What are the benefits?
I can fully see the attraction of swimming in a cool lake on a warm summer's evening, but this was a freezing January afternoon, with a cold wind and a water temperature of just 3 degrees centigrade. Beautiful though the scenery was, the water was not tempting me in even a little bit. So I asked my friends, why?!
They described it as a total reset of mind and body. The water is so cold, you cannot think of anything else, so all those annoying thoughts that have been flooding your brain disappear, as you focus one hundred percent on the present. It is an act of total mindfulness.
There are physical benefits too - after regular wild swimming a process known as cold adaptation occurs. Essentially you become less sensitive to the cold. Where hands might once have turned blue in winter, now they are comfortable and flesh coloured. Of course any form of swimming has great health benefits as it is a low impact way of raising your heart rate and building muscle strength and endurance. But the addition of outdoor and cold water swimming boosts your endorphin levels and improves circulation as well as raising your white blood cell count, which in time improves the immune system.
A social activity
Although you may choose to swim alone and go for total peace and solitude, in the majority of cases it seems to be a very sociable activity. There are official wild swimming groups all over the country, in addition to more casual groups of friends getting together once a week at the local lake or coastline. And of course, it gives you the perfect excuse for a hot cup of coffee and a slice of cake to warm up afterwards!
It goes without saying, that swimming in January in the North of England is not for the inexperienced, or the faint hearted! It's important to aclimatise and build up your tolerance to the cold. So whilst I was very relieved this time to be stood on the shoreline in my winter coat and woolies, perhaps in the summer months I will join them again and experience that total mindfulness for myself.