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It’s not so grim up north, but the sea is definitely colder

Last weekend I was reminded once again how friendly and welcoming open water swimmers can be. I travelled up to Yorkshire to take part in Gr8 Events’ swim at Ellerton Lake, near Richmond (it was part of our H2Open Series North 2014). I stayed overnight with friends in Newcastle.
Before travelling I posted a message on the Facebook page of Tynemouth Outdoor Swimmers and found out when and where they swam. On Sunday morning I turned up at the appropriate beach and introduced myself to a group of people getting ready to enter the water.
In the end I didn’t swim with them as they were going to be out for longer than I wanted to be away from my family. Instead I did a shorter swim with my children and discovered an uncomfortable truth about the north: the sea is a lot colder than on the UK’s south coast. The Tynemouth swimmers thought it was around 11 degrees. The lifeguards on the beach said it was 10. Whatever, that’s significantly cooler than the 13 to 14 degrees we have down south (or 16 to 17 degrees in inland lakes) but there were still plenty of people in the sea enjoying the water and the waves.
If you are travelling and hoping to swim, I really recommend contacting a local group, even if you’d prefer to organise your own swimming. From the Tynemouth swimmers I learnt about the tide times, the direction of local currents, the location of rip tides and the need to swim out beyond the breakers to avoid some close-to-the-surface rocks. It was good to note the swimmers went in a group, told the lifeguards what they were doing (as they would be swimming outside of the narrow life-guarded area) and were using tow-floats. I’d have felt safe swimming with them.
I’d also recommend a visit to the North East as a coastal swimming destination. It’s not so grim up north as some northerners would have us believe. The terrible weather might even be a myth created to keep southerners away. Every time I’ve been it’s been warm and sunny and there are some spectacular beaches. Yes, the water’s colder, but it’s clear and if the conditions are right you can also enjoy some surfing or body surfing. I didn’t see any this time but I gather swimmers come across seals from time to time too.