Wild Swimming #3: A Treacherous Tombolo on Gugh

Little Gugh.  No more than half a mile long and inhabited by fewer people than I have fingers on one hand; a twice-daily island when the sandbar, which joins it to neighbouring St. Agnes, is covered at high tides.

The Gugh Bar is a geographical landform known as a tombolo.  A tombolo forms where deposition causes a narrow piece of land to build up between an island and another piece of land.  The joined island becomes known as a tied island.  Geography lesson over.

It is generally safe to swim from the sandbar when it is exposed, but strong currents between Gugh and St. Agnes make swimming when the bar is covered a fool’s pursuit; even crossing the submerging sandbar on foot is perilous in the extreme.

gugh strong current gugh

I had my trusty timetable of dates and tides; I had arrived with plenty of time to spare.  The sandbar to Gugh was wide, high and expansive; a popular pedestrian route; families, buggies and all.  At such times, it seemed unimaginable that the water could close in both so rapidly and so completely to cover it again.

gugh sandbar

On the protected side of the bar, the water was clear, calm and inviting, but cold.  Bloody cold.  I know it is my regular adjective of choice, but there are few others, which fully describe the experience.  It was bloody cold.  Unlike much of the seas surrounding the rest of the Isles of Scilly, where the water is shallow and so relatively warm, St. Agnes finds itself isolated in a deep-water trench of the North Atlantic; the waters, which swill backwards and forwards through this narrow cut have travelled long oceanic journeys from chilly climes.

Despite knowing that I have time to spare, I am still aware of a ticking time-bomb regarding the tides: I want to be out of the water, on the beach, stripped, dried and changed before the waters transform my bathing/changing spot into an aquatic no man’s land.

In the end, I leave the water too early; allow myself the luxury of observing the sea close over my erstwhile swimming-place with cauldron-like, bubbling malevolence, from the safe neutrality of an al fresco table at The Turk’s Head pub, warming G&T in hand.

© E. C. Glendenny


Travel writer E. C. Glendenny knows when it is time to leave the water.


Discover where else E. C. Glendenny has enjoyed wild swimming.

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