I’ve been reflecting on my ‘Wild Swimming’ journey (as I am sitting cosy in the house with a cuppa) and I wondered if putting it into words would help me clarify a few things, like why I enjoy it, what is it about it that’s makes me come back and am I achieving what I thought I would achieve?
As a family we were lucky enough to buy a little holiday home beside the beautiful Ballywalter Beach (Northern Ireland). This was during the second Covid lockdown (Jan 2021), but by the time the house went through and the renovations finished, it wasn’t until end of Jan 2022 before we moved in. Which means I had lots of time to think about how our weekends were going to be…… beautiful walks on the beach, sunset walks, sunrise walks and more beach walks in between. It would be great family bonding time and we would get into the Irish sea for some cold water swimming (at this my husband drew the line) which would leave me feeling happier, healthier and fulfilled!
So let me tell you about our first swim, that’s the two girlies and myself. We got our wetsuits, booties and gloves on and ran into the sea, the youngest started screaming and wanted to run back out as she was too cold, now the water wasn’t even up to our ankles at this stage, my older daughter was keen to go a bit further in which we did ( by a meter lol) but the youngest put her foot down and said No! I managed to get her to sit down thinking she would realise it wasn’t that bad, but I think she was beyond listening and we had to leave. We may have managed 90 seconds in total. On the way back out the look on my husbands face said it all, it was a mixture of that’s it?/that was hilarious/you nutters! There is video footage of the experience which really is funny but hopefully will stay in the family archive!
Over the next week I was trying to think of how I could entice them back in (I didn’t dare mention it to the youngest in case she just refused). Luckily as I was having a solo walk on the beach (only our second weekend there and it was obvious the family walks needed bribery and the hubby and I have since learnt that sometimes it is nice to walk by the sea yourself and just be in the moment listening to the waves instead of ‘can we turn back yet?’) I spotted a loan swimmer. I stood like some stalker waiting for her to finish but I’m so glad I did. She gave me the FB details of the local swimming group that meets every day (she just couldn’t make their swim that day) they are called the Ballywalter Swimmers And Dippers (click here to see their FB page) and I’ve never been so glad to meet a group of people in my life.
The next week we joined them for their swim (which was a charity swim) so there was a bit of chatting afterwards and some hot food and snacks (I think this was the only reason the kids joined us lol). The group was great, everyone was lovely and so encouraging, you really left feeling uplifted. The swim itself was good, the kids came in and out but ultimately enjoyed it (except the stripping of the wetsuits after – not sure anyone likes that), I didn’t notice how long I was in for as the craic was good and I felt relaxed along with a sense of achievement, my first successful open water dip (I really couldn’t call it swimming, I can’t even remember if my feet left the seabed that day or not).
We travel to Ballywalter most weekends now and most weekends I go in swimming. It may be a sunrise swim (my favourite, there is something magical and calming about watching the sun slowly rise above the sea) or a full moon swim or a high tide swim. It may be in calm weather or not so calm, on those days the bodyboards appear. But no matter what the weather I know I’m guaranteed great craic with the group, a bit of time out from life and if the kids join me (they do join me more that I thought) then it’s great bonding time.
But is it everything I had hoped for? You read about doctors prescribing it for patients so really it must be good. My expectations were high!
Initially I imagined myself swimming maybe a mile or so, you see I’m a keen swimmer, I try to go to the pool for a swim three days a week, I love the feel of the stroke and my body travelling through the water. I just assumed that when I started the open water swimming that I would be doing just that. But boy is the water cold, my first time of putting my head in the water was a bit of a shock to the ears, lets talk about the waves, I get sea sick, it doesn’t need to be big waves they can be small and my body will feel it and protest. I feel that maybe I need to try and push myself to at least try and make a swim (front crawl), maybe not 1 mile but a decent distance. But if I’m being honest, I do get my swimming fix in the pool. The open water swimming (I do a weird breaststroke while chatting) is more about the community and friendships I’ve made. The first time I went in wearing just my swimsuit, one of my fellow swimmers sang a nice breathing song which was slow and encouraged slow deep breathing. I’m not sure if I lasted 10 minutes but I remember feeling very grateful as I had struggled to calm my breathing once the cold water hit my chest. Another time a member helped me bring the girls back to shore when I was struggling a bit. We’ve had an away day where we did a waterfall dip then an ocean dip (I was definitely feeling seasick after that). This month the group celebrated their first year anniversary and I for one am hoping they stay around for many years to come. The group is definitely the reason I have continued with my open water swimming and I’m looking forward to many more weekend swims with them but this year I would also like to explore more of the local beaches or even not so local. I would like to know if I can enjoy it just as much by myself and if a sunrise swim feels the same in another beach.
If you have thought about trying wild swimming but have yet to take the plunge, I do recommend doing it with an organised group or a friend. Not just for encouragement reasons but for safety as well. Keep a check on your temperature, everyone’s tolerance level is different. Make sure you have a hot drink for after and bring a mat to stand on when changing, hot water bottles are also nice!
If you are a wild swimmer I would love to hear about your experiences and if you have any great locations to share. If you would like to follow my wild swimming journey you can do so on either IG here or FB here.
Stay safe and always sparkle, Katrina xx