Would you rather:
a) eat your own bodyweight in chocolate and mince pies, surrounded by wrapping paper debris;
b) flop about in front of a fire watching inane TV; or
c) plunge into the sea without a wetsuit with lots of other hardy, festive folk.
If you picked ‘c’ than Cornwall is the place to be over the festive period, as you’ll be spoilt for choice as to when and where you can join in with this curious custom.
On Christmas Eve, make your way down to Penzance’s Battery Rocks for the urban dip of choice. The place where seasoned sea-swimmers regularly brave the icy waters year-round, you’ll find the Rocks and sea-step access behind the newly renovated Jubilee Pool. And it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from several pubs and cafes for that warming hot drink, or maybe something stronger, before you head home.
The annual Hayle Surf Life Saving Club Christmas Day Swim takes place at the estuary end of the beach. Meet at the clubhouse at 10am for a 10.30am splashdown. Everyone is welcome to join in, with mulled wine, hot chocolate, mince pies and smiles all round the reward for having frozen your bits off. And no need to worry as you’ll be in safe hands. Formed in 1961, HSLSC has helped save countless lives through patrolling the beaches and training lifeguards, and is a friendly club that takes part in competitions and local community events.
A little further up there’s another dipping option at Gwithian, or you can join the throng at Sennen beach for their Christmas Day plunge at 11am. A tradition started up by Jim and Val Summerlee, who persuaded friends and family that it’d be a fun thing to do, 2013’s swim marked the 50th anniversary and was a good’n. This year’s shouldn’t be any different!
Be sure to arrive early though as the car park gets surprisingly full. You don’t want to be the numpties that were me and my kids a couple of years back, running along the seafront road clutching towels and clothes like mad things, only to make it to the sand just as everyone else was dashing back out of the water having done it already.
Doh! We went in anyway, our own little throng of five, but it wasn’t quite the same…
Locals and visitors of all ages, shapes and sizes share in this joy that is running into water with a temperature just about in double centigrade figures. If you’re lucky. But it’s a great family occasion and makes you feel both incredibly alive – your skin literally zings – and ready and raring for that roast later on. Don’t be put off by the weather, it’s do-able even in the howling wind, rain and sleet and hail. Let’s face it, it is December.
But if you really can’t face the thought of frozen feet, blue lips and hypothermia, don’t panic, as it’s not compulsory to actually get in. Spectators are very welcome, and are great for handing you your towel, hot water bottle, nip of brandy etc after. In fact part of the swim’s charm is how sociable it all is, as you chat with chattering teeth to old friends and new, and wish everyone you meet a very merry Christmas.
And as swimmers are asked to donate £1 each and watchers £2, with the money going to local charities, it’s like giving a little gift to strangers too.
If for whatever reason you can’t make one of the ‘official’ swims, why not find some sea and do a DIY version, but please ensure you do so safely. To be honest, it’s actually more a ‘get wet’ than a ‘swim’. Run, walk, wade out until you’re waist deep, then plunge you’re head underwater and sprint back to dry land. Job done.
Or there’s always New Year’s Day…
If you fancy a morning kickstart to your metabolism, here are some holiday cottages in Cornwall for Christmas that will knock your socks off.