My last open water swimming memory before adulthood struck was aptly named the 'Walrus Dip' event in Pembrey Country Park on Boxing Day. I was around 11 years old and my mum and I had arrived prepared in just our standard swimming costumes with some naivety. We usually swam all year round and had built up tolerance of how cold the welsh seaside could be, but it was a particularly cold boxing day with blustering winds and a landscape void of any form of colour as grey mist coated the land. Filled with a mixture of apprehension and excitement from seeing the beach full of people all with a lust for adventure and a hint of madness, I followed my mum into the water with the buoy that marked the 'finish line' in the corner of my eye. After my first few steps in I stopped, shocked at how cold it was, it was unlike any other sea swim i'd done before and felt 10x colder than I had ever experienced. I tried to persevere and made it half way before I had to return to the shorefront from which point I watched my mum push further and further to be fully submerged in what essentially felt like an ice bath to me. Watching my mum push on in the same conditions that I just had to turn away from was wholly inspiring and to this day I still have no fucking idea how she managed it.
Fast forwarding into my teenage years my love for swimming went by the wayside. I'd not long moved up into high school from primary and for sports class we had a swimming lesson once a week. As we were a new class the teachers were getting to grips with divvying up the pupils into skill level so they could teach each group appropriately. I was alongside some other strong swimmers and after a few weeks we were doing some friendly races during the lessons, I was narrowly beaten by another girl and rightly so, she was taller and more athletic than I. I just enjoyed pissing about in the water with not really much of a goal for it, I did it because I enjoyed it and I had no real competitiveness in me to go turning something I enjoyed into a chore. However it wasn't the friendly races or being beaten that curbed my enthusiasm for swimming, it was the fact that these girls that I was swimming with were, to be blunt, bitchy. They quickly realised that I wasn't like them, I was different, quirky and a bit weird, always have been and always will be. I distanced myself from these girls and just did my own thing to avoid them. This coupled with less trips to the beach, finding a boyfriend who refused to swim in anything other than warm and clear blue waters and becoming more and more obsessed with anything on 2 wheels, swimming went by the wayside.
Fast forward to summer 2015, I had driven out to Morzine in the French Alps with my (water loving) boyfriend for 2 weeks of bike riding. Whilst we were there we headed to Lake Montiond, situated just beneath Linderets (aka goat village for those who have been). My boyfriend jumped right in, me on the other hand? I was an absolute wimp who needed to be dragged in. I was easily spooked by any grass that brushed against my legs and the slimy dirt my feet would touch when I dared to stop treading water and stand up. Despite my best efforts and dreams of swimming idyllically across this beautiful alpine lake, I spent more time screeching than swimming.
Since then I'd not really had much of a passion or drive to get back in, that was, until 2018. My first outdoor swim of the year was in Iceland of all places! I was out there photographing a mountain biking trip when our guide took us to an abandoned outdoor swimming pool that was used geothermal energy to heat the fresh mountain water. My honest first impressions of seeing this pool were along the lines of "is that really safe to swim in" as our guide dived in. It was cluttered with what I believe was algae all over the floor and sides of the pool. It took me a while to get in and get the notion that it was 'dirty' out of my mind. This pool was naturally flowing with Icelandic mountain water, it was just the idea in my mind that because it was unattended and in the middle of nowhere that it can't be safe, this was pretty narrow minded and uneducated of me to think, as if swimming in Swansea bay with the sewage pipes and river Tawe nearby were clean! So I got in, and I remembered how fun it was to be floating, and not just floating in some preened and chemical filled indoor pool, but to be floating and swimming within the landscape. That, I feel, is an important distinction between a love for swimming and a love for wild swimming. I have spent plenty of times in normal swimming pools and it just doesn't hold the same allure for me and because of this lack of enthusiasm in normal pools I thought my love of water had just gone forever, but it turns out it was the nature and adventure aspect of wild swimming that captivated me. I can barely do a few lengths in a normal pool before being bored out of my mind, but outdoors? I could spend hours upon hours upon hours... you get the picture.
A couple of months later I was in Finale Ligure for a mountain biking event, situated on the coast of the Medditeranean I jumped right in, no hesitation after my excitement for open water had been rekindled in Iceland. I went for a swim on a daily basis, sometimes losing an hour or two to just bobbing around in the waves. It was there that I promised myself not to forget that feeling again, and pledged that when I was back in the UK I would keep it up. I knew it would be hard. I knew the waters wouldn't be natural geothermal springs or have the warm allure of the Mediterranean. I knew that I'd battle with gaining the courage to brace the cold waters of the UK in winter, but I just had to keep remembering the feeling I had swimming in Iceland and Finale and to persevere and to chase that feeling.
I get back in the UK and I find a bunch of inspiring people to chat to and follow on social media. One of the most inspiring people I came across was @Ellachloeswims, a writer and swimmer whose passion for open water became infectious to me. Braving the waters all year round wherever she goes, her posts popped up serving as a reminder that I still needed to get back in the Welsh water and to not let the excitement I had for it slip away. As it came into December I thought my chances of heading out in the waters were a crazy dream, who the hell would go wild swimming now? Well apparently quite a few people I knew, I messaged one of my adventure loving friends Nat and suggested a sea swim on boxing day. After checking the surf and seeing it would be a bit rough where we were she suggested a river swim, I agreed whilst simultaneously freaking out.
"A river swim? In December? The sea will be cold enough, never mind a bloody river! I'm apprehensive enough about getting back into sea swimming in the UK where I know what's under my feet, never mind a river swim where you've no idea what is underneath you, if anything!" was roughly what my internal monologue was. We met up in the Dinas Rock carpark in the Welsh valleys in the morning amid a mass of families heading out for their boxing day walks all layered up. I fully expected myself to not get in, I expected myself to get to the waters edge and just sit there, annoyed at myself for not getting in, but not annoyed enough to actually do anything about it, I expected to be sat there in a horrendous no mans land of emotion.
We got to the river bank, got changed and clambered down to the water over some rocks. There was a wall which separated 2 pools of water, one side was more of a whirl pool where the only option to get in was to just let go of the wall, and the other side was slower moving with shallow steps lowering into the water. I chose the easier side, sat on the edge and dipped my feet in. It was cold, very cold. It took my feet some minutes to adjust to the temperature, during this time I lowered my torso deeper and tried to control my breathing to help me adjust, and well, it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated.