The Truth About Wild Swimming in Winter

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Over the last few months, I feel like I've got a bit more to grips with cold water swimming. Feel like giving it a try? This post will let you know what to expect, complete with my funniest photo outtakes. Feel free to laugh at my expense!

1. It's definitely not glamorous.

You pull ridiculous faces, hop about and come out covered in mud and sometimes weed. From experience, don't (in a moment of vanity) buy a baby pink swimming costume, as it will slowly but surely turn a rather attractive shade of swamp brown. On top of this, be prepared for your hands to turn to claws and your skin to go a whole variety of colours you never thought possible; scarlet, blue, purple, even yellow. But still, you look great, trust me.

Normal reaction to freezing water and shin high mud.


There is no way around it, the water feels cold. Sometimes unbelievably so. My coldest swim was on a frosty, snowy day in February and the water was hovering between one and two degrees. The air temperature was only about minus three however, which I have been assured by other winter swimmers is still positively balmy. If you're thinking about trying it, just remember to breathe and gradually work your way up to colder temperatures, and if you feel like you're being stabbed all over by a million knives, well, that's just part of the fun.

Its fricking cold.

Now even colder.

3. It's Addictive.

Cold water is addictive, fact. These days, if I don't get to submerse myself in freezing water at least once weekly then I get grumpy. If you decide to take the plunge, then be prepared that you might become a cold water addict, just dreaming of when your next fix will be. Sure, when you get out your entire body is numb all over, but once this passes you get an immense feeling of well-being. Very little compares to the elation after swimming in cold water. It's got to be one of the easiest and cheapest highs around.

Natural high (also claw hands)
4. The cold is a worthy adversary.

The cold is your friend but it can also be your enemy and will sometimes need to be thwarted. Wear ridiculous layers, bring coffee AND tea, bring a hot water bottle, get changed quickly, do star jumps, eat cake, build a fire. My winter swimming kit has now grown so large Aaron has turned in to an unwilling pack mule.

5. People will think you are nuts.

Be prepared for weird looks from your colleagues, stares from passersby and your friend's disbelief when you explain that you can't go to the pub after work on a freezing, dark and wet January day because you're going swimming. Then, when you're standing in your swimming costume on a snowy February morning, be prepared to reassure onlookers that you don't have a death wish, and this is just what you do for fun. Good luck!

6. Wild Swimming can be ugly (especially in winter).

Sometimes conditions line up perfectly; the sun is just rising, the water is silky, there's nobody else around, mountains loom in the background. And to be fair, some swims are like this, but there are also lots of the other sort of swims. Swims where the river is brown and the day is dull and cold. Dog walkers are staring and things are biting you whilst you struggle to pull on your damp swimming costume. Then, to make matters worse, you accidentally flash all the fishermen on the opposite bank. These are just some of the wild swimming realities.


7. Cold water is good for you.

When I first submersed myself in freezing water I thought to myself: this is it, I'm dying, the gates are opening, see ya later world. But actually (who would have thought it) swimming in cold water is proven to be good for you. This is supported by numerous studies and corroborated by endless anecdotal evidence. Get less colds, improve circulation, reduce stress, boost your immune system, live longer - these are just some of the claimed benefits. So whilst you might feel like you're dying when you first jump in, you're actually going to live until you're a hundred. Maybe.

Creepy crawlies galore...
8. Be Safe

The last thing I've learnt about swimming through winter is the importance of being safe. So if you do want to start cold water swimming, then it might be worth doing a bit of research first. Click here to read the Outdoor Swimming Society's top tips. 


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