Sensational Swimming Encounters in Europe: I AM CALGARY’S Summer of 2019

A summer holiday without a swim sounds like a sub-standard summer holiday, doesn’t it?  We endeavoured to punctuate our summer 2019 sojourn to Europe by swimming whenever possible. This blog follows closely on the heels of our previously published blogs about the modes of transport we used throughout our trip (read more in Part 1 and Part 2). This, not necessarily because it took us from point A to point B but, because it was a physical activity that was certainly worthy of a mention.

🏊 Welcombe Mouth Beach, Devon, UK

Our first swim was near the rugged Cornwall / Devon border at Welcombe Mouth Beach.  Despite the absence of beach sand and the chilly waters of the Celtic Sea, this location provided a most memorable first dip in the ocean. 

Welcombe Mouth Beach

Our bathing suits were barely sufficient to make us want to stay in the water for long. The outgoing tide, absence of large tracts of fine sea sand, rocky outcrops underfoot and lack of familiarity with the currents kept our swim short. At least we were able to notch up a legitimate first swim together. It would be worthwhile bringing water shoes and even a lightweight wetsuit if you want to swim – or even attempt surfing, as some do here – for longer.

Arriving at Welcombe Mouth Beach

We also enjoyed some relaxing downtime beneath the rocky cliffs that form the backdrop to the beach.  It was only later that we learnt from our Airbnb host that a cow had recently meandered off the edge of the cliff above and fallen to its death on that very beach while bathers looked on in gob-smacked horror.

Smiling now, but the cliffs at Welcombe Mouth Beach and other similar beaches have been known to be deadly

Even more tragically, a man had been with his family on a similar beach nearby when a rock from above had become dislodged, striking him on the head and killing him.  In our ignorance we, too, could have been unsuspecting targets of falling rocks or cows.  Strangely, no warning signs cautioning beach users are posted in these public areas. 

Needless to say, the surrounding areas were breathtakingly beautiful as we discovered on a brief hike up the nearby mountainside along the southwest coast path.

Views along the SW Coast Path amidst heather-laden hills overlooking Welcombe Mouth Beach and south towards Cornwall

🏊 Fermain Beach, Guernsey, UK

My next brisk swim was 10 days later at the protected and beautiful inlet at Fermain Beach on the Channel Island of Guernsey.  This secluded gem on the eastern coastline of the Island enjoys calm and perhaps moderately warmer waters. We swam out to the buoy some 250m off shore and were able to see the cruise ships docked at St Peter Port from there.

Returning from our swim to the buoy in the distance in the calm water at Fermain Beach

🏊 Shell Beach, Herm, UK

A few days after testing the chilly Channel waters at Guernsey’s Fermain Bay, we caught the Travel Trident ferry across to the nearby island of Herm, as mentioned in our previous blog. The Island can easily be circumnavigated on foot in a few hours using the well maintained pathways that offer spectacular views of the surrounding islands of Guernsey and Sark. Not to mention the gorgeous sun-soaked beaches that, I’m sure in stormy conditions, look significantly less appealing than what we experienced.

There are several swimmable beaches on the Island. We made our way anti-clockwise around the Island along the cliff path, eventually arriving at Shell Beach. Here we hoped to rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards from the kiosk. Sadly, they had closed for the day by the time we arrived. Determined to enjoy the azure waters we were left with no choice but to swim.

Shell Beach (left) and bay
Shell Beach panorama at low tide
Shell Beach is aptly named for the treasure-trove of shells found here

We briefly braved the deceptively cold yet calm waters off the gorgeous, sun-kissed Shell Beach for a brief swim. Once we’d caught our breaths it was amazing. For future visits we’d definitely bring our own lightweight wetsuit to be able to enjoy the water for longer.

🏊 Rhine River, Basel, Switzerland

The fourth memorable swim that we didn’t anticipate was in Basel, Switzerland.  Here we joined the locals in the ever-popular activity of floating down the Rhine River whose deep, brisk flowing waters meander through the city.  This is a peculiar sub-culture phenomenon well worth experiencing.

Friday afternoon Baselites floating the Rhine

As Calgarians, we were expecting a recreational event akin to floating the Bow, a summer activity very familiar to most residents.  However, for these two unsuspecting visitors, floating the Rhine turned out to be an extraordinary activity and fascinating experience. 

On this Friday afternoon – as with most warm summer days – locals seemed to swarm to the river banks at the end of their work day.  Here friends and colleagues meet up, change into their bathing suits, stow their valuables and clothing in water-tight dry bags, and then use these buoyant bags as flotation devices.  Wading out into the brisk river current they abandon the safety of the rocky shores and allow themselves to be swept off downstream as part of a social and communal activity. 

We were thrilled to be given the opportunity to join the throngs of local bathers and experience the invigorating waters of the Rhine. We were swiftly carried down the ~2km stretch of river to where we chose to claw our way out of the waters at the concrete steps just before passing beneath the iconic Middle Bridge.

If you’re in Basel during the summer this is definitely a memorable local activity to add to your to-do list.

🏊 Cassiopeia Thermal Baths, Badenweiler, Germany

The historic Roman bath ruins in the health spa village of Badenweiler are known to many across and beyond the region. Nestled in the mountains on the western edge of the Black Forest, Badenweiler is home to many health facilities, made famous by the warm, natural mineral springs that have attracted people to its revitalizing waters for centuries.

The historic remains of the Roman baths (left) beneath a glass domed cover at Badenweiler

Despite the ruins of the original baths now being protected and inaccessible to the public, the new and modern Cassiopeia Thermal Baths tap into the same water source that fed the original baths.

Advertising for the Cassiopeia Thermal Baths at Badenweiler

We visited here for an afternoon of relaxation and rejuvenation. Settling for the simple single-entry day pass to the baths only, we enjoyed making use of the various spacious and luke-warm jetted pools. That was until I was stung by a wasp that ended up sucking the joy and life out of the afternoon. Within an instant I became unrejuvenated, much to the concern of my fellow bathing party and the Bath’s medical staff.

While the wasp didn’t survive, I still came away with a fragile hand that throbbed for hours and caused me significant discomfort for the following 10 days! I might’ve done well to return to the Baths to reattempt achieving my pre-wasp state of relaxation, but time didn’t allow. Besides, the entry fee was pretty dear.

None the less we highly recommend a visit to these warm and soothing waters. Regrettably, no photos are allowed for guest privacy reasons. Rest assured, though, the facilities are excellent

Armed with my access key as we headed in to the cleverly organized change rooms and showers before entering the baths. No further photos allowed beyond this point.

What’s Next?

Look out for the next blog where I’ll share extensive photos and stories about some of our favourite walking escapades that contributed to the 460km we covered on foot during our vacation.

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