2020 with a Splash
Some of you were kind enough to read and comment on my blog about beginning all year-round cold-water swimming in my local lido. Well, two years on I’m still totally hooked, and loving my comfortable winter swimming routine: cold water swim, recover in hot sauna. This year I wanted to push beyond those boundaries and go wild swimming. To encourage my exploits my son and daughter have given me the book: Wild Swimming: 300 Hidden Dips in the Rivers, Lakes and Waterfalls of Britain.
To start 2020 as I mean to go on, I sign up for a sunrise swim on 1 January in Edinburgh, with the Wander Women. It’s the morning after a night of dancing and celebrating Hogmanay. I’ve had four hours sleep when my phone alarm wakes me, but occasionally burning the candle at both ends never hurt anyone. My husband gamely joins me, but purely to spectate. Darkness lightens to a calm, cloudy pink dawn as we park at Portobello. The morning is quiet, with few people around. We see women walking purposefully, in colourful bobble hats. Some wear Dryrobes, the fleece-lined waterproof coats that identify those hardy souls who regularly get wet and cold outdoors. We follow them along the promenade towards a small group congregating on the beach. A frisson of excitement at the anticipation of a sea swim surges through me.
Anna, from Wander Woman Scotland, and organiser of this free event, welcomes me with a hug. She throws some wood onto a fire already burning (resuscitated from the embers of last night, when groups of families and friends gathered round bonfires on the beach and watched fireworks to see in the New Year). We strike up conversations with other swimmers. Everyone is friendly. The buzz is infectious. There’s nowhere I’d rather be at this moment.
The sunrise is now faintly in evidence. A brief glimpse of orange backlit clouds below grey skies mellows to a soft, warm pink/orange glow, subtly lighting the wet sands as gentle waves, little more than ripples, softly fan up the beach and retreat. Without a breath of wind, the sea is an oasis of calm spreading out to the distant horizon.
As 8.30 am draws near, it’s time to strip off warm layers of clothing. Dozens of women, and a couple of men, walk or run towards the sea and wade into the peaceful waters. There are cries at the coldness of the water, which is 7.9 degrees, but mostly it’s smiles and laughter and feeling gloriously alive! The chatter continues as people swim slow breast-stroke, revelling in the joy of being outdoors, in a shared activity with like-minded people.
People don’t stay in long. I swim a short distance, perhaps 100 metres compared to the 400 to 600 metres I would swim in the lido. Emerging exhilarated, wrapping my towel round me, I fumble my way back into various layers of clothing, getting sand into everything. The fire is modest in size, but throws off heat. It feels cosy and comforting to warm my hands over the flames. I am thankful, too, for my flask as I sip a mug of hot chocolate.
What a great start to 2020! I sail through the rest of the day on a high. The start of a new day, a new year and a new decade makes this feel a special time. Despite the divisions across the country, loss of faith in our politicians, the climate crisis, and a sinking feeling that our economy is heading for a downward spiral, you can’t help but feel hopeful and refreshed when you emerge from the simplicity of a swim in the soft light of a breaking day.