February 11, 2022 8 min read
Back in November, we had an absolute blast hosting a book launch event for ‘The Art of Wild Swimming’ written by the wonderful for Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan. Anna and Vicky are both seasoned wild swimmers, and in fact this isn’t the first book they’ve written on the subject. Their book ‘Taking the Plunge - The Healing Power of Wild Swimming for Mind, Body and Soul’ was published in 2020 and documents the stories of the wild swimmers and the reasons they swim outdoors.
Their latest pair of books, The Art of Wild Swimming - Scotland and The Art of Wild Swimming - England and Wales are an all encompassing guide for wild showcasing lovely swimming locations and advice from the community.
It was so inspiring hearing Anna and Vicky talk about their experiences and how wild swimming benefits them and we had some great questions from our audience, so we thought we’d share it with you all here. The event even convinced a few of our team to try out a dip in cold water.
You’ve written four books together now, how did you first meet and get the idea to write a book?
Anna - In 2018 I’d been doing a lot of swimming and I took on way too much work. I’d moved up from London and just kept saying yes to everything to the point I burnt out and had to cancel huge jobs. I started swimming much more regularly and then taking my camera down to the beach and to photograph the birds and the beach. Then I thought ‘Actually I might just take some portraits.’ and I asked one or two people that I swam with if they’d mind if I took their photo and the just chatted to them about why they were swimming. I didn’t really know these people that well and I thought the stories that they told me were interesting so I started to put their stories along with their pictures up on Instagram. That’s where it all started. I was working with a mutual friend of ours, Jill, telling her about my project and she said there was someone she thought I would really like, her friend Vicky.
Vicky - We met at an event and Anna was telling me all the stories that she gathered and I just thought they were fascinating. Although I remember thinking when Jill asked if I was a wild swimmer I had said yes but at the same time I was thinking that I didn’t really feel like I was a part of the community. It felt weird to say I was a wild swimmer. Jill had said before we met that we should do a book together and it was funny because when we did meet we thought ‘Should we just do it?’.
You’ve kept on writing books, so you must clearly get on well. How do you both work together in the collaborative process?
Vicky -It’s been done very differently in different books. As Taking the Plunge was done pre-pandemic we would go out together and Anna would photograph people, we would go for a swim with them and then I would interview them. Interviewing people after a cold water swim wasn’t always the best and I would end up saying to them ‘I’ve got quite bad after drop, I’m not sure about you?’.
Anna - For The Art of Wild Swimming, we knew we were in this situation where we couldn’t travel round anymore. The book was commissioned early 2021 so it was a very quick turn around and what our publishers wanted was a wild swimming guide book as there was no wild swimming Scotland guide book in existence until our one. One of the big questions in the wild swimming community is - do you share where you swim? Everyone has an opinion on it and it’s not always a good conversation to have. We thought maybe if we reach out to the local community and ask them how they feel about it that’s a way of seeing if it’s a book we should do. Then we had the thought about getting the local community to write the book rather than us just saying where we swam. So that’s what we did, we reached out to people who we thought were interesting and who know the places well. It wasn’t exactly how we’d imagined it but it’s all the better for it.
These books feature tons of great places to go wild swimming. Of all the places you have been, do you have many favourite places to swim?
Vicky - One thing that really struck me when we were doing the book was how lucky we are in living in Scotland. I feel like my favourite place is always changing, in this book I’ve written Camusdarach Beach in Arisaig as it has had many associations over the years for me. I’ve watched my kids grow older getting in the water there. This year I have been to Harris and Lewis and went swimming, I was just in absolute heaven.
Anna - I love Sanna Bay and for a little bit of something different the Taymouth Marina if you fancy a bit of luxury, it’s got a slide into the water and saunas. If I had to choose, I would always choose the Cairngorms because that is where I partly grew up and spent a huge part of my childhood. For me the peaty lochs are where my heart is, with their mountain views and the smell of the forest. I will always choose Loch Insh, my parents met there and I lived and worked there as a teenager so it has got many happy memories.
Anna, you also work as a professional photographer, did you take a lot of the pictures in the book?
