Taking a swim at Whitstable beach in Kent is all a matter of good timing…
At low tide, the sea retreats so far that it almost vanishes, and miss high tide by just an hour and you’ll find your knees brushing along the bottom as you swim. But hit just the right moment to dive in and the water is deep and tantalising.
Katie May, better known as Betty Herbert, author of the award-winning blog and memoir The 52 Seductions, takes us on a voyage of discovery to her much-loved seaside home town of Whitstable for a gorgeous feel-good tale of love, life, friendship, romance… and swimming.
Filled with a cast of colourful characters, this enchanting but authentic story rolls out on a warm wave of humour and personal drama as an intrepid group of swimmers discover that a shared plunge at high tide is also a chance to share their hidden hopes and fears.
Loneliness, marriage break-ups, family pressures or just the stresses and strains of contemporary life are all observed with May’s piercing insight as we go in at the deep end at Whitstable’s famous shingle beach.
Every day broken-hearted Deb goes for a swim at high tide to try to wash away her fears over her impending divorce. She is 50 plus and has been married to Derek for 30 years but has moved out of their home and into a dingy bedsit flat in the town to try to make a new life for herself.
Now that her three children are adults, Deb is glad to leave behind feckless Derek who drinks too much and has frequent ‘flings’ with other women but inside she is feeling lost and uncertain about how she will cope.
For Deb, the sea ‘is brimming with possibility’ and it’s there she meets Maisie, a ‘kindred spirit’ and a corporate lawyer who left her husband in London three months ago and moved to Whitstable for a fresh start in one of the town’s quaint upmarket cottages near the beach.
They might be worlds apart in terms of lifestyle and possessions – Deb (ageing bikini, sunglasses) and Maisie (black wetsuit, swimming shoes, goggles) – but they form an unlikely friendship and swim together through sea-fogs, rain and glorious sunny days.
Soon, they are joined by other high tide swimmers, each with a crisis of their own to weather. Ann, a bossy organiser, is caring for her elderly mother at home, Julie has somehow managed to produce three children under school age and Chloe, a bright, brittle girl of 15, finds calmness in the water.
And when the swimmers discover plans for their beach to be paved over for a leisure complex, they discover a higher purpose that bonds them together… and suddenly exposes their fragile worlds to public scrutiny.
The lovable, eccentric Deb, level-headed Maisie and their swimming club friends can’t help but win our hearts as they wade through their personal dilemmas, but it’s picturesque Whitstable with its busy, buzzing harbour, attractive shops, distinctive alleyways and beautiful coastline that steals the show.
May brings us laugh-out-loud moments, a sparkling dialogue and dollops of heart-warming community spirit but there is also sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty in the pages of this book because real life is rarely plain sailing.
With style and wit, May manages to harness this sense of reality with a fun and ultimately uplifting story that promises hope for the future and the gift of second chances.
And if you are desperate for more time with the swimming club, why not read May’s tips for getting started on your own wild swimming, learn about interesting places to visit in Whitstable, or simply raise your glass with some of the author’s fiendishly good cocktail recipes!
(Trapeze, paperback, £7.99)