One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Santa Swim, Brrrrr Island

There was a bully of a breeze blowing as I changed into my wetsuit at Burgh Island for our Christmas Eve swim. It’s a wild and beautiful spot, juxtaposed with the identikit bungalows littering the cliff at Bigbury on Sea, and the famous, Art-Deco Burgh Island Hotel. People who live around here all wear navy-blue baker-boy hats and clothes decorated with anchors, but I suspect that most of them don’t go into the sea.

White horses in abundance and a murky, slatey-blue sea beckoned and several Santas, a few silly hats and some slightly more sensible swimmers skipped into the festive fizz which glittered intermittently. Prize for the funkiest outfit goes to Jackie, who managed to look glamorous with blue skin in a giant white hair pom-pom and a Santa mini-dress. JJ started in a Santa suit, then realised it wasn’t possible to swim round in it so stripped to reveal a wetsuit. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had hitched a lift on my head, but he sadly became waterlogged and floated off towards the shore on his own. Hopefully he won’t be too cold to fly later on.

The dippers bobbed and swam around for a while and then went off for hot drinks, while eight of us decided to swim round the island. Jo, Sophie and I floated off to look at the famous gully which we were hoping to navigate. The sea was huge on the windward side of the island though, and the gap was largely invisible thanks to churning froth and spume. 

We headed back out from the rocks. I felt myself being flung around by the waves, many of which were pointed like snow-capped mini-mountains. A couple broke over me, some directly into my mouth. Occasionally a cold wall of sea walloped me in the head so hard that I was knocked backwards, my ears brimful and the sound of the ocean fading to an echo. When I rolled to breathe I had to look before inhaling. The feeling is exhilarating and occasionally scary;  you swim along, and suddenly you’re flung one way, then another, then you stop dead, engulfed. You’re picked up and lifted skywards before plummeting into the trough of a wave.

I glimpsed the others around forty yards away, and swam towards them. Then I saw Sophie briefly illuminated by a flash of sunlight against the dark cliffs, swimming along the crest of a huge wave with her blue fins waving, like a crazy mermaid. The wave smashed into the rocks and Sophie vanished behind the next swell and I didn’t see her again.

On the seaward side of the island, the rollers came at us from behind and we had a bit of a turbo charged surf towards the hotel. The sun broke through again and I felt the warmth on my chilled face and saw the bubbles made by my stroke mingle with the foam and turn silver in the turquoise sea. Some of the shore team waved from the top of the island.

We tried to reach the beach through the rock reef, but it was too rough so we headed back out and round the edge. Talking to Kirsty I was slurring my words and realised my mouth was frozen. We looked around but still couldn’t see Sophie. Then, after a few minutes, she reappeared in the shallows with JJ in tow, having lured him to Mermaid’s Pool, a serene oasis beside the hotel.


Mother Duck aka Pauline

Fellow Swimmers Through the Rough

Kirsty, Stephanie, Dave, JJ, Sophie, Jo, Lauren

Best and Least Suitable Swimming Costume


Santa’s Elf


Crazy Christmas Mermaid


Lured onto the Rocks


Chilled to the Bone

Jo Elf and Safety

Brrrrrr Island Pun © 



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5 thoughts on “Santa Swim, Brrrrr Island

  1. Fabulous!! Well Done All! x

  2. Great read – almost swallowed up by the waves! Been round myself in pretty hectic conditions but never in that kind of temperature so hats off to you all!

  3. I really like your writing style, excellent information, regards for putting up : D.

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