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Cold Water Swimming

We’re really lucky to live so close to the wonderful seaside town of Bude and once out of Lockdown, we would often visit to stroll along the beautiful sandy beach. We had also admired the amazing sea pool while we were there, but it wasn’t until some good friends of ours suggested the benefits of cold water swimming that we’d even considered dipping in it.

We definitely took some convincing to start with. My memories of swimming in the sea as a child were walking barefoot across painful pebbles, followed by the sting of the cold water as the waves washed against my legs. Then, finally, when I was really cold, I’d get out and try to dry myself as quickly as possible with a sandy towel, as the coastal winds did their best to blow dry me. I’m not selling it am I?!

But the promise of the stress reducing properties of cold water, plus the natural high it can give you, meant we were intrigued. (We were also told the water in October is still pretty warm, but it would be apparent later that that is relative!)

Not being brave enough to go in in just swimwear, we decided if we were going to do this it would be in wetsuits and Neil managed to get a suit before me. So when we set off for the pool on a cold, grey Autumn day I was more than happy to stay bundled up in my big, cosy coat and be official photographer.

We walked across the sandy beach and up the steps to the poolside and then Neil stripped off and donned his wetsuit. Not an easy task and there was a degree of gymnastics and hilarity involved. (That’s the good thing about open water swimming, it brings out the kid in you).

Finally, looking like a cross between Batman, and The Penguin, Neil sucked in his stomach and bravely walked into the shallows. Steadily he made his way down the slope and out into the deeper water. Here he took several sharp intakes of breath as the icy water seeped into his suit, I may have laughed unsympathetically at this point.

As he continued deeper into the cold water Neil had quite a bit of trouble catching his breath, possibly not helped by the lung damage from his pulmonary embolisms, but he stuck with it until he got his breathing under control and in the end he did really well. He managed several minutes just bobbing about, (but always making sure he could reach the bottom just in case), and when he eventually made his way out of the water you could see the sense of achievement on his face.

Overcoming his fear had given him such a boost and we decided we’d make it a regular thing. So, the following week we returned to the pool, and even though my suit still hadn’t arrived, I really didn’t want to miss out. So I’d foolishly said that I was going in wearing just my swimming costume!

As we walked across the chilly beach, I’ll be honest, I started to regret my decision but when we got to the pool there were other people already swimming and I felt I couldn’t back down.

I stood at the side and stripped down to my costume, trying to ignore the biting wind. Then, thinking, 'What have I let myself in for?', I steeled myself and walked into the water. It felt cold and stingy on my legs but somehow not quite as bad as I had expected…A bit further in and as the water crept up to my waist I took a sharp intake of breath. Now, I knew how Neil had felt. Suddenly not so funny.

As I continued to walk and the water slowly rose up my body I knew that I had to get my shoulders under. So, a big breath and…Dunk! Woah! That’s bloody cold…But I did it! I’m in!

After about the first 30 seconds I steadied my breath and gradually acclimatised. It felt amazing!

It was a totally different experience to being in a stuffy, echoing indoor pool. Swimming around breathing in the fresh sea air and looking at the cliffs and surrounding landscape, with seagulls flying overhead. ‘Why have I never done this before?!’

Even getting out was OK. I was expecting to feel cold and shivery, but because it actually felt warmer out of the water it was fine…Although my skin had gone bright red like a lobster. Not the best look.

(You do of course have to be very careful cold water swimming and we took advice from the Open Water Swimming Society regarding subjects like hypothermia).

We continued to swim, Neil now also without a wetsuit. (To be honest it was a faff getting it on and off and he knew he'd never hear the end of it if I was swimming without one and he wasn't), and we managed to keep going all through the winter.

The best days were cold, bright and sunny. The water was a crystal clear blue and if you didn’t know better it looked tropical…It definitely wasn’t!

Unfortunately, due to the second Lockdown we couldn’t continue to visit the beach. But we didn’t want to miss out on the buzz, so we took the plunge and swam in our lake instead. We also swam more frequently.

On the days we swam we’d start the day as usual by feeding and mucking out the alpacas, (that warmed us up). Then we’d nip indoors to change before heading to the lake, all wrapped up in cosy coats over our cosies, laughing and feeling like big kids.

We even looked forward to frosty days, which seemed to give us a greater buzz and the best day was when we had to break the ice first!

We were so excited to look out and see the lake was frozen and it was a really bizarre feeling swimming and breaking the ice as we went. It was something I would never have dreamed I’d be able to do, let alone enjoy doing it!

Our regular swimming was definitely helping with the stress of a very tough year and in February 2021 I set myself the challenge to swim every day!

I think I had an advantage over Neil as I was at the age where I was experiencing hot flushes and it was a great way to cool down. I’m pretty sure I raised the lake temperature by a few degrees, so the fish benefitted too.

The regular challenge of overcoming the initial fear of the cold water and pushing through to the buzz of energy it gives you, had a really positive effect on Neil’s PTSD and between us we would encourage each other on days when we didn’t feel like dipping, because we knew that we would feel so much better afterwards.

Also, for me one of the unexpected bonuses of swimming at the sea pool was overcoming a hang up of mine.

Since childhood I had always loved swimming but as I grew older I became conscious of the fact that I didn’t have the ‘perfect figure’ and consequently, I didn’t always swim when I had the opportunity.

But now, in the middle of Winter, although I still found it hard to be stripping off, it wasn’t because I was showing my body in public, it was just because it was bloody cold.

I didn’t feel the same judgement as I used to. There were just great supportive comments from passers by like, ‘Wow, impressive, isn’t it freezing?‘, ‘ I couldn’t do that!’ And ‘Crikey! You’re brave!’

I don’t remember ever being told I was brave before, yet here

I was at 49 years old, doing something new that other people saw as a challenge, and I was loving it!

One of my enduring images of that special time, was watching the dog walkers striding along the path around the pool, all bundled up in coats and hats and leaning into the chilly wind, while we were there in our cosies swimming around in the choppy water, splashing about, feeling alive…And pretty darn brave.

(Although we can’t offer our guests the opportunity to swim in our lake, the amazing sea pool in Bude is open to everyone..All year round!)

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