Alastair's Tour of Britain: Cornwall

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How do you define stoicism? Is it 'putting up with agony' for any reason? What if the stoic is mad or feels no pain while doing what for others would be immeasurably brave?

Alastair Sawday swim

Alastair emerging post-swim

Well, I now consider myself a Serious Stoic. Watch the video on the Guardian travel website and let me know if you agree.

I was in Cornwall for the first leg of a UK tour for the Guardian meeting people who do interesting things. I  plunged in my (mostly) bare flesh into the February sea in the company of a handful of far madder Stoics who do this sort of thing every day.

The day was glorious but the sun beat weakly upon

Alastair Sawday swim

Alastair and swim buddy

our backs, and we were in – off Battery Rocks by the ocean swimming pool. The cold was outrageous. I paddled weakly in pursuit of my colleagues but sanity took hold and propelled me back out of the water like a cork out of a bottle.

Once out, I was so numb that it seemed churlish not to re-enter the water. So I did, but only for a minute or two before emerging in near-corpse form. Em my wife awaited me with a bucket full of warm water. My by-now friends were playing brave, though I know that most of them suffered, too.  Seventy-year old Wendy, though, feels no cold; I wondered how that talent could be put to other uses…

But our exhilaration was boundless; that is, perhaps, partly what it is all about. Nobody else in Penzance was enjoying that particular sensation. Wendy and her gang are not mad; they are brave and different. And I salute them.

That evening I had a treat waiting. I was invited to a pop-up Indian restaurant in one of our B&Bs, Venton Vean. Sixteen of us ate food more magnificent and delicate than anything I’ve had in India. A prawn thali of the most precious subtlety, then fish in coconut but so light it seemed to melt away as one gazed at it. All this, and delightful puddings were cooked by our English host and his artist friend. Double the £30 would not have rewarded them for their research, effort and genius.

Quite a day in Penzance! Adventures in Cumbria to follow…

Photos courtesy of the Guardian

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