Why I love wild swimming

One writer reflects on how a love of wild swimming helped to create emotional space and a sense of shifting energy

I didn’t love wild swimming the first time I tried it. Two sixty-somethings in wetsuits lowered themselves off the bank. ‘You first,’ offered one of them, before giving up on me and calmly easing into the water as if it was an evening bath. I threw off my dress, feeling inadequately prepared in my swimsuit and slipped my toe in. YIKES, it’s burning. Why is my toe burning? It wasn’t actually burning; I just have terrible circulation and the water was that cold. In July. I had to take the leap, push myself in. That was the only way I’d ever do it.

I’m embarrassed to say I lasted all of five minutes before ushering myself out again. The water wasn’t like it was in the Med, and something slippery touched my feet. It was cold: the kind of water that creeps all the way up to your ears and makes you feel almost breathless, slowing your brain, making you think of nothing but sheer blood-racing temperature.

But I was back in moments later. The heatwave was intoxicating and insufferable. The water was an escape.

After a few strokes, I warmed up and began to feel endorphins rushing through my body – one of the many benefits linked to the wellness craze adored by everyone from the Beckhams to supermodels. Cold water swimming has long been hailed for its holistic properties – noble Romans would gather in circular cold baths to soak in crisp water for hours, while Victorian doctors prescribed cold baths to those suffering bruises and pain.

Fast forward a few centuries and cold-water swimmers are still reaping the wellness benefits, including boosted immunity, improved circulation and reduced stress due to cold water tackling inflammation in the body.
It’s not just the fact that the water is cold; wild swimming can be a means of bathing, quite literally, in nature.

Every time I came back to the serene spot on Hampshire’s Lymington River during the hot, sticky summer, I’d float among lily pads and take in the shape of the river – all its twists and turns and sudden shallow spots; where the sun-dappled grassy banks hit the sludgy mud; past crayfish, tufted ducks and their funny little feet; beside moor chicks and meadows. I was starting to love wild swimming.

I watched others who discovered this spot too, swim down as far as they could, disappearing in the brown silty waters. Some lasted as long as I had that first time. Others took to it instantly, reveling in this little pocket of paradise that, for those of us lucky enough to find it, feels truly away from the madding crowd.

I realised, as I bathed in the shallows, the birds beginning their evening chorus, this was exactly the digital detox that my exhausted body and mind so desperately needed. This year, with a child in tow, I hope we can both find our peace where the wild things are.

Next: Walking on fire


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