• Tue. May 21st, 2024

A Testament To Wild Swimming

BySarah Challen Flynn

Mar 7, 2023
Open lake with Arthur's Seat in the background.

This International Women’s Day, I will be celebrating with a sunrise swim at Portobello in order to commemorate the sense of community and solidarity of shared pain which IWD is all about. I say pain, but in this sense it’s not the exploitation and subjugation of women, but the self challenge of a freezing plunge.

Anybody who knows me will have been subjected to the ‘don’t get me started on wild swimming’ talk, as I join the new wave of freezing enthusiasts.

Like many, the isolation, monotony and helplessness caused by COVID made me desperately seek something to grasp onto to ‘keep my head above water’. So I took the plunge.

I started swimming at a local open-air pool before moving to Edinburgh to begin my new wholesome tradition of Portobello Sundays, and I was thrilled to see the formation of the new Edinburgh Bluetits Society. 

The experience of wild swimming has been completely transformative. Surprisingly, I found that the cold water didn’t just jump start my body into some kind of survival-mode panic, but instead calmed my jangled nerves. Bracing myself to do things I didn’t imagine possible makes me feel in control of my body. Instead of criticising myself through the pervasive lens of diet culture, I am amazed by what my body can do, and I look upon it with respect and kindness, which can be hard when self hatred is programmed into us. 

The friendships I have made through the ecstatic panic and squealing laughter at the slightly-too-high splash of a wave are incredibly close to my heart. The shared shivering and cups of tea and bacon rolls unite us in a sense of achievement and peace.

We are incredibly lucky in Edinburgh, and Scotland as a whole, to have easy access to the water. Right to Roam, a campaign group for the right to public access to land, calculates that only 3% of rivers in England are freely accessible due to private land ownership and angling clubs renting exclusive rights to use waterways. Given the evident benefits to physical and mental health and the hardly disruptive nature of cold plunging, it seems totally ridiculous to prioritise private profitable interests.

Of course, wild swimming needs to be undertaken with caution, as the shock of cold water immersion can be risky, but this should not be a deterrent. My principal rule is to just not be stupid about it, and remember:

  1. Never go alone. 
  2. Don’t stay in for too long. There are different guidelines for timings, so take a look at wildswimming.co.uk or RNLI.co.uk for an idea.
  3. Warm up quickly afterwards.

I see my cold swims as an act of resistance, as they detach me from the critical lens womanhood and female bodies are so relentlessly viewed through, and instead fill me with the warmth of community, self love, body positivity; an unmatched sense of agency to take on the world.

Image Credit: Photo ‘St Margaret’s Loch Water’ by Tom Manning