Sunday, 22 September 2013
Finally –D for Dip Day - The North East Skinny Dip
The instructions in the string of emails from Dip Central were to park at the Druridge Bay Visitor Centre and to make our way either by a five mile road trip in shared cars, or by a two mile walk along the beach to Diptopia, the centre of skinny-dipping operations. The actual baptisms were to take place at sunrise – at 06:45 hrs and it would be best if we were there by 06:00 for any necessary beaurocracies to take place. As it would be an hour’s walk (ish), 05:00 had top be the start time from the car park and, in order to get the 55 miles or so from Pie Towers, I would have to leave by 03:30, which, since once I’ve gone to bed, getting up again at 02:30 would have been unlikely, it would be best if I just stayed up and drank coffee – so that’s what I did.
I found the car park eventually. There was a small Dippers campsite, complete with snoring and dogs trying not to bark as I crunched by on the gravel. I met a few lurking figures – who turned out to be locationally challenged press photographers. I showed them my map – an old OS map which hadn’t got the main A-road on it since it had been re-aligned in nineteen echty blob and got on with the job of marching South into the night – a full and very bright moon on my right and a flat calm sea lazily flopping onto the sand on my left. Druridge Bay by moonlight, on such a warm and balmy night was a joy, and that alone would have been worth all of the expended caffeine reserves. I must do this walk again – by moonlight, maybe on a frosty winters night….
Eventually I arrived at the dip site where just a dozen or so shadows were mooching around. I checked in at the reception and sat on a WW2 tank trap to await developments. Gradually people arrived and quietly wandered about. The sea continued with it’s laconic slapping of the flat sands and bit by bit the sky lightened.
More people arrived with a cool breeze. The organiser asked if anybody minded if she “got naked” and took her clothes off for a photo-shoot. Nobody minded. A lad with a drum started drumming. It was irritating. His noise was just so much litter. I’m not sure what he thought he was doing, but I had a strong urge to shut him up. I didn’t. The sky got lighter and a jet stream lit up orange in the sky. There was a bit of a buzz going on. There was a sense of nervousness amongst many and whilst some were greeting old friends and joking, and the local naturists at least were being confident and friendly, many were silent. The drummer battered on and, as dawn broke, we were directed towards ten numbered markers in the sand – these were to provide reference points for locating our clothes. Announcements were made and a few shoes and socks were removed, and , the occasional t-shirt too, but , it seemed that nobody was going to be first to strip off.
Finally, the instruction came to remove clothes and, slowly at first, people began to comply. Suddenly almost everybody was naked. We did some nervous warm-up exercises and then , on a word of command, there was a noisy rush into the sea. The North sea, dear readers, is not the warmest of the world’s oceans. Internet research seemed to indicate that the best it could offer in terms of heat, happens around the autumn equinox and, at very best would be 14C. The most likely would be 12C. This, I have to say, is Chilly. Nevertheless, when a herd bolts, it all bolts, and this herd bolted, screaming, laughing and gasping, following a count-down into the cold cold briny. There was splashing and jumping about and many went for the full-length dip. Photographers clicked away all along the beach. Some made a hurried exit. I managed about ten to fifteen minutes of , basically, walking around up to the nips(ish), before I gave in and made for the shore.
Some of the dippers were obviously old hands at this cold water stuff and quite a lot of people were swimming far out. One group formed a large circle and went around and around. There was a lot of laughing. It was, in fact, quite good fun.
I got dressed, shivering along with many others. I wandered back up the beach in the warm sunshine and went home to get breakfast and, frankly, have a nice sleep for the rest of the morning.
It was the merlot made me do it. I registered on-line on a whim. It was either this or the backpackers club treasure hunt. I wanted to do both and didn’t realise the clash till much later.
One of the aspects of this that’s promoted by the organisers, is that it’s a life-affirming experience. Having done quite a bit of skinny-dipping in mountain tarns and streams and, occasionally, the sea, mainly alone, not wanting to offend anybody or get into any bother (alone with the dog!) I didn’t really understand this. But, having done it, in a crowd of nearly 200 people, and with press photographers all around, I must say that, I think I now “get it” Most people are pretty nervous about stripping off in public. There’s always that worry that your body isn’t really quite what it was, if it ever really was all that attractive – and I’d be the first to admit that my expensively acquired beer-belly is probably not my most attractive physical asset; so, in the end, I’m just like everybody else. And that’s it, really. We’re all different, and that makes us all the same. We have whatever God gave us, probably a bit worn and floppy, but that’s it. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. The life-affirming part is, of course, the act of taking off your clothes in public and then doing something ever so slightly daft, and the realisation that, apart from the old hands – the local nudists who do this sort of thing all the time – that everybody, more or less, feels the same about it. There’s a sense of relief, somehow.
And, of course, taking off all of your clothes is a little bit naughty isn’t it? Doesn’t it appeal to our mischievous side just a bit?
And then, as well as this, there’s the contact between the body and The World. Nature, that is. Reality perhaps. You know – away from the technology and the central heating and all that civilised stuff.. The sea is cold and prickles the skin. The breeze touches places where breezes don’t often get to touch. The moon finally knows who you are. The sun finally gets to greet it’s beautiful creation.
I was quite nervous about publishing stuff on the internet about my participation in this jape, but, a bit like the stripping off, once you get used to the idea, and that you realise that if you do want anybody to pay you money for doing it, you have to tell them about it. Simples, really. I was quite chuffed with the response I got – most people just said I was mad to do it, which was the response I would have hoped for.
And, sponsors have donated £200 on-line (thanks to Brian Cowling who is the latest generous donator of spondoolies) – and there’s fifty quid or so on a sponsor form back in Crook, plus family and friends donations of, perhaps another fifty quid. So, as far as Mind and the National Trust is concerned – and St Catherine’s Community Centre in Crook – I’m fairly pleased with what we’ve done.
Would I do it again? Too true I would. Next time, though, I might bivi or camp somewhere along the beach and I’d go into the water, come out and then go back in again – since this works for me in terms of dealing with the cold water (and it is cold…..) And it would be nice not to be the “unaccompanied male” – a status which might meet with some suspicion where an activity involving the displaying of naughty parts is concerned.
And, of course, Druridge Bay is a particularly beautiful piece of Northumberland coastline. It’s a huge horseshoe of a beach of flat sand backed by high dunes. At any time, it’s a fabulous spot. On a moonlit starry night it is more than magical.
Thanks to all who supported me and to Jax Higginson who organised it (and who announced she was going to “get naked” and did anybody mind?) and to those who gave of their hard-earned cash. You can still donate by the way…..
And now, back to walking……
I walked six miles altogether, by the way…