On a trip up to the picturesque Yorkshire Dales, we meet a group of pink bobble hat-clad wild swimmers. Having forged a friendship after just one introductory wild swimming workshop, the group chat to us about swimming, mental health and the baked potatoes they keep in their shoes (really).
Front row (left to right): Sukhpal, Karen, Harry, Spuds. Back row (left to right): Helen, Vicki, Freda, Yvonne
Harry: To get into water as cold as this, you have to switch your brain off. I think that’s valuable. It’s hard to switch your brain off by choice, so having to is helpful.
Spuds: There’s a calmness and serenity to it. I just love being in the water, and I’ve always loved swimming. Getting in is the hard bit but after, you feel exhilarated. You need bravery, and that’s transferrable throughout life. I don’t like the dentist, but now, when I’m in the dentist's chair, I find myself thinking ‘come on! If you can get into a freezing cold river in winter, you can put up with this’.
Vicki: It’s more a question of what I love about wild swimming with this group. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been an avid wild swimmer if I hadn’t met these ladies on that first swim. It’s the group that makes it so fun. Everyone seems so similar. No matter what age, race or background, there’s community. I get here on a Monday after a stressful weekend with the kids. We swim, we chat, we laugh. And I feel so much better.
Yvonne: Six of us attended an introduction to wild swimming workshop. We started as strangers, left as friends, and have since become like a family. The others heard about us through other workshops or joined through mutual friends.
Sukhpal: I almost cancelled that workshop where we all met. Turns out all of us wished we hadn’t signed up for it. But we turned up, got in and, long story short, we’ve met up every Monday since.
Spuds: We all have a lot of fun together. The girls call me Spuds because when I swim I put a wrapped, hot jacket potato in each of my shoes to keep them warm, and to keep me fed post-swim! And when our thermometer rubber duck stopped working, we held a memorial service for it. We’re a little silly.
Karen: But it’s an empowering, supportive group too. Some of us drive 30 minutes to get here, and we only spend 5-10 minutes in the water. That shows how much we get out of it.
Sukhpal: It’s a great place to talk, and often we talk about things we wouldn’t talk about with friends or family. In October I came for a dip and told the ladies that I wasn’t in a good place and that the doctor had put me on Sertraline. Then we all opened up. And talk like that comes naturally here. I think because there’s no pressure to talk. We’re here to swim primarily. And the river’s this neutral space. It’s everyone’s, and it’s constant.
Yvonne: We all started for a reason. We’ve all got a story. I started thinking about it when my youngest was about to leave for university. That empty nest syndrome. I decided I would do something out of my comfort zone (I hate the cold. And I hate fish).
Sukhpal: For me it was my sister-in-law suffering from a brain haemorrhage that left her unable to walk or talk. That was a wake-up call.
Freda: I started wild swimming to meet new people, younger people. I’m 66. A mother of six, a grandmother of eight. I found myself feeling cut off from people when I retired.
Helen: I started because I had a sudden onset of ill mental health. I knew something had to change. I’d always said no when Yvonne asked me before. But one November Monday morning, the sky was blue, and I decided I wanted to start my week with a change. So I asked Yvonne to bring me.
Yvonne: With wild swimming, you regularly have to strip off and get changed in front of strangers. So I’m a lot more accepting of my body, which is amazing.
Vicki: Just the socialising has been great for me. I certainly deal with things better at home after a Monday swim. I had my two kids close together. I was pregnant with my second two months after I finished breastfeeding my first. For four years I had no time for me, so Mondays are my days now. It’s an escape. I can be myself. That time for me means I don’t feel like I’m just a wife or just a mother. I’m me as well.
Harry: I often find myself driving home after these sessions with a stupid grin on my face. It’s been amazing for my mental wellbeing.
Helen: I think Mondays are great (we always swim on a Monday). So I love Mondays now. Not many people can say that.