This month’s Plus 40 Fabulous theme is what really makes us excited, happy and feel amazing. For me, there is one thing that makes me feel this way more than anything which is wild swimming. For me, this means swimming outdoors in a completely informal setting with no lifeguards and if possible no crowds of people.
I have always been a complete water baby, I can’t remember not being able to swim and I have never felt uncomfortable in the water. As a child, family holidays generally involved staying with my grandparents who lived near the Kent coast where we would go for proper windbreak-sandcastle-icecream-picnic lunch-shrimping days out at Sandwich Bay or Dymchurch or Westgate. As a teen we moved to my grandparents’ village and we sometimes used to swim after school or at weekends at Deal or Walmer.
I would also take every opportunity I could to swim in rivers, swimming pools and the sea. Wherever we went I would want to find somewhere to swim and often goaded friends into swimming in possibly slightly unsuitable places. I swam through Durdle Door on the Dorset coast aged 14 a truly amazing experience.
I was lucky enough to go to a school that had an outdoor 25m pool, and this would open in the summer term. One summer term I had a timetable on a Wednesday where I would swim during PE in the morning, swim at lunchtime, swim in Wednesday afternoon games lesson and then after school. I was obviously slightly obsessed, but I felt that the pool was the only place that I could feel comfortable in my body. Bizarrely considering how much body shame I lived with as a teenager I never felt ashamed of my body in a swimming costume, probably because swimming was the one exercise I did well and I felt totally at home in the water.
One of my most amazing swimming memories as a teen is a holiday to the Greek island of Paxos. The family hired a small boat and we went over to a tiny island to the south called Anti Paxos. Here we found the most beautiful cove of tiny white pebbles and water so clear that you could hardly see it. There were fish to look at, and caves to explore. I wanted to stay there forever and I cried when I left. I have never been back, but it’s still stuck in my memory thirty years later.
As a student at Lancaster, I was able to visit the Lake District and I was lucky enough to have some amazing swims here in the early 90s. In 1995 I moved to the central Lakes. 1995 was possibly the best summer since 1976. From May until September it was hot and sunny, and I was living right on the shores of Windermere. Sometimes I swam two or three times a day and me and a group of friends explored the gills, tarns and lakes finding some amazing places. One weekend we camped in Langstrath and walked and swam up the river all the way to Angle Tarn which we then swam across. It was incredible. I also have some wonderful memories of skinny dipping with friends after a couple of beers on a moonlit night in August (warning, this is not sensible!!).
I was lucky that Dave is also a keen swimmer. We have had so many swimming adventures in our 19 years together, and the past few years we have spent holidays exploring the amazing rivers, lakes and coasts of France and Spain as well as impromptu after work swims in our favourite local lakes, Rydal and Coniston.
The advent of waterproof cameras has meant that we have been able to document our swimming adventures, and the publication of three books; Wild Swim, Wild Swim Coast and Wild Swim France has fed our desire to discover amazing new swimming holes. What was most gratifying is that we had already swum in many of the places in the books.
We are also lucky enough to have a camper van and this has given us the freedom to tour around the UK and France finding amazing places to stop and swim. In France, campervans are allowed to park up overnight, and this has meant that we’ve just turned up at places and had the most fantastic swims in the middle of nowhere at sunset or have got up for a sunrise swim.
When I am swimming outdoors in a beautiful lake or river, with eagles or red kites or alpine swifts flying overhead (yes, this has happened on a number of occasions in France) I forget about myself as someone that doesn’t quite fit in, I forget about physical discomfort of medical conditions or the mental pain of depression and anxiety and I actually feel like I belong in the world. Sometimes it’s almost a meditation or possibly it’s sort of unmindful, without effort mindfulness. I am allowing myself to just be, to savour the sensations of water and air and sunshine. The silence of a lake or the rushing water of a river. There is just something about being in or near water which makes me whole, it reincorporates me and I feel wonderful.
Other times, it’s like the most fun thing in the whole world. Dave and I find rocks to jump and dive from, we wear goggles so we can look at the fish, we dive down, do handstands, chase each other or find a rapid and ride it down the river time after time. It just makes me feel so HAPPY, a childlike uncomplicated delight in just physically being in the water. Yes we act like children, and no we don’t care. This is why there are so many photos of me in rivers and lakes grinning from ear to ear like some sort of lunatic. It’s because I’m besotted by the water.
Don’t forget to check out the other fabulous ladies also taking part