I’m sat in my van – it’s cold and a bit miserable outside but at least it’s not dark at this time anymore. I check my phone, for once I’m early, it’s a rare occurrence. Before I begin to question why I’ve dragged myself out of bed at 5.30am, a car pulls into the car park – Jen has arrived.
For a moment I was a little nervous I’d be here on my own, but it’s an unwritten rule – we formulate a plan the night before and deliberately don’t communicate again until we’re out of the car on our way to the water.
I think if we did it any other way excuses would creep in.
Slipping and sliding through the mud towards the river, Jen battles to keep upright having (yet again) forgotten appropriate shoes! There’s a distinct improvement in my mood already, I’ve not even got in the water yet, and I’m already excited about how I’ll feel when I get out.
The last few times we’ve come out we’ve somehow managed to recruit more keen and slightly mad members to our sunrise swim club. Over the darker days, numbers dwindled to just the two of us, but the combination of lighter mornings and the intrigue of swimming in the snow seemed to have caused a surge in the popularity of our 7am dip. It’s fantastic!
Arriving at our usual spot, the bags and towels go down, and there is a pause while we all silently ponder what on earth we are doing here. I’m not sure I want to take my clothes off! The bravest of the bunch (it alternates week to week) makes the first move, removing a shoe or unzipping a jacket. Stripped down to my bikini, I firmly jam my bobble hat on my head.
Despite the apprehension, this is often the highlight of my week. I find the challenge and nature of the cold water has an energising yet calming effect on me. It’s a simple and rewarding task:
Just get in.
The mental aspect is always far greater than the physical. It’s something I repeatedly seem to search for in my hobbies and the outdoors. Too impatient and inflexible for the likes of yoga; this is my liquid mediation.
Entering the water, I’m amazed how much better I am at getting in. A few months ago I could barely let the river reach my belly button before retreating to the bank. I’ve learnt a lot since then though. For one, a good bobble hat makes everything better. Alongside this, it turns out swearing can too – a few choice profanities have been known to raise the water temperature at least a degree!
Up to my neck, it’s a bizarre sensation. Given the water is so cold I’m amazed how my body feels – it’s like a million tiny needles are pricking my skin. Inside common sense is shouting ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET OUT NOW!’ but it’s far quieter than it used to be. I guess it’s more accustomed to being ignored!
Taking a few tentative strokes forward, we’re all in – the challenge is complete! I relax and start to pay a little more attention to my surroundings. It’s beautiful here – from pastel sunrises to the deer cautiously watching us from the other side of the bank, there is always something that catches my eye.
I try and stay in a little longer than I did the time before, attempting to judge how cold is too cold. Out of the water my skin is on fire, it’s not a bad feeling. We all turn our attention to putting clothes back on – arguably the hardest task, especially when your hands have gone numb!
Once cocooned, the adrenaline hits, and we bound up the hill elated. The topic of conversation is always the same – how fantastic swimming was! Back at the cars, there’s time for a mouthful of tea and confirmation of next week’s swim before the day’s routine has to start.
I arrive at work buzzing. Sat at my desk I look no different to any other day, but underneath my socks my feet are still muddy from the river and inside I feel very much alive!