Anna - In the Scotland book I did take some but unlike the other two books I wasn’t able to take them all as we wrote it through lockdown. There are quite a lot of mine in the Scotland book but hardly any in the England and Wales book. I curated the pictures which was quite weird because usually that’s my job to take the photos. Some of the pictures we have are so stunning, we contacted lots of photographers and some others are just phone pictures taken by the contributors.
What do you know about wild swimming across the world and is there any chance of you going further afield for a book?
Anna - We are thinking of doing one for Ireland which isn’t too far away, but it’s lovely. We find that when you get to a much warmer climate you don’t get the same hit, it’s like that if you swim here in the summer it’s not the same as the winter.
We’re still seeing lots of people in the water despite the freezing temperatures at the moment. Do lots of people prefer swimming in the winter?
Vicky - In the summer it really needs to be a great place, when I went on holiday I had lots of fun going into waterfalls and I need it to be more of an experience.
Anna - I just get afraid of jellyfish and I can’t quite bring myself to enjoy it freely as I’m always thinking ‘Eek, what’s that in the water?’ My dad used to wind us up about pike when I was a kid and he would say ‘Oooh look it’s coming for you’. I’ve never heard of anyone getting bitten by a pike though, thank goodness.
Do you swim in wetsuits throughout the winter?
Anna - No we swim in swimsuits usually. I’m too lazy to bother putting a wetsuit on!
Vicky - I have thought about it more recently though. Just as we were getting into September me and a friend wanted to do some more swim crossings to islands. We had thought about training up for it but it was getting colder and it wasn’t really the time for training unless I get a wetsuit.
How long do you stay in the water for in the really cold months?
Anna - It’s a really funny question that because for me there’s lots of things to think about like ‘Have I eaten? Am I tired? Did I sleep well?’ I’ve had covid and I’ve not felt right since and swimming really wipes me out so I know now I have to keep my swims shorter than I did last year. I think it’s just knowing your own body really well, you need to know when you need to get out. It could be the person you are swimming with can be in for longer but you just have to be confident you know your body and you’ve done the right thing. Often you learn through mistakes, like getting too cold. It’s better to get out too early and get out while you still feel good. Don’t wait till you’re getting cold, your body will continue to drop in temperature for about 20 minutes after you get out the water so if you are cold then you’ll be even colder after.
You almost all seem to have on beanies when you swim, is that a fashion thing or what’s it for?
Anna - I have to admit I do sometimes just wear mine for the photos as they look much nicer. When I properly go swimming I have a neoprene hat but for just a little dip I will wear a wooly hat. It’s your extremities that get the coldest so now I wear something on my feet always but they also keep me warmer. I quite often have a dry beanie in my bag, so one for the swim and one for after.
Vicky - I do wear a hat and I really feel it keeps the temperature up and heat in my head. One of the things I feel though is if you wear a wooly hat you don’t tend to put your face in the water and you’re kind of missing a trick because I think that’s very stimulating.
Have you had any crazy experiences wild swimming?
Anna - This is really going to put you off now but a couple of years ago I did a loony dook and I did a handstand on New Year’s Day and one of my kids was taking photos as we all came out. He said ‘Do it again!’ and so I did and I came out the water and I couldn’t see. I was really quite unwell, going under the water in the really cold twice was very stupid. I don’t know what happened but I am now less keen to put my face in the water. It is quite good fun though. To make it even worse the photo was rubbish, totally not worth it.
Is there anything you two learnt when writing the book?
Vicky - There was quite a lot we learned but especially from the England book. I knew quite a lot of the safety stuff before but it was really good to have someone just nail it. Salim Ahmed who is a swimming coach went through a whole load of technique stuff with me in an interview and it was just like a whole load of stuff I hadn’t really thought about. There are quite a lot of people who do get coaching and now I have had a bit more which has been good. I would advise that actually, there are loads of coaches now in Edinburgh.
Thank you so much if you managed to attend our book launch and to Anna and Vicky for such a great evening!
If you are keen to learn more and want to have a read of The Art of Wild Swimming you can purchase the Scottish version here and the England and Wales version here. Follow Anna @wildswimmingstories and Vicky @allan_vicky on instagram to find out more about them and keep up to date with their latest adventures.
You can find some more of Anna and Vicky’s tips for wild swimming here.
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