Swimming in freezing Winter waters: Insane or exhilarating?

It is hard not to notice how swimming in the outdoors has taken off in the UK over the last few years.
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But while jumping in the water on a summer’s day might be refreshing, some hardy folk continue dipping in freezing temperatures throughout the Winter. Megan Titley speaks open water swimmers from the M.A.L.L.O.W.S Facebook group to find out if they are insane or actually, more sane than otherwise.

When Charlie Jackson first dipped her toes into a lake it was not so much for the swimming but about the challenge of getting into cold water.

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In fact the University of Cumbria occupational therapy student, started swimming in Winter.

Charlie Jackson making a splash for her pet dogCharlie Jackson making a splash for her pet dog
Charlie Jackson making a splash for her pet dog

“I love the challenge of it,” the 27 year old says. “The moment you go in you wonder why you do it but you always love it and it’s the sense of rush of endorphins make it well worth it.

“It’s that feeling of being in water.

“I started out swimming in the Winter. It wasn’t about swimming, it was about getting into cold water. Gradually I started getting stronger.”

Charlie, who lives in Morecambe, had a lot of fear to get over when she first started swimming.

Submerged! Graham DeanSubmerged! Graham Dean
Submerged! Graham Dean
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She says: “I was scared of swimming because my dad had a snorkelling accident and had to be resuscitated.

“I learned to scuba dive when I was younger and I was comfortable under water but as soon as I got to the top I started to panic. Now I feel completely safe.

“Now it’s a relaxing thing. It’s not like I have conquered water, I still have a respect for water. It doesn’t throw me anymore.

“My dad says the next time he is up with me he wants to swim with me in the Lakes.

Judith Anders on the right with a friend before a chilly swimJudith Anders on the right with a friend before a chilly swim
Judith Anders on the right with a friend before a chilly swim
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“I appreciate being able to swim and stop and listen to nature.”

But despite her growing confidence in the water Charlie is still careful, especially in cold water.

“I’m usually one of the last people out of the lake so I’m conscious not to become overconfident as the water gets colder,” she says.

“I swim with friends who wear wetsuits so there will come a time that they can last longer than me so I need to listen to my body.”

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Graham Dean, 57, who works for a research institute in Lancaster the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, says that for him the atmosphere, being immersed in cold water on a dark night is the pull.

“I’m quite intrigued in swimming in cold and in the dark,” he says. “It gives a different perspective of the world - silhouettes.

“Enveloped by cold water and seeing this mystical landscape.

“It’s the combination of the cold and the dark - physical sensations but also the visual sensations and then there are the sounds in the night.

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Swimming is about seeing the world from a different perspective, you’re lower down, you’re in the water, you’re repositioning yourself.

“That feeling when you get out and you have a warm drink - it exacerbates that feeling when you do get out.”

Graham is also conscious of safety getting into cold water.

He says: “I like to get in quickly and not faff about and then once you’re in you sometimes you get a bit of a cold water shock but it’s about knowing that that will go away.

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“Just trying not to do any strenuous movements, letting that moment pass and you can relax into the water.”

“I think it makes you feel a bit invincible,” says Judith Anders from Newby Bridge, 47.

“It makes you appreciate the cold water - it’s so exhilarating.”

For Judith, who works as a podiatrist and in raising awareness of preventive foot health for people with diabetes, it is the ultimate way to de stress and check out of the day’s pressures.

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“I think that the first time I started swimming in the cold water it absolutely just blanked everything else out,” she says.

“I do have a really busy life. I juggle three roles. I’ve got a full time job and two separate businesses. I do a lot of travelling.

“Some people find cold water swimming heals them, but I didn’t come to swimming to get over some major trauma.

“Swimming for me is about exercise and a way to switch off. I can’t imagine not swimming in open water.

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“Swimming in pools is not the same as in open water. It keeps me sane.

“It’s about how you’re going to feel afterwards. It’s pushing boundaries.

“Sometimes you just need to switch your brain off. Whatever else is going on that day, nothing else matters, you just focus on your breathing and the space around you

“When you swim it’s addictive.

“Most people think you’re insane but I think that they are insane.

“Swimming is the best way to stay sane.

“It makes you feel so alive.”