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Diary of a wandering swimmer – Swimming in the shadow of a famous castle

Kate Gillwood was born in Galashiels, Scotland, raised from three years old in Yorkshire, found herself in London for 30 years and eventually escaped back to Scotland. She was raised to swim in rivers (the Wharfe at Appletreewick, for example), open air pools (Otley) and the sea, so open water swimming is not new. She started taking part in organised events about 10 years ago, putting on a wetsuit for the first time for the Great Scottish Swim in 2011. Now living just 10 minutes from Portobello Beach, one of her favourite things is to start the day with a sneaky swim in her local waters. She also likes to explore new swimming spots and share what she finds. So, where did Kate swim today?

Where did Kate swim today?

Apparently, an ice bath following a gruelling run is a good idea, so that’s exactly what I did. As worn out, cold and tired as I was, mainly caused by the groin strain from mile 1 on, I was determined to clock up a February skins swim. This was one of those swims where you have to push yourself to get in.

This is a place of childhood memories for me, of visits to the castle and excited running across the wide-open beach. Back then, it caused me to run excitedly into the water once having fought my way into my costume. I remember the rolling waves that crash on the nearby rocks and the feel of the surf over my body. It feels the same today.

I’ve been trying to find a way of describing that feeling on my body in cold water. I’ve only managed to get to ‘a thousand soft paper cuts’ but that’s not quite right. Maybe it’s ‘thousands of small electrical pulses racing across your skin’. No matter, it makes me feel alive.

As usual I insisted on doing some kind of head-up crawl just to make sure my watch records the distance. Pointless but necessary…184m!!

The castle looking out to sea is majestic in its history. The site has been built on in various forms since the Celtic era in the mid 400s to early 500s but the core of the present one was first built in the late 900s by the Normans; since seized by the English monarch and later taken on and restored by the Armstrong family who continue to own it today. Given the very northerly English location it has seen many rulers culminating in the early name Bebbanburgh, taken from the wife of a Briton ruler in the 600s. The castle also features prominently in Bernard Cornwall’s “The Last Kingdom.”

This is the site of a swim by Roger Deakin in the famous Waterlog series so I’m in good company. I am sure, however, he made a much more graceful affair of it than my excited but clumsy wave riding.

The Endurancelife half marathon (that’s a running event, not a swim, by the way) followed by a beautiful icy dip is a day to plan in your calendar for next year. I highly recommend it. But even if you don’t fancy the run, there’s something special about swimming in the shadow of such an historic site on a long stretch of golden sand at any time, but it’s even better whilst treating your sore body.

I want to swim there too

This is of course the beach next to Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. You can get there easily from north or south on the A1 then onto the B1342 from the north or the B1341 from the south. The nearest train station is Chathill but Intercity use Alnmouth or Berwick-Upon-Tweed. The nearest airport is Newcastle. There is also a good local bus service to the town.

The current here was strong and as it is a long flat beach with a strong tide you could get pulled so be aware of where you are, what the tide is doing and if there are any rocks nearby. Because it’s a flat water beach in my experience it is relatively safe but you can still get rips so make sure you understand what to look out for. This coast is generally classed as having excellent water quality. If you get some waves, try a little body surfing!

Read about Kate's other swims

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