Trying out Swimrun for the first time

zen and g

It is the better part of a day to get from Street, Somerset to Bantham, Devon by horse and cart. My grandfather made the journey for the first time in 1908 – he camped on the beach and never wanted to ever go anywhere else on holiday ever again. In 1956, his wife bought a beautiful house overlooking the bay for £11,000 (behind his back and against his frugal Quaker principles). 

The same journey is a couple of hours by car now and I first got swept down the tidal estuary in my mums tummy with our dog Kyla scratching at her back. Today this little slice of South coast heaven continues to hold our wider family transfixed. All my Grandfathers descendants and cousins call it home from home. Walking, surfing, sailing, fishing, picnicking, painting, kissing, running and swimming.  But very rarely does anyone do those last two together. 

Since Asher met the Swim Run gang in Sweden, we’ve been talking about setting up our own little Swim Run (private at first) around Bantham and Burgh island. Could we really swim from the main beach to the island? We’d been told many times how dangerous swimming across the bay was due to the rip tides etc…

Could we then make it over the island, swim up the other estuary, over the top and back across the avon and back (we are still dreaming up all sorts of silly routes)?

Last week, while down there for my fathers birthday - who made his Bantham debut in 1936 and as an enthusiastic amateur painter has cast his eye over nearly every nook and cranny of the scraggy shorelines – especially the iconic ‘long stone’ that sits proudly off the southern beach head.  Get the rip wrong while trying to swim across to the bay and you can easily be swept left past the ‘long stone’ and in the direction of France.

zen and g v3

With all these thoughts in mind, I decided to do a little recce with our new Shiba Inu puppy, “Zen Dawg”. We picked him up, a few weeks old, in November from a council estate in Wolverhampton and so he had never seen a river, let alone the sea and has yet to experience summer! On with the old wetsuit, Vivobarefoot trail shoes and an extra long lobster pot mooring rope leash, I set off over the ham and down onto the beach. The tide coming in and we skipped round the filling up pools on the main beach until we hit the mouth of the river. Zen froze (it was freezing – but sunny) and I tugged on the lobster pot rope (leash). All 4 claws screamed into the wet sand and as I reeled him in he yelped, I scooped him up and jumped into the river. 

It was cold and the current was flowing – it was intense for both of us. We both clawed and gasped at the water and were swept up the river as we crossed – Zen ended up mainly on my shoulders frantically assessing when he could make a swim for shore. Panting but strangely refreshed we were suddenly up and running out across the sand spit to Burgh Island. Zen was shaking off sea water for the first time and was immediately back in full gallop.

The run up to the top of the island is steep and this little 5 month old puppy basically pulled me up the hill (I was sweating). The sun beamed as we crested the old smugglers dock, past scooped out bays and round the Burgh Island hotel (where Agatha Christie wrote some of her famous tomes). In a way this was perfect Swim Run training:  a team of two joined by a 10m rope (in this case 17m) and on the way back up the estuary we had 3 more swims to complete before we got home.

Zen was having none of the swims – we ended up with Zen clambering round the rocks as I swam (floated on my back cajoling him) punctuated with brief unavoidable splashes and back up on the rocks.Of course, the connecting rope often snagged and the big skipping motions untangle us became a sport in itself. 

For the final long swim across the estuary Zen literally clambered on top of my head clawing my neck and testing my buoyancy to the last – it became a close call between throwing him off to be re-clawed and just leaving him there to sink me. It was intimate, bonding and a lot of fun. I loved the sensations of oscillating between hot & cold, horizontal & vertical, fast & slow, stuck & free… 

I’m dreading swapping Zen for Asher – I fear I’ll be dragging him back a bit. The great thing about a dog is that ultimately you set the pace. With Asher I fear that I wont’ get any help being pulled up the hills and might end up clinging onto him as we battle out the first Otillo in the Scilly isles this June of which Vivobarefoot is a proud sponsor and yours truly is a masochist entrant (training is underway ;)


Vivobarefoot are proud sponsors of Otillo Swimrun.



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