Swimming in winter is not for the faint-hearted—but don't let that put you offby Cal Flyn / November 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
At the close of the year, it is nice to look back on its greatest hits. This year I find it comes to me in waterborne flashes. Here’s one: a sweltering day in the sea-green swell off the Jurassic Coast. A natural arch of limestone looming overhead, a pebble floor falling vertiginously away below as I strike out from shore. Water clear as glass, as air: a sensation of taking flight. And another: shin-deep in a saline sea, somewhere in the Sonoran Desert. Skin tingling; sun sinking behind the mountains; a hazy, amethyst sky.
But swimming is by no means only a summer activity. To dry off at the season’s end is to miss so much that is magical. For my fairweather friends, I find it best to introduce the idea by degrees.
Autumn, then: a wonderful time to be submerged. After its long slow bask in the sun, it’s now warmer to be in the water than out. Leaves of crimson, rust, amber and lemon-yellow swirl in your wake. At dawn, the low mist drifts across the surface like smoke.
September saw me plunging headlong into the sea from a rowing boat in bikini and flippers: brushing through forests of kelp; stalking crabs across the sea floor. October: scrambling through tangerine thickets of sea buckthorn in the dunes at Gullane off the Firth of Forth; wading through white-tipped breakers; bobbing in the company of three red-breasted mergansers.
Then, among the waterfowl, came the changing of the guard. On winter’s approach, in came the chestnut-headed wigeons and pochards, the tufted ducks with their slicked-back quiffs and walleyed stares. (A regular swimmer can mark off the months by the company they keep.) Trees grew threadbare; the landscape washed out. All the time the temperature was sinking, sinking, sinking. But if anything, the swimming was getting better.
Bear with me. Cold water swimming has a great deal to recommend it. It is one of nature’s most bracing experiences, a shock to the body and a reset for the mind—and, as the British Medical Journal recently reported, is currently under investigation as a treatment for depression.
There is nothing so invigorating as swimming through sleet and snow and hail, or descending into water through a hole in the…