I am 51, a Capricorn, the sign of the Goat, an Earth sign. I am a tree hugger, I like solid ground, I like to feel the Earth beneath my feet and if I’m feeling really daring – the grass between my toes. So for me to decide it’s time to learn to swim properly and with confidence is a pretty big step.
This is partly due to me wanting to have new experiences and partly due to my partner, who is an avid Open Water Swimmer. He has swam The River Dart (10km) and The River Jubilee (10km) a few times. Last year he, along with others, swam for 24 hours as pairs, teams and individuals – swimming a mile on the hour, every other hour, his friend swimming the other hours in between, in total swimming 12 hours in 24. The individuals swimming 24 miles in 24 hours. He has swam in many other events, events that are often oversubscribed, such is the popularity of the sport.
But his biggest claim to swimming fame is swimming 1 Mile in water that was under 5 degrees. Not only did he do this amazing feat, he managed to be the first one in the World to accomplish it in Iceland. The Ice Mile is also a Major ‘thing’ in the swimming world. It was pretty incredible what he did but he was also only the 132nd in the World to have done it.
So, Open Water Swimming is ‘a thing’! Who knew! I didn’t, not until I met Roger Taylor. The people who swim Open Water seem to be at their happiest when they are splashing about in a river or a lake. Some of them stop for the winter, others continue on right through the cold winter months. When we are wrapped up in our layers there is someone out there taking a dip in temperatures you’d shiver in fully clothed! This is something you can’t just go and do. The ones who continue, do so having dipped and swam through the year, continuing as the temperature drops and acclimatising themselves along the way.
Swimming in a river or a lake was a big no no when I was little and indeed, even now. I have imparted the dangers of swimming in open water to my children, often horrified to find out that they had been jumping in the local river with their mates. Didn’t they know they could have drowned?!!
But, in actual fact, if we were taught how to handle the open water, rather than it being a forbidden activity, we would look upon it in a different light.
I have, in the last year, managed to pluck up the courage to dip in a few rivers and lakes and the sea (with Basking Sharks, but I’ll tell you about that adventure another time) This did indeed require an enormous amount of courage on my part. I always have to know where I can put my feet down in case I get into trouble. I like the pool at my gym, it is the same depth all over and I don’t have to panic.
The highest temperature was around 16 degrees in the Jubilee River, Berkshire in June and the lowest was around 10 – that hurt!- in a Fairy Pool on the Isle of Skye in August (below) . I thought 16 was chilly but oh boy, there is certainly a difference!
As you can see by my face (and yes, I am wearing a knitted Minions hat) it requires a certain something. I so desperately wanted to swim to the waterfall but the pain from the cold was just too much for my brain to overcome. I went to get out but hesitated for about 30 seconds, I knew if I got out I would be so disappointed with myself, but I had to. My brain wouldn’t allow me to stay in.
You see it’s quite a mental thing (in more ways than one) getting into cold water. Except when the swimmers get in they only talk about how warm it is, 16 degrees is positively toasty to most of them, not how cold it is. You have to stay calm. Control your breathing. Getting in quick is key too, but remain controlled. If you dilly dally you are just prolonging any feeling of pain.
I joined Roger with a couple of his open water swimming friends for a full moon dip. I still find it fascinating that people turn up to a car park, get undressed and don their cossies then trudge down to the river bank and just get in. I did this, put my borrowed dry robe on trudged down to the waters edge. But as much as I wanted to get in I was still incredibly apprehensive, I only got in to the top of my thighs (or my ‘foof’) and I stopped.
I shouldn’t have stopped. I gave my brain time to think – not something I do often – and it didn’t like what I was subjecting my body to. I knew if I got in I would feel so wonderful, happy and not to mention very proud of myself, but I just couldn’t talk myself into it. I kept thinking to myself ‘right, count to three and just launch yourself into the water, you know you’ll be ok’ but I couldn’t. I just stood there like a lemon. But such is the kindness of the open water swimming bunch, they had their little swim and then came back to float about and chat to try and make me feel at ease. Roger stayed with me the whole time, even though I knew he wanted to have a swim and I so desperately wanted to swim alongside him but it just wasn’t happening that night.
That was the last time I attempted to get in before the temperature started to drop. I can’t wait for the temperature to start rising. I want to go on adventures looking for new swim spots – we did a day of that last year, 3 dips in one day topped off by a lovely meal in a pub.
This is why I want to become more confident in the water. As Roger says, if I’m comfortable in the water and don’t have to think about the water, all I will have to think about and concentrate on is getting in, in a controlled way.
I already know it will be worth it. Next time I may tell you about the Magical dips in the Fairy Pools of Glen Brittle on the Isle of Skye. Or maybe the special dip and possibly most memorable one in Buttermere in the Lake District – there were white horses on the water!