Water and Wonder

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.”
― e.e. cummings

I love water. Since I learned how to swim as a child, there hasn’t been a river I won’t jump into, a sea I won’t run enthusiastically towards, a pool I won’t float for hours in. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but being in a body of water can feel almost transformational for me – whether bodily or emotionally. I am not, and never have been, a particularly ‘outdoorsy’ kinda gal but I’ll cheerfully clamber over rocks and rough terrain to get to an inviting pool – especially if I can swim naked there.

During lockdown, I, like many others, was struggling with ways to cope with a total shift in my way of being. I felt disconnected from my body, my sense of sexuality. One day, I drove out of London and stumbled across a very secluded river. Feeling bold, I stripped down and slid in. The cold water felt like magic on my skin, and I floated there for a while, letting myself feel properly for the first time in months. Since then, I’ve tried to make time to swim in open air cold water at least once a week. It can be a little difficult in London, but there enough lidos and reservoirs so that my desire to immerse myself in icy water is always satisfied.

The coldest I’ve swum in for any significant period of time (jumping into the sea and jumping straight back out doesn’t count in my book) was 9.9 degrees, in November. The feeling of the water on my skin was almost unbearable, but in a very, very good way. The cold focuses your brain – all you can do is force yourself to keep swimming, to keep breathing. As someone with a tendency to overthink everything, this is truly blissful. The water is of course warming up now – it’s currently a balmy 12.4 degrees at my favourite spot – but I’m hoping to push my cold water PB this winter, and keep going until it hits around 8 degrees. Without a wetsuit…of course. It makes me laugh that, as a woman who enjoys the softer side of life, who seeks out luxury and comfort, I regularly enjoy throwing myself into freezing water which would make the hardiest of marathon runners shy away. It must be those masochistic tendencies coming out…

I also love water because of how incredibly beautiful it is. The pictures above were taken by my good friend Valerie on holiday in the south of France together, back in 2019. She had just bought a new waterproof case for her camera, and I of course volunteered to help her test it out! It was an amazing experience, trying to hold poses underwater. They’re some of the favourite pictures I’ve ever had taken of me, and I think my love of being submerged comes through. I’m very keen to play around with water and photography further this summer, so watch this space!

I don’t know what it is about cold water and wild swimming which makes me love it so much. Whether it’s endorphins from the cold, or the pleasure of being outside in nature semi-clothed, it genuinely just fills me with a very pure sense of joy. Wild swimming has become a bit of a cliché in recent years, and I’m well aware of how silly I sound as I extol the virtues of a nice little dip in a murky pond. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and if we can’t laugh at ourselves whilst also enjoying what we do, what’s the point? So on that note, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite sketches on the subject. And if you want to join me for a cold water dip sometime? Let’s make it happen.