The perils of wild swimming in the North Sea. In April | Jack Marshall's column
It doesn’t take a particularly refined intellect to know that the North Sea in April is cold.
Even the name screams frigidity: the ‘North’ is where everything apart from the people is colder, while it’s an incontrovertible fact that seas just feel like they’re somehow colder than oceans.
I knew this. I understood the premise. British coast = cold. Even balmy April days = still pretty nippy when the sun goes in. I was prepared for ‘cold’. I was braced for it. And why was I braced for it? Because muggins here went swimming.
In the North Sea. In April.
Dear reader, it was cold. Not only was it cold - and I apologise for labouring the point - but it was roughly seven times colder than I anticipated. It was absolutely freezing; beyond freezing. It was Baltic - another famously icy sea (told you).
Egged on by a friend who spent much of the winter extolling the virtues of wild swimming - she practically made it sound like a high akin to dropping Class A drugs - I agreed to go to East Yorkshire for a swim. I packed my shorts, anticipating a life-changing adrenaline rush.
The plan was for an introductory dip in the sea before going to a nearby waterfall for some proper wild swimming; you know, the kind dodgy wellness influencers do in New Zealand.
In the car, I checked the temperature of the water. Five degrees celsius. I laughed nervously. This high had better be worth it.
On the beach, the only other living creatures in the water were over-enthusiastic dogs, which should have been a warning sign. Wistfully leaving my coat behind like a lover at the airport, I started towards the surf.
My feet immediately went numb. My knees ached as the foamy spume made its way up my legs. Waist deep, I realised this whole thing had been a horrible mistake. Like that scene in Father Ted when he’s fixing the plane, I suddenly came to my senses. Why the hell was I in the North Sea? In April?
My now-manic friend was tripping hard on the whole experience and told me to dunk my torso too, promising it’d make it all better. I did and it didn’t. It made me colder, which I didn’t think had been climatologically possible.
I turned and ran to my coat like a parent to a lost toddler in a supermarket. Not to be crude, but my nipples could have cut glass. A woman in a beanie and gloves looked at me like I was mentally dangerous.
At the waterfall, my coat stayed firmly on. There was no adrenaline rush or out-of-body high. Just cold. Almost like I’d gone swimming in the North Sea. In April.