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Wild swimming in winter

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

I've been wild swimming in the sea for a good while now, I'll relate how I got into that later but I wrote this after a particularly chilly swim last Febrruary



I went for my morning swim, that makes it sound like I go daily; I try to go daily but sometimes the weather says no, not in a wishy washy, it’s a bit cold kind of way, but in a ‘there’s an actual gale blowing with sideways hail and it would be dangerous and foolhardy to get in the sea, especially because no one knows I’m there; even if I do have a bright orange tow float, no one is going to rescue me’ kind of way. So I give those days a miss and also the days when I have meetings at 9am, usually Fridays.

This morning I was by myself, the weather looked ominous but the sky had enough blue in it for me to go for it. Walking down the road, avoiding puddles, because I like to wear my lovely cosy boots, so my feet are warm when I get dressed - but don’t want to get them covered in mud, I check out the mountains, in the direction of the prevailing wind; weather still looks fine. When I get to the old pier, which is my swimming spot, a nicely sheltered bit of sea with a sandy beach when the tide is half out, I see the tide is not out so I quickly whip out my phone to check the handily downloaded tide table to check whether it’s coming in or out. Still coming in, I move my pile of stuff further up the rocks. Also this is handy information for knowing what the current will be doing. After a quick sip of tea, black, no sugar, I’m just in my cosie and put on wet socks and gloves- otherwise my fingers go numb after a couple of minutes, the gloves delay the numbness until upto about 8 minutes at the moment, the wetsocks are great, feet don’t feel cold at all.

As the tide is in, there is no sand so I have to hobble over rocks in the most unbalanced and ungainly fashion possible to get into the sea; once upto my thighs I do that thing that I’ve always seen keen swimmers do when they launch themselves into the water without acclimatising first and look impressive and I launch myself in. haha makes me feel hardcore, I used to be a shivering person, who felt the cold water was way too cold for me to be in, but no longer. It is very surprising how quickly you get used to the stress reaction of ‘oh my god this is freezing, run away quickly’ and it just doesn’t feel that cold anymore. It does sometimes feel peculiar dressed in just a swimming costume in the middle of February about to enthusiastically stride into the sea and I have had a few comments and strange looks, but it does feel good to do it.

Today I stayed in for about 8 minutes, that might not seem long but the sea temperature is only about 8 degrees, possibly and probably less. I don’t have a proper thermometer, I tried to take the temperature with a probe, the kind you use for food but it told me I was somewhere a lot warmer and clearly wasn’t working properly, so I rely on my friend Nic, who swims in Loch Sunart daily and takes the temperature and posts on instagram every day.

I usually stay in for about 10 minutes, my guide being to get out before my fingers hurt too much but today my gut instinct told me to get out before that so I did, I like gut instincts, always right.

By the time I had got my fingers working again, I need motor function to get dressed and had a gulp of tea to warm up and wrestled my arms out of my swimming costume and got my vest and long sleeve top on, the first heavy drops of rain were falling. A quick glance upto the hills told me a heavy shower was on its way, so I gathered up my stuff and headed for the nearest shelter, which is the campsite toilets. Heavy shower ensued before I got there but once in the shelter it turned into a god awful sideways hailstorm. Gut instinct got me out of the sea in the nick of time. A quick aside, I didn’t like walking in just wet socks, the ground was squidgy and I’m one of those people who struggles walking on grass or soft ground in bare feet, makes me feel very squeamish, except sand, sand is okay.

Back in the campsite toilets, I am sheltered so I can get dressed and warm which I do. My trousers got wet in transit so it looks like I’ve peed myself, not a good look when you’re leaving toilets and again, it wouldn’t matter as it’s February and it’s before 9am and there’s no tourists, except that there is. Two women and a dog staying in the camping cabins and they are standing outside waiting to go in. Bet they didn’t think anyone would be in as there are no other campers, so I leave looking like a cold, bedraggled bag lady who’s wet herself, haha and I don’t turn around to catch their stares.


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