Six ladies go for an early dip in Devon’s waters at Orcombe Point, Exmouth

PUBLISHED: 12:35 17 February 2015 | UPDATED: 17:35 17 February 2015

Sunrise swimmers at Orcombe Point, Exmouth

Sunrise swimmers at Orcombe Point, Exmouth


NATALIE MILLAR-PARTRIDGE dons her wetsuit to join six intrepid ladies for their daily sunrise swim at Orcombe Point, Exmouth

Photography by James Millar

It seemed slightly crazy - the thought of submerging myself in the November sea when the air temperature is little over nine degrees. It wasn’t a particularly welcome thought, especially first thing in the morning.

But for Wendy Smith, 55 and her fellow swimming companions, bounding into the waves and swimming out around the headland is nothing out of the ordinary. Quite the contrary, it has become a daily ritual the group of hardy sea swimmers are now accustomed to and have been enjoying for the past four years.

Every day of the year, at 7am, Wendy meets with her friends Polly Woodward, 60, Danielle Stoakes, 61, Sue Chalkley, 62, Julie Thomson, 55 and Jenny Wilmott a 78-year-old great grandmother. The group gather at the furthest point of Exmouth seafront, Orcombe Point, change into their swimsuits and pink swimming caps before jogging down to the shore where they wade into the water, whatever the weather or temperature. For these ladies there is nothing outrageous or heroic about what they do, it is merely just a part of their daily routine that they relish and say sets them up for the day ahead. They begin swimming breaststroke out near the headland, chatting away before returning swimming front crawl.

I, however, do not bound into the water but skit around at the edge shrieking whenever a wave breaks over me. Eventually, after the group have been swimming for around ten minutes or longer, I find the courage to wade in, though not without trepidation. The water is bracing, even in my wetsuit and within minutes both my hands and feet feel numb. Further out to sea, the group are swimming and laughing whilst singing verses of Delilah and songs by the Bee Gees, even performing handstands and happily posing for some pictures in the waves. I have nothing but admiration for these courageous ladies as I take in the scene.

Photos taken by James MillarPhotos taken by James Millar

Wendy, who drives half an hour from Exeter every morning for her swim, believes it is the most fantastic way to start the day. “Every day the landscape changes and you notice something new the sunrise is often breathtaking. When you hit the water, all thoughts of anything else are banished and it’s just you, here and now in the moment; you can leave everything else behind. For me it’s both an exhilarating and cleansing experience. It’s the best way to start the day and always puts me in a happy frame of mind. No matter what the day ahead may hold, I feel ready to tackle it. I would recommend it to anybody.”

The general routine for the group consists of a 20-minute swim depending on how cold it is, followed by hot coffee at the edge of the beach to warm up, sometimes with a freshly baked cake. Sue usually cycles half an hour from her home in Exmouth with Jenny walking a brisk 30 minutes either side of the swim to her house. When asked how they cope with the temperatures on the coldest days Jenny tells me that her body has now become aclimatised. This lovely bunch are all-weather swimmers come rain, wind or hail, nothing will stop them from having their early morning swim.

Wendy admits: “There are passers by that think we are crazy to swim in the wild sea in all weathers, but I seriously believe it helps us to stay healthy and fit, and the best thing about it is we’re having fun at the same time.”

Occasionally the group have a guest swimmer join them and they all agree that nobody has so far been disappointed with the experience. “They always leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.” says Polly who cites Orcombe Point as being the most beautiful place she has ever swam. Wendy and her friends hope that they can be seen as an inspiration to others. They welcome anyone to come along, even if it’s just for a one-off swim with them. “There are so many fantastic beaches in Devon, it simply should be tried. I hope we can inspire other women to get a group together and take the plunge,” Polly enthuses.

Sunrise swimmers at Orcombe Point, ExmouthSunrise swimmers at Orcombe Point, Exmouth

I’d certainly go again and recommend anyone to give it a try. It not only woke me up but was an assault on my senses like nothing else and definitely a truly enlivening experience that I’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else. With such beautiful Devon coastline on my doorstep I’d be crazy not to take the opportunity again.

Why go wild sea swimming?

Chilly water activates cold sensors all over our bodies which in turn increase heart rate and give us that ‘alive’ feeling.

Sunrise swimmers at Orcombe Point, ExmouthSunrise swimmers at Orcombe Point, Exmouth

The cold sensors also trigger a sudden burst of adrenaline that diverts our attention away from aches and pains, creating the feel-good factor. It is effectively a natural painkiller.

Research shows that repeated exposure to cold water over time may increase the way our bodies cope with physiological stresses.

A Czech study found that people who immersed themselves in cold water three times a week experienced a significant increase in their white blood cell count - immune cells important for fighting off infection. Researchers put this down to cold water acting like a mild stressor, activating the immune system and giving it a work out.

Sea water is rich in magnesium which promotes the retention of moisture in the skin.

The British association of Dermatologists has found that symptoms of eczema are reduced in children when exposed to seawater.

Sea water may also reduce symptoms of hay fever such as runny and itchy nose.

According to Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services with the charity Allergy UK, people who live by and swim in the sea tend to have healthier respiratory systems

Swimming in the sea has a massive circulation boosting effect. When we immerse ourselves in cold water the blood moves very quickly from our extremities to our major organs, and then back again as we warm up.

So whilst most people opt for a relaxing dip in the sunny warmth of the med, possibly even better for your health is a regular splash in the chilly British salt waters. It could add years to your life.

Wild sea swimming spots in Devon

Watch the sunrise over the headland at Orcombe point, Exmouth

Teignmouth main beach - even if it’s just once in the year make it boxing day when hundreds run into the sea donning fancy dress.

Off the coast of Bigbury On Sea - The Burgh round the island mile race is one to watch out for at the end of the summer season.

The charming pebble beach of Budleigh Salterton.

The tranquility of an early morning swim at Blackpool sands.

Coryton Cove, Dawlish - safe swimming in a sheltered cove.

Babbacombe bay, Torquay.

Broadsands beach, near Paington.

Salcombe, South Sands.

Hope Cove, South Hams.

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