Ella Foote meets a flock of wild swimmers on the Welsh coast
The morning I swam with the Bluetits in Pembrokeshire, the weather is what I would describe as Welsh! While I have enjoyed plenty of warm sunny days in Wales, mostly when I visit it is grey mizzle. Despite the rain, I am welcomed with colour.
SWIMSUITS AND BOBBLE HATS
This group of mostly women swimmers are no strangers to the magazine. Photos of them have appeared on the pages before. If you are a swimmer and you have visited Pembrokeshire, you have probably met and swum with at least one of the birds. We meet in the village of Solva, typically beside a car park adjacent to water. Arriving in the pouring rain, I look across the River Solva to a gaggle of people, part dressed. One woman has a multicoloured umbrella hat on her head, some gather on a beach uncovered recently by the outgoing tide and others are pulling on swimsuits and bobble hats.
The group formed like many others across the country. Two friends, Sian Richardson, and Tracey Sharratt, challenging themselves to something new. After years of taking part in other sporting events the pair decided
swimming through winter might make an interesting challenge that put less strain on their joints and wallets. They started in winter 2014 and as the temperatures dropped they squealed and whooped in the sea off the Pembrokeshire coast. A sound that was loud enough for others to hear and eventually others joined. They now have over a thousand members on Facebook from around the world.
WHOOPS, CRIES AND LAUGHTER
I follow the group, 20 of us at least, into the water. I hobble over rocks and seaweed and despite the rain, the water is still like glass, only we disturb it sending ripples out into the estuary. It is January, the water is cold. Colder as the fresh water comes down off the mountains and mixes with the salted sea. It seems easier to launch into it than wade into deeper. I can feel the pull of the river current and it smells like gloopy seaweed. There are whoops, cries and laughter.
Sian and Tracey (the woman as it turns out in the umbrella hat), swim amongst the women with pride. Both gush to me about the women who they have met, swum with, gathered together and conquered with. Sian’s daughter Ella captures the spirit and energy of the group on her camera, there isn’t a sad face in sight. They like to be known as an informal, but inclusive group. Anyone can join them anytime. The coastline they are blessed with offers the perfect play space. The gatherings are based on the simple idea of just getting into the water and enjoying the experience
If you would like Outdoor Swimmer to join your group or club for a swim, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Fave cake is vegan power balls made by Amanda
Swim spots include Porthsele, Solva, The Havens, Milford, Tenby, Fishguard and Gower
Find on Facebook The Bluetits Openwater Swimmers Pembrokeshire
Join them https://thebluetits.co/
Quick Q&A with Founding Member Sian Richardson
How did you get into outdoor swimming?
I could swim but not very well. Had always been a splasher, never heads down. I had done some marathons and ultras in my thirties so decided that a triathlon may be a good idea and learnt to swim. Tracey and I met on North Beach in Tenby on the start line of a swim event. We were both on the verge of crying with fear and caught sight of each other, wearing identical wetsuits and shaking. We got talking, swam, then found each other at the end and chatted. Did all sorts of events together over the next few years culminating in Ironman Wales (Tracey finished and I didn’t).
What inspired the group to start?
After a hellish few years of training and wetsuit swimming for triathlon and Ironman we decided to try something different. We thought ice swimming might be a good idea. We swam through winter 2014/15 and soon others joined us. Over the last five years we have grown. It’s all a bit of fun so you only have to swim with us once to become a Bluetit or Bluebell (male swimmer). We have many Facebook groups, The Bluetits Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Gower and Cyprus! Some women daily dip, some swim once a week. No rules, no expectations from anyone, all free to come and go as they please.
What are the group ambitions for the next year?
I did an Ice Mile last year and Tracey is about to attempt her first in the next few weeks. If she is successful she will become the first Welsh woman to complete the Ice Ironwoman (Ironman and Ice Swim). There are a few Bluetits interested in this challenge and we offer help and support through the training. Out of all the endurance events I have ever done the Ice Mile was the quickest to complete but is up there with the toughest. There will be adventure swims with tow-floats and picnics for anyone interested, a relay around Ramsey Island and a charity swim this November.