Fancy taking a dip in the English Channel?

Inset Pictures: Carol Mappin
Inset Pictures: Carol Mappin

Going for a dip in the English Channel doesn’t always sound very appealing but Charlotte Harding meets a woman who swims in it every day.

Dipping a toe in to the sea and enjoying a leisurely swim is something most of us reserve for summer holidays in tropical destinations, not in Sussex throughout the winter months.

“Depending how cold it is I can be swimming for five minutes or up to 20 minutes,” explains Eastbourne resident Sylvia Pettingell.

“I try to swim in between the breakwaters at the beach at least once a day.”

Sylvia’s love of swimming in the English Channel started when she was just five years old.

“My grandmother lived beside the sea at Leigh-On-Sea (in Essex),” recalls Sylvia. “During the war and the long school holidays we would go and stay with her.

“The tide came in over mud flats which were warmed by the sun so the water was always a few degrees warmer.

“All my family swam but it took me ages to take the first plunge. It was my aim to beat them all in so even then I guess I was regarded as quite brave.”

Now it seems you can’t keep her out of the water. The 79 year old admits that although her nephew enjoys attending a lido in London she doesn’t like the prospect of going to a swimming pool as she doesn’t like the ‘chlorine smell’.

“The sea is the most natural thing there is,” smiles Sylvia.

“The sound of the environment, the waves it is just always so beautiful why wouldn’t you want to swim in it?”

Swimming all year round, unless it is rough or the temperature is below five degrees which she is told by her doctor nephew ‘wouldn’t be wise to swim in’, Sylvia does say it strikes up conversations with strangers.

“People will come over and ask if I have been in, even in they can see I am dripping wet,” she laughs.

“Others ask if it is cold or why I am doing it.”

And her answer for the last question?

“I just love it,” she says.

“I wish I could explain the wonder of the feeling, the sound and sheer enjoyment of seeing the beautiful South Downs and all that wonderful sky laid out before you, it is just beautiful.”

As for the cold she explains that sometimes it isn’t always the getting in that is the hard part but the getting out.

“I went swimming a couple of months ago and the water was about seven degrees but when I got out it was only three on the beach,” she reveals.

“It can be hard walking in but once you get to a certain point and get your shoulders or torso in you find you get used to it quite quickly.”

Having lived in other parts of Sussex the seaside and the town in particular have always held a special place in Sylvia’s heart.

“We came to Eastbourne for holidays in the 1960s and then moved here in 2005,” she says.

“I wanted to be close to the sea and it gave me the perfect opportunity to get back into swimming.”

While many people may describe taking a dip as lunacy for Sylvia it is invigorating and refreshing, who wouldn’t want to start their day in that way?

Or you could wait until it gets a little bit warmer.