April 19, 2024 4 min read

As lovers of the outdoors, we’re always keen to try out new things and activities that mean getting to spend more time outside, exploring, and being amongst the beautiful UK countryside. So, as the warmer months finally creep closer, what better a time to try out wild swimming. 

Trying out a new hobby can be daunting, especially when it involves being submerged in cold water after these past few months in hibernation. So, we’ve asked cold water coach, Gilly McArthur, to share some suggestions with us on all things wild swimming at this time of year. 

Gilly’s been ice swimming for over 8 years now, and having competed in national and international winter swimming events, as well as being a qualified cold water swim coach and open water lifeguard, we feel we’re in safe hands.

Here’s what she had to say.

Here in Cumbria the wild garlic is beginning to sprout up green shoots through the leaf litter of Winter. This can only mean one thing - Spring is well and truly on it’s way.

I don’t know about you, but this Winter seems to have gone on for longer than three months, so I absolutely love to see these first signs of Spring waking up. Soon the forest behind my house will be awash with a heady smell of garlic, and then the bluebells will pop up. I can’t wait!

Even after 9 seasons of winter skin swimming, I find this time of year the most challenging in the water. The ambient air temperature is often far warmer than the water temperature, and I expect the water to be far warmer than it is.

In the Autumn months when the water here starts to cool you’d think the same challenge arises, but my mind expects it to be cold. All this spring bird song and longer daylight lulls me into a false sense of security. The water is generally coldest this time of year across the UK. 

So, whether you’re coming out of hibernation to start swimming again, are a seasoned winter dipper, or new to this whole swimming malarkey, here are five tips to help you enjoy Spring swims wherever you are.

  1. Focus on your breath. Spend a minute (it’s only a minute!) down regulating - count to 4 as you breathe in and count to 6 as you breathe out. Do this 10 times. That minute of down regulation really will help you get so much more out of your dip and leave you a far better person after the water.
  2. Remember, hydration, sleep and stress can all play a part in how you’re feeling. Monday’s swim may be totally different to Tuesday’s! Never expect it to be the same, and a snowy mountain top is always possible to bring a 3 degree drop in the water, even in April or May.
  3. Come to the water with a personal risk assessment. Sounds dull, but hear me out. Instead of immediately stripping off to get in, ask yourself “What do I really need right now?”, and then perhaps whisper that question again. I’m often surprised at the answers that arise when I ask this to myself. Perhaps you thought you needed company, but in fact a few moments in the water just to bobbing around away from the pod is actually what you need! Sometimes on very rare occasions it’s not to swim.
  4. Play and share a good word. Life is short, so have a laugh, order some Bengal spiced tea for after your swim (it’s truly magic), or surprise your friends by bringing some cake to the shore. Comment on what is good in the day, and share what you are grateful for. Take notice of something joyful. It’s a habit that’s addictive!
  5. Leave it better. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Everything can begin with you. You are the foundation of any change that will happen in your society.” So, that crisp packet tucked into the wall, or that glass on the shore - take it away. We might not be able to control the state of our water just yet but we can make positive moves to leave it better where we can, and make it a nice place to be for a Spring time dip. 

As I close my computer for the day, I’m looking at my swim bag (and cat) by the front door. If all of this is totally new to you, my final tip is perhaps just to give it a go. They say you never regret a swim and I do feel this is generally, for most people, true!

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that it’s very good for mental and physical health. In September this year I’ll be coaching groups of swimmers, alongside working with scientists, researchers and the NHS to see just how powerful open water swimming is for alleviating depression. It doesn’t need to even be a swim, most of this work is simply about showing up, to take a moment in a green or blue space to pause, bob about, smile deeper and share a brew with new friends.

If you want to follow my swims and cat adventures on Instagram, I’m over there @gillymcarthur

Happy Spring Meanderings.

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