Cold Scottish waters
I was going to start this article by telling you that I started sea swimming a few years ago, but that’s not true. All year round, no wetsuit swimming began in 2019 but summer swimming in cold Scottish waters started decades before.
While Mum was pregnant with me, Dad built our first little family boat. It served us well on many west coast adventures and took us to many amazing swimming spots. From white sand beaches of Mull and Arisaig to the family named slimy green slalom course on a river up Loch Etive, we went in.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for introducing me to swimming in such wild and natural places. They would however, if still alive, be laughing at our world of labels and the need to call it wild. We simply went swimming.
I on the other hand, quite like the term wild, it’s how it feels. As I run down the beach leaving my civilised, domesticated self in her shore based cosy comfort zone, I feel a freedom that nothing else can induce.
The total immersion in nature does it for me. To feel so enveloped by the wild is heavenly, exhilarating, familiar and utterly fantastic, even on the days I don’t want to do it.
I do wonder too, if being fortunate enough to learn to swim in a sea water pool made a difference. My Dad taught me, my next sister down and his big brother, Uncle Andrew to swim in Portobello indoor pool in the 1960’s. It was filled from the sea, heated of course, but barely.
I loved those times. Salty sea, noisy stand on pads which operated the showers, followed by soup and fluffy white rolls at the cafe or candy floss on the promenade.
But I digress, back to more recent times. I’d heard about the local swimmers at Tralee beach, long before I joined them. I thought they were all super fit, triathlon types, and shied away. How wrong I was.
One of the many fantastic things about swimming with a gang of wild swimmers is nothing else matters. Everyone is welcome, whatever your fitness, shape, size, colour, orientation, political views etc, it is irrelevant, you are welcome.
Starting to swim weekly all year round has been one of, if not the best thing I have done in the last few years, here’s why.
It’s fun, like laugh out loud fun. I don’t know why but there’s always something to guffaw about. That’s not to say we aren’t serious, we are, and I think especially tender with each other’s pain. You can’t go swimming every week with a group of human beings and not have life’s challenges appear. It’s acknowledged but not dwelt upon, swimming is the thing we all know will help, so in we go no matter what, and we laugh.
We laugh at our still present resistant about going in, we laugh doing handstands, we laugh coming out in the wind and rain, we laugh as we do the speedy change and as we huddle with hot water bottles, hot drinks and pass around treats.
Laughing is ubiquitous with swimming in my experience.
It doesn’t fix life’s difficulties but it helps ease them. Immersion in cold water is like pressing a re-set button. Whatever difficulties we walk in with have lifted a little by the time we get out. A layer of life challenges gently washed away by the ocean. The sea offers respite, a place to let go for a while, to be in the moment, it’s a form of mindfulness.
Wild swimming is a beautiful natural thing to do for our health. We modern humans rarely live by the earth’s rhythms. For me anything that helps us lead healthier happier lives more aligned with our natural selves, is a good thing.
Although I do not profess to know the exact mechanisms by which our physical health benefits there are many doctors and scientists who do. I think we box dwelling, artificial heat and light needing humans have strayed far from the natural path of life and wild swimming is one way to begin the walk back to our true selves.
Mental and Emotional Health
Again there are experts who study these things, but from my personal experience I can see that it offers us much by way of emotional regulation and management.
Waking on a winter morning faced with staying in a cosy bed or a dip in the icy seas my mind starts chattering. There is a part who never wants to go swimming. She thinks I’m mad, I might have a heart attack or die. “No, stay in bed where it’s warm”, she implores.
It takes mental strength to get up, get the costume on and go. To traverse frozen sand in biting winds and then enter the bitterly cold sea requires mind control. I now know, I can do it. I can overcome fear. When faced with other challenges in life I tell myself, “if you can go swimming in February you can do this; you can do anything!”
Human connection is a vital part of life. The beauty of swimming with a group on a certain day at a certain time is that it never has to be arranged. Come rain of shine there will be someone there, a person to connect with, usually several.
The ease of this should not be underestimated. We live such disconnected lives, made ever more problematic by recent world events. Isolation and loneliness are rife. A swimming community is a constant source of easy connection.
We are also given the opportunity to meet people we may never have encountered otherwise. Despite our many differences of opinion there seems to be an unspoken rule of respect regarding how we discuss these.
Sadly this is not always so in general life. We live in a world where divisions grow deeper by the day. The cancel culture aided by social media echo chambers and AI algorithms channels us down more of the same, more just like me!
All swimmers are not just like me, but because we want to swim together we seem to choose connection over cancelling. We override the prevailing societal norms and have therefore deepened the connection and in-to-me-see. This is a very precious thing.
There are so many areas of life where we humans would do well to look for what binds us rather than what divides us. Wild swimming shows us the way – connect around what we have in common.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here, in blog posts and on the website Change Is Always Possible are those of the author Mairi Stones alone, and do not represent the views of any associated bodies. We do not diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. Information provided in this blog is not intended to substitute advice, treatment and/or diagnosis from qualified medical and nutritional professionals. Take what you like and leave the rest.