The shipping forecast has been saving lives at sea since 1967, when it first appeared in The Telegraph, before being broadcast on BBC Radio. As an island nation, the United Kingdom is surrounded by some truly awesome seas and powerful tides, many of which are famous for their cold ferocity and enticing depths, where many a seafarer has lost their life. The Beaufort Scale (calm to hurricane) and the Sea State, (scale of wave heights ranging from smooth: <0.5m to phenomenal >14m), are carefully studied by the Met Office, but are highly changeable thanks to Mother Nature. Portland, Plymouth, Cromarty, Fair Isles, Fastnet and Viking, are some of my favourite sea areas, either from a personal connection or simply because I remember their names. My family originates from Portland and we love to visit the family’s fisherman’s hut on the Bill (the end of the island), for brief escapes from London life! Out to sea, not too far from the cliff edge, is a particularly treacherous area, known as the Seven Tides. I spent hours watching the rough water with my grandfather, who told me many fishermen’s tales as a warning against venturing out.
I have spent considerable time in the sea over the years; surfing, swimming and exploring, and have been left with both vivid memories and scars from the force of the water. Our oceans demand respect, so being able to swim is such an important life skill. This is particularly essential for us here in Kew as we are so close to the River Thames, with its tidal currents, and other huge ponds and lakes in local parks.
This is why Swimming is a core element in our curriculum, offering opportunities to learn competence in the water and building confidence and fitness, which also supports other aspects of school life. Time in the water gives children an awareness of their own capabilities and our Tuesday morning lessons provide a safe environment for continuous learning and practising technique. The benefits of swimming to children are well known, developing strength and muscle, coordination and balance, lung capacity, resilience and boosting well-being.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a pool at my prep school. I remember the pride of being awarded my 5m badge, soon followed by the 10m one. The challenges grew and I recall how tough I found treading water for 3 minutes to achieve the life-saving medal. But with hindsight the perseverance demanded, even in the chill of winter, equipped me and my brothers to tackle more extreme sporting endeavours in our later years. In 2012, my twin brother completed the Talisker Atlantic Row, a 3000-journey from the Canary Islands to Barbados. He could certainly not have done this without being able to swim and, although this is a story for another Thoughts from the Study, the small steps he took as a six-year-old in swimming lessons proved a firm foundation for this impressive accomplishment.