This month, Dew on the Grass is featuring articles, poetry, photographs and art, on the theme of “Acceptance”. Our first post, entitled “Winter Wild Swimming” is from Chris Yeomans. If you would like to contribute, in any of the above categories, on this theme, just get in touch, using the contact form.
I step into the water. The riverbed slopes gently and I walk forward, slowly and deliberately, into the deeper water. At waist level, I pause, giving my body time to adjust. I have to remember to put my hands into the water. My instinct is to hold them high. I bend my knees and the water rises inch by inch up to my shoulders. The trick is to do everything gradually.
I have chosen to do this, so it seems to me that there is no point in screaming and protesting and fighting the cold as some others do and clearly find comforting. I stay still and quiet. This is a brilliant group. Called the Crazy Ladies, we meet up in random numbers, to swim together and keep each other company. There is no sense of competition. Each woman swims within her own comfort zone and we are totally accepting of each other. Some will swim for 20 minutes or more in this very cold water. Others, like me, accept five minutes to be their limit. Some stay within their depth. Others strike out into the deeper water.
The water in winter is clear and inviting. Swans, not mating, not nesting, not guarding cygnets, ignore us and sail past in the opposite direction, white shapes reflected in the dazzling water. I push off and swim. It’s impossible not to gasp. Heads up breast-stroke. The water is far too cold to put your face in. We wear boots and gloves, to protect our extremities.
For that first stroke or two, the water is like tiny darts and pinpricks on the skin. I breathe slowly, inhaling deeply and puffing the breath out until the body settles and that first shock reflex wears off. The river accepts me and I accept the river. We are one. The water is both cold and not cold and certainly not unpleasant. Nothing like as unpleasant as the one minute cold shower that I make myself have as an alternative.
I check my watch. I could stay longer but it is sensible to get out. I swim into the shallow water and stand up, walk up the bank, pick up a towel and get as dry as I can as quickly as I can. I strip off wet things, pull a towelling poncho over my head. Cold skin stays damp and thermal layers, fleeces, wind-proof fleece-lined coats, even hot water bottles are all part of the kit. I like to get out before there is any danger of the shiver reflex, which can set in about fifteen minutes after you get out, as the body temperature continues to drop.
Layered up, with hat, gloves and boots, I pour hot tea into my mug. The sky is blue behind a lattice of bare winter branches. The river flows on. Today we haven’t seen the kingfisher. And that’s fine too.