in overnight to keep her safe from all the life threatening stingers. When she undertook her crossings she also had to contend with waves, great big waves, that took her away from her support crew, and that meant she lost sight of her handler Bonnie. She swam through the night, and then another night, and started hallucinating. She swam for 53 hours. 53 hours. It took her 5 attempts until she conquered her quest aged 64.

At the back of the book is a list of all the swims she undertook and where. So 6 hours in a 50m pool or on 20.12.2012 10 hours in a 50m pool. TEN HOURS?!

After she completed her swim I remember reading of rumours that it wasn’t for real, that she’d spent time on her support boats or been somehow assisted – but I’m confident that on her 5th attempt her navigator read the tides right and they had some luck. This is the story of an incredible swimmer whose will would just not be broken.

51du-yaj74l-_ac_us160_I was itching to get my hands on a proof of Alexandra Heminsley’s Leap In (out on 12th Jan). I’m a big fan of her Run Like  A Girl which I discovered just as I was embarking on my own quest to learn to run. This new book is a searingly honest account of her determination to overcome a fear of the sea and to learn to swim well. She doesn’t stop at conquering the Pier to Pier challenge in Brighton but goes on to race – chalking up more firsts and more achievements with every swim. She is a very plucky swimmer, and when she sets her sights on something really goes for it – much as I’d love to improve my technique I’m not sure I’m quite game for swimming lessons and showing myself up to be not very good, as she does. I am lucky, my stroke technique sucks – the young super swimmer laughs at my meagre stroke length – but I  never struggled with breathing. She has to go right back and master her breathing before she can truly get going. There’s a section on technique – after reading it I tried out swimming long strokes with long leg kicks from the hips at Charlton Lido and I swear I did swim more powerfully. Alexandra goes on to race, which holds no allure for me. She tells you how it is – and reminds you that you don’t just get better, like with running you have to put the sessions in to improve. A highly recommended bedside poolside companion.

615dytwgzpl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Last up is my book of the year, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. Oh how I adored, adored this book. I bought it on the strengths of the jacket and the fact it was piled up very high in the shop. It then sat by my bed for a time until at the lido conference a fellow swimmer started raving about it so I went home to get stuck in. I loved this book so much I got my husband to read it and caught him doing as I did – going back and reading sections, and phrases aloud. This book is so good, her turn of phrase so clever, she makes you stop and pause and reread. I galloped and galloped through its pages til I was forced to go back and eat it up again. Amy’s life in London derails and she finds herself back on Orkney, the Scottish island where she grew up. Gradually she rebuilds her life, swimming in the sea amongst the seaweed and the waves. Her prose reminded me of the three trips I’ve made to the Highlands and Islands; Eigg and Mull and the swims I had alone and with the family amongst jellyfish in the clearest, most life affirmingly chilled water. Need a morsel to tempt you in – try ‘We swim in windscreen-wipers-on-highest-setting rain when we rush to get into the water where it’s dryer’….

The allure of warm water aka my lido train trip & swim in Charlton Lido

I have finished my Aspire swim challenge to swim the length of the English Channel. Team Aspire have been very generous with their encouragement and praise, I don’t think many of their swimmers continued their challenges in unheated waters into November… Due to a glitch on the system it’s not showing up as DONE, but hey I AM all done, and here I am feeling very happy after a final 6 lengths in Parliament Hill Lido. Water 6’C if you’re interested. Thank you to my very kind and generous sponsors.

That’s me all done – final lengths accomplished in 6’C. I think I will be back in there before too long… 

So what to do next? I’ve had one indoor swim. That’s the only indoor one since April. Urgh. Started off ok but got derailed when half pool siphoned off for blessed 3pm adult swimming lessons. Argh. I was yearning to swim outside again under open skies breathing in fresh air.

Charlton is in south east London, on the edge of Blackheath. So not that local to north London. But hey today my family was busy and didn’t need me or the laundry service; the boys team were off to play football and then to go watch Brighton play grown up football, and one half of the girls team was having a post-sleepover-shop on Oxford Street (and discovering just how far her pocket money won’t stretch). Did I want to stay at home mouldering over said laundry, shopping and things or would I rather finally get to Charlton. It’s been on my list for 2 years.

I phoned Charlton Lido. ‘Are you open all day?’

“Yes” came the cheery reply.

‘Is the whole pool open?’

“Yes” responded the incredulous receptionist, as if to say “well of course we are!” (Cue hats off to leisure operator Better. Other lido operators close off lanes judiciously dependent on how many swimmers are in the water, which rather defeats the fun of a lido swim when I believe there should be scope to swim solo in a lane, as a reward for swimming outdoors come rain, sleet, snow and shine.)

