I go for the dive so there is no backing out, my head explodes with needles of cold and my feet are on fire, and not in a good way, but the rest of my pale winter body is amped and fizzing with sensations and I’m in bloody heaven. I swim back towards Andy, she’s shaking her head and chewing on a sandwich… she looks colder than I am! Obsession. It’s a strong word but that’s what outdoor swimming has become for me.
It started innocently enough when we first came to the Lakes and I began training for a local triathlon. I’d meet my mate Steve at Waterhead and we’d do our Windermere swim, working it out for ourselves and enjoying the extended time in what has always been my favourite environment. Years went by and I run and bike less and swim in open water more and more. Every bit of water becomes fair game for a wild swim – remote and muddy windswept tarns, the pool below High Force on the Tees while out on a summer hike, the north east coast, our local river to fetch the dogs Frisbee when he refused to go for it (he’s a Lab for goodness sake!), across the same river to haul out a drowning sheep as the winter weather swept in. Any excuse. You see how it starts to get out of hand…
Mad Mike finally pushed me over the edge. When I first met him he admitted to me that he positively lived for swimming in the dark, on his own, in the winter. This following the two coldest winters on record, he had to break the ice to get in on more than one occasion – I liked him instantly. He was my inspiration to swim throughout the winter. I love his attitude to cold water swimming. The dark, the cold, the distance, the time does not ‘phase him at all, Mad Mike is always on it.
The truth is, there are more of us are swimming open water than you can imagine, in all temperatures, with or without wetsuits (whatever adds to your enjoyment). I’ve just seen a photo of an old canoeing mate at the Winter Swimming World Championships in Latvia all clad in Speedo’s and bikinis (they have a World Champs for this? Awesome!). And check out the old geezer with the axe. I’ve never seen anyone without a smile after wild swimming.
… So here I am, as nature intended in Red Tarn, underneath leaden skies and the snow capped summit of Helvellyn. The obsession continues to grow and a cold day out on the fell has just taken on more of a shine for me. What are you doing this weekend, do you fancy a dip?…