From Malvern Hills to Castle Bay

30th June, 2017

The OSS recently asked swimmers to share swim stories and photos for a competition. While the entries are still being judged, Western Australian Swimmer Vanessa Jessop shares a little something from her part of the world.

During my childhood in England, there was a special place I liked to visit.  There I would sit and breathe.  And peacefully contemplate the transient nature of life.

This secret contemplation spot was like a castle.  Atop my grassy throne, I looked over to the vertebral range of the Malvern Hills. In between lay a patchwork of countryside.  Internally, a sense of good fortune and contentment.

After migrating to Australia as a young adult, I discovered the joy of open water swimming. Since then, my go-to sanctuaries in the outdoor world have invariably included a water component.  Now in Western Australia, I once again have a castle-like special place.  

Castle Bay sits on the protected side of Cape Naturaliste, a headland that reaches out to greet the wild Indian Ocean. Beneath the ground are sparkling limestone caves. Up above, it’s a jewelled delight. Sapphire fairy wrens cha-cha amidst the coastal scrub.  The water sparkles with diamonds.  And at the end of my swimming bay stands the signature Castle Rock, proudly cloaked in orange granite.

Immersed in the shimmering turquoise sea, I am awash in waves of good fortune and contentment. I swim with strokes of gratitude for all the kind creatures that welcome me as a guest of their realm. I marvel at their gardens of gently swaying grasses, their multi-coloured seaweed borders, their water features and creative rocky landscapes.

My limbs rejoice, my heart and lungs settle into a relaxed rhythm and my mind is open and alert.  I am a temporary visitor in this sea of life.  The waves of time will continue to flow long after I have gone.  For now, a gentle moment-to-moment awareness of my surroundings is all that I have and all that I need.  I pause to admire the silken folds of saltiness that surround me.  Towards the horizon I can see fishing boats.  Looking back to where I began my swim, the orange-clad landmark has shrunk.

I’m never alone.  There are always finned companions, parading past in their outfits of glinting silver, citrine, onyx and gold.  Only on one occasion at Castle Bay have I felt a pervasive uneasiness whilst swimming.  I followed my instinct back to the shore.  A few minutes later, as I turned to bid the sea farewell, the distinctive fin of a shark gracefully emerged.  The Lord of the Castle.

Naturally, there are days when I do not feel welcome as a guest of this sea.  Winds change, clouds roll in and Castle Bay replaces its glistening, serene moat with a garrison of menacing forces.  On these days, I find a sheltered spot amongst the turrets of Castle Rock.  Here I sit and breathe.  And peacefully contemplate the transient nature of life.  Sooner or later the weather will change and I will again immerse myself in the treasure trove that is my special swimming place.

Vanessa Jessop