We all endure the same thought process when we see people wild swimming in cold water; how? Are they not freezing? They do know this is England, right?
Yet the activity is growing in popularity all across the country, including in Lancashire.
Here LancsLive reporter Rebecca Lockwood speaks about her experience with wild water swimming – including how and why she started and how it’s helped during lockdown….
I used to think that anyone who intentionally put themselves into cold water for ‘fun’ had to be on another level of mortal-being than me or an extreme lover of cold water baths, until I started doing it myself.
Since I started cold water swimming in Lancashire, I can confidently claim that it is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and for the relationships I have.
‘It helped me accept that I can’t control everything’
Coming out of the national lockdown hasn’t been easy. Being faced with anything more than a daily walk became suddenly overwhelming to me and I found it hard to go back to the places I had spent a lot of time in before 2020 – the supermarket, my university library, Lancaster town centre, for example.
It was as if my social skills had completely slid away, often relying on my friends or my partner to place my coffee order on my behalf.
This feeling of restlessness and impending doom, and at its worst rapid breathing/hyperventilation, was not something I had ever had to deal with before 2020, so I didn’t know how to deal with it.
I’m not going to paint cold water swimming as the cure to anything; what it has done is shown me how to deal with feeling anxious.
Wild water swimming is obviously cold, and to allow yourself to acclimate to such a freezing feeling, you have to take slow steady breaths to ease yourself in. I think I underestimated the power of just stopping to breathe before going to swim in the River Lune. I felt immediately grounded in the moment and realised I had one task: swim.
The lesson learnt there is that most of the time, things are not that complicated. When it comes to returning to normal life, doubting how to interact and do simple tasks like ordering a coffee can seem miles away from choosing what Netflix show to binge during lockdown but allowing myself to focus on just one task, like I do when I’m wild swimming, continues to help me come back to life post lockdown.
‘I fell back in love with Lancashire’
At the time of writing, I have lived in Lancaster for three years. It wasn’t until I started wild water swimming that I realised how little of Lancashire I had actually seen. In fact, until I started visiting some of the popular swim spots in Lancashire I started to feel fed up with the cobbled city centre of Lancaster and the canal route I’d walk on my lockdown daily outing. I felt like I had seen everything there is to see and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Lancashire is beautiful, and that is a statement I wouldn’t have been able to endorse without having started wild swimming. It has become my reason for travelling outside of the places I know.
The Crook O’ Lune is a place that I would never have visited if it weren’t for wild swimming and it is one I am so grateful to have found. With the River Lune curling its way through grassy banks, the days spent swimming in the Crook O’ Lune have made me fall back in love with Lancashire and I can’t wait to see more of the county as I find new places to swim.
‘It’s best not to do it solo’
General safety advice for wild swimming is usually topped with the number one tip of not going alone. Perhaps for some serious wild water swimmers, this piece of advice could be ignorable – I’m sure there’s plenty of benefits to taking yourself, and only yourself, for a cold water swim.
For me, going to swim in these wild water spots with my friends has only strengthened our relationships and for some reason there is this great sense of pride whenever you see one of your friends submerge themselves beneath the cold, often green, water you’re spending the day beside.
Essentially, going for a wild water swim with your mates is not so different to any other day out. You might read this and think of hundreds (possibly dry) alternatives that make you feel closer to your mates and proud of their strength and ability – but I’ve found that finding new places together feels an incredibly intimate experience, as if you’re the first to have ever ventured into these places, and there is so much joy in the shared pride of exceeding your own expectations.
How to make sure you’re swimming safely
The RNLI’s top tips are:
Be prepared – Check the weather conditions and tides – because this may affect your plans.
Ensure you go to a familiar place and seek advice from a health care professional especially if you have underlying health conditions, particularly cardiac, and are going to experience cold water immersion for the first time.
Never go alone – Always go with a buddy. Open Water swimming and cold water dipping has a fantastic community feel about it and it is much more fun going with someone else so you can look out for each other. It is also important to tell someone on shore when you expect to be back so they can call for help if you are overdue.
Acclimatise slowly to avoid cold water shock – It is important to enter the water slowly and allow time for your body to get used to the cold. Don’t jump or dive straight in, as this could cause cold water shock. Ways to do this are to splash your face, back of your neck and try not to hold your breath.
Always be seen – Wear a bright coloured swim hat and consider using a bright coloured tow float.
Stay within your depth – The sea can be unpredictable and staying withing your depth will reduce the chance of getting into trouble.
Always swim parallel to the shore as the wind and currents can push you off course, and it is important to keep an eye on your exit point. Remember water is always moving.
Float to live – If you get into the water too quickly, you may experience cold water shock. If this happens, fight your instinct to thrash around. Instead, relax and float on your back until you can control your breathing and the shock passes.
Call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard if you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble.
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