Guernsey: Old school holidays

It's truly bracing. I haven't been this cold since I jumped into a plunge pool – and that was in a spa

By Maria Pieri
Published 27 Aug 2013, 12:22 BST, Updated 30 Jun 2021, 14:39 BST

My daughter is already in the water. How did that happen? She's always the one that's fearful of the cold. I'm only up to my shins and I'm absolutely freezing. Nervously freezing. If she's in, I'll have to get in at some point, I know it.

This is the English Channel. And you really do forget how cold it gets. Still, my four-year old son seems to lack the fat reserves to brave it at the moment. He's hovering – running in and out of the sea – screaming at a high pitch as the tide comes in, and running back in when it's going out.

"I want to swim," he says. "I want to go to the pool". I let him work it out as he makes a game of chasing the tide instead.

My six-year-old daughter continues to swim with two of her friends – yet I see her bottom lip has begun to tremble.

This is the height of summer — a heat wave no less — and although it may be peak season it's divinely quiet and calm. Aside from the screaming children, that is. My son veers off to build a sandcastle and I eventually have to pull my daughter from the sea and warm her up.

Shell Beach, on Herm Island, is one of Guernsey's most popular beaches. Its golden sand (and shells!) and grassy banks, coupled with crystal-clear emerald green water, are a winning combination.

Soon the children are occupying themselves playing with the shells and digging and building sand sculptures. No longer in paranoid parent mode, at least I can get into the water now.

Still, watching people submerge has become a sport. From the tentative 'walkers' who tiptoe in, trying to slowly acclimatise to the change in temperature, before dipping slowly, to those who walk in confidently before submerging themselves up to their neck. No one here has just dived in quickly, that's for sure. That probably means there are no locals bathing at this time.

Earlier in the day, our guide, Gill, was describing how there's an annual Polar Bear Swim in Guernsey on Christmas Day.

"I did the Boxing Day swim for charity this year, instead," she says.

At St Peter Port on Guernsey you can still see the Victorian seawater pools – the island's original municipal pools. "We used to swim in the pools as schoolchildren, post-Easter break," adds Gill, a regular 'outdoor' swimmer.

I'm thinking about that as the water reaches my waist, before launching into breaststroke – head above water. I'm not ready to dive in. A fellow swimmer smiles at me as we exchange a few words.

"It's okay once you get in completely," I lie. "You just have to keep moving."

She's laughing. Soon, she's the one with her head under the water.

I'm in awe of people who swim the English Channel – even covered in goose fat. I can see I won't be in the water for long.

My skin is tingling. It's the strangest feeling of numbness, without complete numbness taking over.

Guernsey is promoting old-school holidays. And with the kids playing on the beach, and me swimming in the sea, it does seem simple pleasures are sometimes the best.

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