It is barely above five degrees, the wind is bone biting, the sky is every imaginable shade of grey, neighbouring Poole harbour is iced over, and more and more people are appearing in swimming trunks and costumes on Boscombe’s seafront.
No you are not mistaken these are the members of Bournemouth Spartans Winter Sea Swimming Club.
As Spartans’ member since 1968, Peter Cox, 75, put it: “We are all nuts really. We are all mad.”
“The world’s full of eccentrics and it’s quite nice that there are eccentric people around.”
Formed in 1951 by local hotelier Percy Moore and George Tailor, to encourage the healthy activity of open air swimming, the club has grown to over 50 members in the last 20 years.
“I think anything you do, whether it’s a social activity, it helps with your wellbeing, feeling good, the feel good factor,” Peter says.
“It’s quite invigorating. It gets you out the house on a Sunday morning.”
“In my case if I’ve had a stressful week at work, you come down here and you think well things are not too bad after all”.
With Spartans ageing between six and 95, the club formally meets each Sunday between October and April at the east side of Boscombe Pier.
“[Moore and Tailor] obviously liked winter bathing and a healthy sort of past time,” says Club Chairman, David O’Donnell, 68.
“Once you’ve done it you feel great. It’s one of those things once you start giving these things up you’re finished.”
“I just enjoy doing it.”
The physical and psychological benefits of outdoor swimming include:
- Little or no impact on joints;
- Improved flexibility;
- Increased strength gains;
- Creation of muscular balance;
- Increased endurance, heart and lung function;
- Balanced muscle toning and definition;
- Increased circulation, liver and kidney function;
- Rehabilitation of muscles and promotion of recovery;
- Support for many population groups enabling them to take part in exercise and physical activity;
- A more healthy lifestyle;
- A more positive attitude;
- A heightened feeling of wellbeing;
- The release of stress and tension;
- Renewed levels of energy.
“It’s a way of keeping fit and active,” says David.
“It’s not for everybody but we get a buzz out of it. You always feel better.”
“I stick to the sea every time.”
The best example of this being member Jack Willmott, 95 who joined the club in 1997.
“It’s a bit of a laugh, a bit of fun, it gets you out,” Jack says.
“You just get in and have a splash and say you’ve done it.”
“I had an old passing friend, I said to him, well it saves me going to church, well he said at least you’re getting baptised so that’s something.”
While winter sea swimming may appear to be a relatively new activity, the health benefits of Bournemouth were at the forefront of the town’s development.
Recognised in 1841 by Dr A. B. Granville, author of ‘Spas of England and Principal Sea-bathing Places’, he recommended Bournemouth in winter for those seeking a health-cure.
“Bournemouth was a new one on his itinerary. He thought it was particularly excellent and so the new version of his book the following year included a piece on Bournemouth’s health benefits which gave the town national recognition,” says Bournemouth Heritage Librarian, Michael Stead, 48.
“Bournemouth was secluded and mild and this impressed Dr Granville”.
“People started using bathing machines in Victorian times when sea bathing became popular. Bournemouth acted as an alternative resort.”
Described by Charles Darwin as being like the Patagonian wilderness and as “a Mediterranean lounging place on the English Chanel” by Thomas Hardy, Bournemouth was thought of as wild, untamed and an untouchable paradise.
The town’s motto ‘Pulchritudo et Salubritas’ adopted in 1890 highlighted its reputation as a beautiful and healthy place.
For member Ron Johnson, 67, Spartan for30 years who suffers with Raynaud’s disease, sea bathing is “extremely invigorating”.
“It makes you feel alive,” he says.
“I think, every little chemical in your body reacting to keep you alive. Once you start doing it you feel really good.”
Cold water swimmer and Spartans’ member for seven years Susan Northcott, 65, who suffers from Rheumatoid arthritis, says: “I ache all over… so when you go in, you’re numb immediately”.
“It’s totally three dimensional, you’ve got the smell, you’ve got what’s going on around you, you’ve got the sun”.
“Poole is perfect but Bournemouth is better. It’s just a wonderful place to live and die.”