I am still swimming every week and continuing to bore everyone by telling them about it. It’s entirely possible I’ll be de-friended by everyone I know by the end of February. I’m hoping that this doesn’t disprove the idea that outdoor swimming is a social, convivial activity, which it undoubtedly is, but given it’s incredibly difficult, inadvisable and often unlawful to meet at present, then maybe I’m not ruining it too badly.
For anyone I haven’t told (not sure who that would be), the idea behind all of this is to swim in water under 10C for ten minutes throughout the winter, donating £10 every time to Cancercare, a wonderful local charity that has supported thousands of people in North Lancashire and Cumbria, including my own family.
I’ve been at this for two months now, swimming every week and it’s unlikely February will be the end of it. However, I will stop telling everyone about it after that point. After all, where’s the glamour in swimming in April, it’ll be almost balmy. Inevitably there’s nothing special about this, lots of people engage in this type of activity for fun, and my over-riding experience is that it is fun, despite the cold, the inability to put clothes on when you can’t find your fingers, and the rather strange but inexplicably enjoyable process of shivering so hard you occasionally throw coffee over yourself.
This has been a cold winter, unusually cold in comparison with the past few years. Inevitably our ability to travel has been circumscribed by the lockdown, and arrangements I had made to swim in Yorkshire with wonderful friends and colleagues have had to be postponed. For the most part then I have swum on my doorstep in Morecambe Bay, except on the couple of occasions I have had reason to be in the South Lakes and have managed to combine these journeys with swims in Windermere.
It’s difficult to calibrate my affection for this lake, whether looking down on it from the Central fells, walking alongside it or swimming in it. I’ve been fascinated and drawn to it for nearly thirty years. The fact that it rises and falls by a good two metres on a regular basis, occasionally over-topping the private and public jetties when demonstrating its ownership of the liminal space between water and land, and in doing so provides unique possibilities to briefly ‘walk’ on the water, is just another of its attractions.
If you visit regularly, at some point you will be treated to a flyby at low level. Often these moments have little warning, just a low hum over the water breaking the quiet and intruding on the dusk light, all whirring props, shadows and then the fading whine of passing engines.
Closer to home, I have the privilege of living next to the sea, and have finally taken to learning about the tides, channels, currents, and importantly the pleasure that can be found swimming where there are many others to wave at, and occasionally have a shouty, shivery conversation with.
Now and again, we’ve also seen family, distanced inevitably, waving at us from the beach or out on walks. I have struggled with this lockdown in ways I haven’t previously, so these have been moments of relief and happiness. Even inhabiting the same area of promenade or beach, however briefly, has been some small foretaste of the possibilities inherent in the future, so we have tried to savour these opportunities when they occur.
Temperatures, which seemed important at the start of this process are now largely irrelevant, water becomes most dense at 4c as that’s when it starts to freeze. Sea water is a little different for obvious reasons. What I’ve learned is that when the sun shines, there are people around and the wind is slight, 4 degrees plus is ideal, it’s enjoyable and the time to get out is when you start to ‘lose’ your fingers.
On a different day, amongst low pressure gloom with fewer people, the water can be warmer but I’ll take much longer to get warm, as ever it seems that our limitations greet us in subtle ways.
Pretty much all the photos above were taken by Dylan Chesters, cheers Dyl!
Should you have the means and feel able to donate to Cancercare, you can do so here:
Huge thanks to those of you who have already donated. Please feel free to claim cake soon!
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