The day before had been still, warm and with bright blue skies. A deep overnight frost that reached down to the edge of the sea had quickly melted away, and the crisp clear light brought the houses on Jura, the Paps — and even the snow-covered peaks of Cruachan 55 km (35 miles) away — into sharp relief. But Friday was wet, grey and misty, and even the outline of Jura couldn’t be seen. Yet the bay at Carsaig was irresistible with its extensive sandy beach exposed by one of the lowest tides of the year. We usually jump in off the jetty, or clamber down the ladder, being buffeted by the swell, but on Friday the best way in was via the slipway and an easy wade over the soft sand. What a great start!
I quite like the term “ice-cream head” as you switch back and forth between head-up breast stroke and a few seconds of crawl: the pain across the forehead returns each time it’s under the water. But the discomfort gradually recedes, and it’s only after the event that you realise you had stopped thinking about the pain and simply enjoyed the salty silky water.
By this time Lottie and I had reached the first of the exposed reefs, where a few of us had balanced in the middle of the bay at a winter low tide a few weeks before. Today, the rock was above water, adorned with common Coral Weed, Fan Weeds and a smattering of Pepper Dulse. This was the start of an impromptu seaweed survey: Lottie’s expert knowledge guiding us through (literally) the fresh growth around Carsaig Bay.
It was a bit of a tasting session too: the delicate meaty flavour of the rare Pepper Dulse was enhanced by the location, the oak-leaf-like fronds spreading out as you placed a sprig on your hands. Then we were off to the edge of the bay and the bulk of Frothy Rock: named after the tantalising summit that’s almost insurmountable because of crashing white waves during a storm swim, and which marks the boundary between Carsaig Bay and the Sound of Jura. Today it was a huge mountain range set out of the water (I exaggerate, of course, but from sea level, even one or two metres looks quite high): it was quite a scramble to reach the peak and look back to the calm waters of the bay, and out to the gentle but persistent swell in the Sound of Jura. Here we found a few periwinkles and some pretty limpets with their jagged saw-edged shells. The reef extends further across the entrance to the bay, today with its banks of kelp sticking out of the water. On we went, across to this jungle of thick branches moving about in the swell, finding that here we could also stand on the semi-submerged anchoring rocks … unusual to be able to “walk on water” on the outer reaches of the bay. The kelp is thick and leathery but already new growth of Dulse is evident, and the flavour of this crunchy pepper-like snack was rich, salty and fresh. You have to remember though to chew and then swallow when your face is above water for fear of swallowing more sea water than anticipated.
As well as the Dulse, we spotted an edible sea urchin tucked into a crevice, and a snakelock anemone. All of this enhanced by the background of Pink Paint Weed: a light pinky-white calcified seaweed encrusting the rocks. The forest kelp posed quite a challenge for swimming: breast stroke left you stranded in amongst the branches, and the front crawl was a struggle as you hauled yourself through … but that’s all part of the fun, until you beach yourself on a half-hidden rock. The best way to launch back into the Sound seemed to be feet first, on your back and supported by the branches, leaving you wallowing as if in the bath. There was the inevitable healthy dose of giggling as we bobbed around like corks.
By now it was time to make our way back towards the jetty, reflecting on the relative calm today, in stark contrast to the turbulence during our winter storm swims. A light easterly had blown up so the return swim was more bouncy; we went back via the first reef to harvest some Pepper Dulse for lunch and to gather some Sea Beech, Siphoned Fan Weed and Northern Tooth Weed for Lottie to press for her art work … then onwards to the inner reef to complete our Three Peaks Swim. The metal pole was high up out of the water, and … there we were, one equinox on from the last Tuesday evening swim of 2015, bracing ourselves for another spring and summer season of long light evenings.
I’m not sure if it was eating the seaweed or clambering onto the three peaks and then bobbing about in the swell, but I felt completely energised that afternoon! Oh no, wait, it was the extra coffee that I had when I got home … A combination of all of the above, I think!
Buoyed by that seaweedy swim, a few of us met here again for our regular Sunday morning swim, this time armed with a snorkel. The ebbing tide wasn’t as low as on Friday, but that didn’t stop us standing ankle deep in water out in the bay, and resting on the benign Frothy Rock. The seaweed was more lively for being covered, especially the Coral Weed whose fronds were dancing in the water.