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The history of sea bathing in selsey

From childhood memories of trips to the seaside to long walks in the winter sun; family picnics dodging the seagulls, diving into the cold blue sea and brushing sand (or shingle!) off your sandwiches – life is undoubtedly magnificent when you’re by the coast and Selsey is no exception.

Yet sea bathing has not always been a desirable activity. Up untiul the 1700's the wide-open waters were frightening to us and strange debris (seaweed) washing onto the beaches raised alarm. Merely walking upon the sand was, in certain places and periods of time, considered a risky undertaking. But by the 18th century, as the upper classes became preoccupied with frail health and disease – and with an increased focus on nature and natural elements as a positive force sweeping the country – outdoor activities in the fresh air were looked upon in a new light and as a way to restore a healthy balance. In many cases a simple change of lifestyle or relocation to a different climate such as the coast was viewed as a cure-all. This attitude gave rise to the age of spas with their warm, medicinal mineral springs and therapeutic bathing. By the mid-18th century, medical men began recommending cold baths as well, and thus the leap to bathing in the salty ocean, a natural place, made perfect sense.

Selsey's History

There is little documented of Selsey’s sea bathing heritage, but in terms of human connection with its shores, what we do know is that it has a long and rich sea-faring history. Stretching as far back as 1588, the Spanish Armada nearly landed here when the wind changed direction off the Isle of Wight!  And of course, like any good coastal town, smuggling took place here in Selsey, too. Stories tell of a secret passageway leading from the Old Rectory at Church Norton to the remains of a Mound, thought to have been built by the Normans.  In the 1720s one Selsey man even ran a regular ferry service to France, travelling back and forth every five weeks. 

The wide landscapes and exposed coastal location have lured artists to Selsey for hundreds of years, including Whistler and Turner. The coastline looked quite different back then of course, yet modern Selsey is just as beautiful. In my humble opinion, there was nothing quite as picturesque as the views out to sea of the old lifeboat house on a dark and stormy night.

Good reasons to dive right in

Selsey's climate is classified as warm and temperate and it’s in one of the sunniest areas of the UK and the 2018 bathing water profile is stated as ‘excellent’ by the Environment Agency and has been cited as one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ beaches in the UK for swimming . Perfect for sea bathing!  Like so many who have turned to the pleasures of running, taking a dip is another great way to switch off from the stresses of modern life. It offers us the chance to feel and seek inspiration, intuition and peace and also to be humbled by the immensity and wonder of nature. And whilst the temperature of Selsey’s beaches may be a little fresh, let’s pick up, strip off and jump in!


Wild Swimming

​Ever since the late Roger Deakin swam through Britain by river, lake and sea the term ‘wild swimming’ has been used to describe the age-old practise of swimming in natural waters – river swimming and other outdoor swimming. In our grandparents’ day swimming holes were where people learnt to swim and congregated on a summer day – to paddle, picnic and play. Today there is a resurgence of interest in this traditional pleasure and people are learning to explore their rivers and lakes for swimming again.


Wild Swim Map

This is a wonderful tool for anyone looking to try swimming outdoors in the wild elsewhere around the country. Go to this site for a map and details:

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