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Wild swimming absolutely not for me, no, never!

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I've frequently seen people swimming in our local lake - Pickmere Lake - on our daily dog walk and have thought them to be brave and completely bonkers in equal measure. I mean, why would you?! Freezing cold water, goodness knows what lurking under the surface, followed by the undignified and very chilly challenge of drying off and getting dressed again. Wobbly, red, blotchy legs and arms, laid bare in public for all the world to see. Absolutely not for me, no, NEVER...

So who is that, in glasses, wearing a wetsuit by the side of a lake at the beginning of April? Well, yes it's me, with a fabulous group of ladies that I met through a fitness group 'Cheshire Mums Fit For Life' aka 'The Fit Mums'! Something wonderful happened to my mindset as well as the much needed change in my fitness. In a moment of madness I signed up for a triathlon and as the date looms ever closer, started to realise I needed to 'take the plunge', 'step up a gear' and make some considerable 'strides' forward. (See what I did there...? Swimming, cycling and running all alluded to).

The lady peeking out behind me - Emily - gave us all the impetus and support we needed, as she's been wild swimming for a few years now. In her unofficial role as team captain she made sure we were well aware of the dangerous effects of 'after drop' and how to avoid it.

Emily recommended we take the plunge at Hatchmere, on the edge of Delamere Forest and, therefore, very convenient for us Northwich ladies. It is a designated wild swimming spot (despite the 'swimming not advised' sign), with a triangular area earmarked for swimmers, ensuring we don't annoy the anglers and vice versa. It's relatively weed free (a huge relief to those of us who were worried about slimy things grabbing at our legs and feet and dragging us under) and easy to walk into.

As you can see, wetsuits are a must, although how Emily copes with a 'legless' option I can't fathom. I wear my husband's old surfing wetsuit - he's a good 10 inches taller than me so I have lots of ripples on my arms and legs! I've since added boots and gloves so that the only exposed area is my head. I can't see me dispensing with any of it unless we have a month long heatwave. Despite feeling so much fitter and somewhat lighter than I was a year ago, I still manage to look like a pregnant seal in my wetsuit, so you'll be spared any full length pics of me. As my body confidence and mental attitude improve I may be brave one day soon. After all, I've worn a bikini this year for the first time in more than 25 years.

I would be lying if I said that that first dip was easy... I wish I'd recorded the racket we must have made as we advanced into the lake, icy water making its way into our wetsuits and creeping up our bodies. You know you shouldn't prolong the agony but every nerve ending in your body sends frantic messages to your brain to not move forward! Getting your chest and shoulders under the surface takes your breath away and you have to move, so you swim. And gradually you stop gasping with shock and start to take in your surroundings and how magical it feels to swim, surrounded by trees, reeds and birds.

Now I get it! All the fuss about wild swimming. It’s so exhilarating and liberating. As the endorphins lift you up, you can’t help but grin like a Cheshire Cat, forgetting the cold and relishing the freedom, the beauty and the purity of it all. I’ve been looking into mindfulness recently and this is a truly mindful experience, living in the moment only, free from the usual stresses and worries of daily life.

As we swim across, being women, we chat constantly and laugh a lot. I love that. It’s so sociable and uplifting and supportive. A lovely group of ladies bonding over a shared experience.

We can now all comfortably manage about 1000 metres, meaning that we’re easily covering the 750 metres triathlon distance. And other ladies are joining us having seen that we seem to be having so much fun!

The Fit Mums

Looking at the image above of five beautiful, strong women emerging from the lake makes me certain that next time I see the wild swimmers at Pickmere Lake, I won’t be thinking they are crazy ladies with wobbly, blotchy limbs, but instead strong, empowered females at ease with their bodies.

Getting changed afterwards is a personal race against the cold; frozen hands tugging ineffectively at stubborn neoprene, hopping around on one leg trying not to flash at passing cars. It’s definitely not a fashion parade, as we don woolly hats and as many layers as possible to avoid the dreaded after drop. Gill has perfected the ‘get changed in a bucket technique’ favoured by the pros - I must get a picture of that next time, but I’m usually locked in a losing battle with my wetsuit at that point.

Then it’s time for Apres-Swim: hot drinks, sugary snacks and lots of chat, wrapped in warm blankets and envelopped in a feeling of having done something special. My husband has fallen into the habit of making the most delicious flapjack and I’m worried I might get ejected from the group if I ever turn up without it,

So, anyone up for wild swimming?

Hell yeah!

All images copyright Jane Burkinshaw Photography 2019.

Created By
Jane Burkinshaw
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