How liberating I thought as I embarked on the walk – tube – train – bus journey. I had just a nifty little bag with me, no whopping great rucksack concealing my single duvet sized glorious Dry Robe. No need for that as Charlton’s lido is a 50 metre beauty kept at a balmy 25-27’C through the winter.

I was so excited to get there that I got into the water a tad too enthusiastically, ignoring many signs saying ‘Deep Water’ so sort of fell in. It was extraordinary. The water was properly warm, not noticeably chlorinated (of course it was, but none of that indoor-skin-stinging-sensation), and best of all the warmth made clouds of steam to swim through. I relaxed into my first proper swim for some time, when there was no need to focus on kidding my brain it wasn’t freezing I could just switch off and get on with creating a rhythm and making my legs as long as possible.

I got out on top of the world, right up on that familiar post swim high and full of a deep, deep contentment. Thank you Charlton for feeding my lido obsession. And thank you BETTER for ensuring your entire leisure portfolio subsidises the heating at Charlton. It was glorious.

The beautiful and lovely long Charlton Lido
One happy swimmer – standing next to the words DEEP WATER…. 

A mild dose of hypothermia? Into mile 21 of my outdoors and unheated @AspChannelSwim

Today I messed up. Not big time, but big enough time. It was drizzling when I got to the lido. I clocked the temperature gauge and joked with the manager that I was trying to kid myself there’s not a big drop between 11’C and 9’C.

‘Yes there flipping is. It’s COLD today.’


I respect the lido lifeguard team, if they’re on duty they swim, come rain, snow ice and sun. So if they say it’s cold, it is. I like the way they clock who’s at the pool, they know the regulars and they ask after faces they don’t recognise. They are true life savers.

In I went. Instead of stinging, the water had a sharp burn-like edge to it. It wasn’t properly painful – that joy comes when the mercury is a little lower. We’d worked out I can complete the 22 mile Aspire challenge to swim the length of the English Channel with just 3 more swims of 16 lengths. If you’d like to sponsor me, and I’d be very grateful if you did, pop along to Just Giving. So I set out to do 10 and see how I felt. At 12 lengths I thought I’d go for 14, so I did a real spurt, then stupidly I thought I’d stay for just 2 more lengths, that’s another 120m. As I turned into the final length I did a wobble, something wasn’t right, but instead of powering to the side I carried on. I got to the end, had more trouble than normal getting into my flipflops and enveloped myself in the blue lined duvet aka Dryrobe.

In the changing room I could feel all wasn’t well. My lips were swelling, and when I tried to talk to another lady the words came out in the wrong order. Everything slowed down, I decided to take a selfie (muppet? yes).

A Grade Gold Star Overchilled Swimmer
A Grade Gold Star Overchilled Swimmer

I did another wobble on my bike and then cycled home faster than I have ever done. I got home and luckily everyone was in, so I was bundled up onto the sofa with blankets, hot water bottle and tea and then the double duvet. After 20 minutes the shivering had stopped and all was well in the world.

Lesson learned. At 9’C quit when you’re ahead. 20 minutes is 5 full minutes too long in the water. No matter how good the kit is that you put on afterwards once the body reaches a certain level of chill it needs many layers and much warmth.

Next layer - a full double duvet
Next layer – a full double duvet

In the meantime we have no hot water or heating at home. The cheery gas engineers came yesterday to install a new meter and give our appliances the once over. Apparently the fire’s flame is too high and too yellow, so they summoned the National Grid engineer who shut off all our gas at 6pm on Friday night. You can’t mess with carbon monoxide, but it would have been good if they’d disconnected just the fire. I didn’t realise it should’ve been serviced annually, so please learn from my mistake before you end up in a cold house in November. In theory our Knight in Shining Armour aka gas engineer will be here at 7pm tonight to do a service and reconnect us.

The illustrations in the gas safely leaflet seem rather apt so I’ll sign off with them – I did a good demo of the dizziness one today.

Gas safety leaflet graphics
Gas safety leaflet graphics


Ultimate solution for my cold water swimming – a humungous Dryrobe

Swimming in Crete the water was I think a steady 22’C. Back in reality in London the temperature at the lido is hovering around 11-12’C. Swimming in unheated waters under blue skies gives the biggest high, the rosiest glow and the most euphoric feelings, but it also heralds cold hands, even colder feet and the battle to get warm and get dressed as fast as possible. There comes a time when visits to the lido cease to be proper exercise and the value switches to a pure mental kick; I go there now solely endorphin rush. And because I can.

Sunday was a dull dank day. A post holiday in the sun kind of damp day with wispy bits of fog in the air. Not one of those glorious autumn days with sun streaming through the leaves. The water did not look enticing. Temperature was a steady 12’C. All the better then for trying out my new secret weapon against the cold – a giant Dryrobe. This is a piece of clothing, a hooded cloak, with a fleecey, wool-like lining which you put on the minute you get out.

I rolled the robe up and shoved it into a rucksack. A decent sized rucksack, so much so it looked a bit like I was embarking on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, complete of course with thermos and mug.

There’s nothing discrete about this as an item of clothing, it’s enormous, big enough to keep on and change underneath. I felt a bit of a wuss as I walked past the 20 or so swimmers – none of whom were sporting wetsuits – clutching my enormous robe.

I did my 20 lengths, got out of the water, as ever a bit wobbly slipping my feet into flipflops and then oh golly, I put it on and was completely enveloped by it. I realised as I put my trousers on that my back and shoulders were warm. No more avoiding the man spreaders in the sauna, clearly all I need is my trusty new piece of kit to warm me up.

The difference between my last two lido swims – and the past half dozen – is that when I left the lido building I was warm. No need for a jog, and no sign of chattering teeth. I left with such a spring in my step I started thinking of swimming through to December, into the New Year and beyond, safe in the knowledge my waterproof duvet would be waiting to envelope me poolside…

The scene at lunchtime today – taken whilst sporting my new kit


The DryRobe was given to me very kindly by Simply Swim UK. They’d spotted I’m doing the Aspire Channel Swim and offered me a piece of kit to test drive. I’m particularly grateful to them for it as I embark on the last few miles – and lengths – of my challenge.

Scores on the doors are heading South


A week in the sea – in Crete – with jammy dodgers for post swim breakfasts

Oh the excitement of returning to a holiday destination. When the almost teenager says, ‘Ah I can feel the relaxation’ as she stands at the door of the aircraft, looking out across the runway, after we land. There’s none of the trepidation – will they like it, what’ll the food be like – instead the utter delight and anticipation of the return. At the hotel we are welcomed as friends by the all Greek staff. ‘How you have grown you teenagers! What can we get you? Some pasta, a pizza?’ It’s 11pm and they stay on til we are fed.

Looking out from our rooms at the dark sky studded with stars, and the darker sea beneath which we can hear gently lapping at the sandy shore. Oh thank you Hotel Ammos. Now at last the children have their oh so coveted Instagramable views…. and we have the foreign escape without cooking or washing up that we’ve been counting down to for the past year. And the breakfasts we have been dreaming of.

Homemade jammy dodgers and a slice of cucumber for breakfast, anyone?
Homemade jammy dodgers and a slice of cucumber for breakfast, anyone?

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One night we swam in the sunset. It was like no other swim. The village was backlit by the rapidly descending sun, and floating on our backs, toes to the orange orb of the sun, our feet were silhouetted amidst an almost oily sheen of deep orange and burnt pink. On the shore the wet slopes of sand were on fire, illuminated in a deep amber before each frothy wave wiped the surface clean again. No phones, no photos, instead a memory etched into our brains.

Here I swam for me and not my Aspire Challenge. No more was I swimming to clock up the metres and miles, in the quest to swim the distance across the English Channel in aid of the spinal injury charity Aspire. Having said I’d do my distance outside, it seemed a bit wimpish to finish it off in the warm waters of the Med rather than in the chilly depths of the lido.

There’s a rocky outcrop to the side of the bay, perhaps a 45 minute round trip, so twice I swam and swam and swam out to it and back for breakfast. Other days the sea was choppy and we decamped to another bay where we swam across its glassy surface.

I’ve escaped into books. Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere – so apt to be reading about an every day Syrian family whose lives were utterly transformed by the advent of fighting, to learn of prejudice and injustices, and hardships of refugee camps – and then to go into the local town and see migrants busking and selling toys and to wonder where they had travelled from and about the lives they’d left behind. And then to disappear into the depths of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun. A book steeped at first in the buzz and furious pace of urban life and then in the wilds of the Orkneys, with snorkelling amongst seaweed, winds so strong caravans are tied down with concrete blocks, and enormous personal challenges. Lying on a beach in Crete it made me long for Mull, for Eigg and to return to our family’s, and my own, adventures there.


As wave jumping replaced swimming, and the four of us played amidst the breakers in the warm drizzle, sometimes being swept up washing machine style in the waves, I realise we’re quitting Crete ahead. It has given us three magical half terms, dashing from the sea to the shower to the pool, spent in the water, stuck into books, sometimes into phones but also united around the table playing fiercely competitive games of cards. The bar’s been raised high as we start to look for another destination offering warmth, water, delicious food and a welcome as good as Hotel Ammos’s.

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As we departed from Crete we spotted a submarine in the waters beside the runway. Quite something eh.

Spot the submarine - soon to be joined by a tug
Spot the submarine – soon to be joined by a tug