Guest post by Rachel Jennings on her experience of wild swimming for Well for Winter
Wild swimming is getting good press at the moment, from Dr Alice Roberts to Country File.
You can hardly escape it. And it elicits quite extreme responses, from “You must be mad!” to “I don’t know whether to be horrified or impressed”. Or “mate, I want some of that,” following a picture I’d recently posted on Instagram of me fresh from the Derwent, looking like a very pleased lobster. Particularly during lockdown, the idea of being able to escape into nature is pretty attractive. And combining this with keeping active through winter makes it especially wonderful for mental and physical health.
Instagram is where I really got hooked. I found posts from someone I realized must live near me, talking about the “Matlock Swoosh”. And with the kind of effect the rumour of gold must have had, back in the day, I started to message her about being initiated into the Swoosh.
It was such an evocative word. Even more so when I’d read it could be two kilometres long…
Where could you find a stretch of the Derwent to accomplish such a feat?
Every time I drove or cycled along the A6 my mind was trying to discover where this could possibly be.
Getting started with wild swimming
This was early in lockdown one and of course being in groups very much banned. Ruth, who it turned out was involved with SOUP: Sheffield Outdoor Plungers – kindly explained she would normally be delighted to take me swimming but couldn’t at the time. However she did suggest one of her favourite spots at High Peak Junction where the river Derwent meanders under the canal aqueduct, to try. It was lovely, but highly tentative as I was on my own and being a bit distrusting of the obvious currents.
Before lockdown I had started to really get back into swimming at the New Bath Hotel. It’s a miraculous 40 yard long, adult-only lido from the 30’s down the hill in Matlock, filled with a continuous stream of “spring-fed gorgeousity” direct from the Bonsal Fault at just under 18 degrees. I’d invested in a wetsuit to keep swimming all year.
Then at New Year, I had a brainwave to do something special for my 50th. I’d been told about an amazing swim across the Bosphorous, bridging Europe and Asia. Excitedly I booked and as I got into my training for this distance, (3-4km) a friend turning 65 asked if I’d join her in the “Hurley Burley” 10km swim down the Welsh coast and estuary (You can see how these things go…) When opportunity knocks… one must answer! Of course Covid-19 got in the way of these plans.
Preparing for the river
But after all these nutty schemes, shipping lanes and estuaries, swimming a bit of local river sounded like a doddle.
Ruth told me to buy some kit if I wanted to go in the river when we were allowed to mingle. She very wisely didn’t want me drowning on her watch and having a dry bag-cum-buoyancy aid means you have an element of safety. And of course responsibility for yourself.
At our first meeting, we rendezvoused at a car park by the sports centre in Matlock and headed off with our orange bags along the footpath, chatting like long-lost friends. At a sandy beach on the edge of the Derwent, we made our way down towards the water. Straight ahead, an area of rapids!
We undressed and stuffed our clothes and shoes into our bags, cossies already on waiting. Ruth took a couple of pictures (the down side or backside of wild swimming) and I threw myself in with some impressive gusto.
The first impression
Realising the swooshy-rapids bits were really shallow, I tried to develop a very flat position so as not to hit the rocks underneath, either on my back or front like a large leaf. All too quickly the river deepened and slowed, and a much more sedate floating along chatting commenced in this new world of aquatic wonders.
In a river you are not just hidden from dog walkers and runners on dry land, but also from sheep grazing the edges and birds and mammals going about their business. Fish jump, dippers dip and if you’re very lucky, kingfishers zoom past and water voles pootle across as if you aren’t there.
After a couple of meanders, bends and eddies, we passed through the Emerald Cathedral and it was time to scrabble to the bank and disembark the swoosh. Laughing as we got out of the cossies just out of sight of the footpath and land-lubbers up the bank.
Feeling the post-swim buzz
The wonderful thing about wild swimming is how it feels and how you feel after, as it gets colder. A friend, Kate, who I took for the first time this week to Lady Grove mill ponds expressed it perfectly:
“An invigorating experience! I have a love of the great outdoors and exercise and this just hits all the markers… such a wonderful thing to do. Nature, fresh air, beautiful Derbyshire and company… oh and with a good old dump of mindfulness! The last thing that made me feel like that was playing rugby: scared and excited at the same time!
Post-swim is such a buzz! I can’t recommend it enough!”
My Well for Winter plan
Certainly part of my #wellforwinter plan involved buying the neoprene, thermal gloves and socks to be able to stay in the water for longer and more enjoyably. Wild swimming should come with an addiction warning… It’s such a growing community that once you start, you meet others, learn new swims and with the changing seasons and water levels, it’s never boring. And with many swims being in beautiful valleys, woods and moorlands, there’s often a beautiful walk to the location too.
Check out SOUPer Community – Sheffield Outdoor Plungers who have over 6.5k members on facebook and over 2000 on Instagram for ideas, connections and swim meets. And the Outdoor Swimming Society for worldwide community and safety.
And I’m at rachel.jennings.osteopath if you want to get in touch.