There is something very soothing about the rhythmic sound of paddles dipping in and out of a calm sea, the soft lift of a swell as the tide comes in.
Kayaking would have been high on my bucket list if I’d ever thought of making one – but I was in my fifties before I finally got to give it a go.
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A friend who was experienced at a variety of water sports had promised to take me out to see how I got on before I invested in a kayak of my own. But because of both of us being busy people and the challenges of weather and tides, the event kept having to be rearranged.
The date was finally fixed, high tide was early afternoon, and it was June – but we also stay in Scotland so there was a brisk cold blustery wind and grey skies. I’m lucky enough to live by the sea overlooking a harbour and bay beyond and even in this sheltered spot the sea was very choppy. My daughter, who was staying with me at the time, was alarmed that we still planned to go out. I reassured her that my friend would only go out if it was safe and she wouldn’t take a raw beginner out on the sea unless it was okay.
As someone who has always had a healthy respect for the sea, I was worried by the size of the waves as we arrived at the shore on the other side of the peninsula where my friend lives. But I put my trust in her years of experience along with a borrowed wetsuit and life jacket. The weather was far from the tranquil warm sunny summer’s day I’d imagined for my first kayaking experience. There was a strong onshore wind blowing, and the waves looked ferocious to me. I managed to get on the kayak and was advised to keep the nose pointing into the oncoming swell. I had a strong feeling that this was madness and it was likely I’d drown but to my surprise the kayak and I stayed afloat. There was something about the exhilaration, the mix of joy and fear, and the physical challenge that hooked me immediately. Afterwards, as we dried off, my friend admitted that she wouldn’t normally go out in those conditions, but I’d waited so long she hadn’t wanted to disappoint me again! She assured me that if I could cope with weather like that then I could cope with anything.
I bought my own kayak straightaway. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be living in the house and felt it best to make the most of its position in case it was short lived. My life was in a similar turbulent state to the sea on that first kayaking try out – my marriage was stormy, and a formal separation loomed on the horizon which could involve the sale of the house.
That was five years ago, and thankfully the house has remained my home. I’ve since learnt about the rhythm of the tides, wind direction and speed, when to go out and when to stay home. It’s connected me to my environment in a way I hadn’t experienced before but most importantly it’s helped to keep me buoyant during challenging times.
I’m not an adventurous kayaker, staying relatively close to shore though even then there have been some scary moments when the wind picks up or unexpectedly changes direction. It’s made me physically a lot stronger and I’m fitter now at 60 than probably any time before in my life. But kayaking has been even more important for my mental health. Being out on the water helps to put life in perspective – it’s a humbling experience to be out on the water. I’m acutely aware of the vastness of the sea and sky, even with my home only 200 yards away. I don’t need to go on adventures, I’m most often to be seen just bobbing about in the bay. In the summer when the tide is right, to go out as the sun sets and the sea is calm is a simply blissful experience. I regularly paddle out to watch the sun going down over the village while behind me the moon is rising in a clear sky. The horizon becomes pink and it’s impossible to tell where the sea meets the sky. There’s just the sound of the paddles, the lap of the water against the kayak. There are many times I’ve been able to escape from stress, work out what’s important and return to shore in a completely different frame of mind from the one I was in before I set out.
Although I’d discovered a love of being on the water, I only added being in the water a year ago. I’d seen people sea swimming from my window, but it had never occurred to me to try it; I regarded them as mad or masochists. But in early summer last year a friend encouraged me to try taking cold showers after she’d been converted by a book by Wim Hof. I started trying it but one time after kayaking I thought instead of going home to take a cold shower, I should just have a quick dip in the sea. When I told my friend what I’d done she decided to join me, and we started meeting at high tide to encourage each other. We’ve now managed to swim most weeks right through the year though I admit I’ve always worn a wetsuit and invested in a winter one when we got to the end of October – though my friend swam in a swimsuit in all weathers.
I’ve always respected the sea and kayaking had given me a strong sense of vulnerability in the face of changeable elements, but sea swimming has taken it to another level. I don’t feel that I take risks – I’m cautious about conditions and as the beach outside my house shelves quickly it’s possible to swim whilst remaining very close to shore at high tide. I swim the length of the beach and back which takes about 20 minutes. I swim for the exercise, for the benefits of cold-water immersion, and, as with kayaking, for the way it helps to put things into perspective.
Jayne is based in Wigtown, Scotland, and runs Foggie Toddle Books and Second Sands Publishing. Seconds Sands recently published a new poetry collection by Des Dillon, which is available to buy from the Foggie Toddle website.
“Becoming a bookseller was not part of my life plan, but that’s probably because I never really had one, but writing and books have always been with me. My Dad loved reading and telling stories, so I learnt to love books at an early age (mainly to do with ponies). As a grown up I became a journalist (which was the only thing I ever planned) and years later found myself working for a small publishing company after they published my first two books; training as a yoga teacher and having children is somewhere in the mix too. I had started my own publishing company with business partner, Shalla Gray, when the children’s bookshop in Wigtown became available and taking it on seemed the logical thing to do, although I had no retail experience. I discovered I just loved being a bookseller and five years on, I am very happy to now be the sole owner of the business relaunched (just as lockdown happened – not good timing) as Foggie Toddle Books.”
You can find Jayne online here:
Our monthly flash theme for July is the water!
It’s July! You’re probably wondering where summer is as we’ve not had very much of it so far, but we’re staying optimistic and thinking about some of the creative opportunities (and perils!) of the season.
This month, we’ve turned our thoughts to beaches, water activities, and life on (or in, or near) the ocean waves. We have some content coming up on our website this month from people who have strong relationships with waterways and the sea, and we’d love to hear from you too in our monthly flash competition. If you’re aged 60+ and a sailor, watersports devotee, keen swimmer, gongoozler, beachcomber or marine life enthusiast, send us your flash entries on those subjects!
If you’re a seascape painter or photographer, send us an image of your paintings and we’ll put them on the Autumn Voices website.
We also have romance on our minds, so we’d also welcome flash entries on the subject of love and romance in later life!
Entries will be accepted until midnight on July 31st, and can take the form of a poem, short story or flash memoir as well as photographs and other images, where asked for. You can also accompany text entries with images. The winning entry will be chosen by the Autumn Voices staff team, and the winner will receive a copy of Argonauts of the Scottish Isles by Robin Lloyd-Jones.