Dive in and enjoy Alison's wild swimming experiences
Taking a break
I grew up in Chesterfield, Derbyshire (the English county furthest from the sea) and have always been a keen swimmer, swimming for my town as a child. Having lots of UK-based camping holidays growing up, I only ever swam in the sea if we managed to go abroad, in crystal clear, warm waters, as I always had a fear of what was in the water near me that I couldn’t see…
I moved to Bristol in 1996 to start my training contract as a solicitor with a commercial law firm and have been in the west country ever since. I joined the Ministry of Defence in 2006 to set up the Property Law Team and am still heading up that team, being based out of Abbey Wood in north Bristol. Having two young children, hobbies took a back seat, so I only ever really got to go to the swimming pool to take the children to lessons, rather than to swim myself.
With my parents-in-law in south Devon and my parents retired down to Cornwall we made a decision as a family to move further west. We finally moved to just outside the small town of Teignmouth in 2015. With both children now at school, and with a flexible working pattern, this meant I had more time for myself.
Going for a dip
Moving to the seaside meant that most of our activities were based on or near the water – I saw so many people enjoying the water that I felt compelled to join in, but didn’t want to swim on my own. An acquaintance of mine was feeling the same way and so set up a Facebook group (Wild Swimming Teignbridge) as she didn’t want to swim alone either. I joined that group and have swum regularly (twice weekly all year round) ever since. We swim mainly in the sea, generally without wetsuits, but also swim in the rivers, quarries and lakes on Dartmoor and the Teign Valley.
Rising to the challenge
Through joining the group I’ve not only swum for fun but also taken part in personal challenges, swimming in various organised events. I started off swimming in smaller charity events organised by The Chestnut Appeal including the Drakes Island Swim in Plymouth, the Plymouth Breakwater swim, and swimming around Burgh Island.
Last September I faced my biggest challenge to date and something which I am most proud of, taking part in the Scilly Swim Challenge. This involved swimming 15km between the various Isles of Scilly in challenging conditions which were both physically and mentally exhausting. Last year I was also lucky enough to be invited along to swim with Lewis Pugh, the first UN Patron of the Oceans, to send him off on his Plymouth leg of the Long Swim which he undertook to raise awareness of the plight of our oceans. This year I am building on all of this by taking part in the Dart 10k, the equivalent of a swimming marathon.
To say my open water swimming has transformed my life is an understatement. I have gone from only swimming where I can see everything around me to taking part in Full Moon Swims at dusk in Torbay, swimming with seals and dolphins nearby. I regularly wade out into murky seas where I have no idea what I will find around me, but being with others who similarly enjoy the water gives me the confidence to do this.
Joining this wonderful open water swimming community has not only given me opportunities to exercise but also to make firm friendships and connect with people I would never normally meet in my day to day life. I’ve also been able to face my fears, particularly when I’ve been doing longer, organised swims. The mental challenge of facing my own personal fears in the water is as rewarding as being able to swim distances I never thought I could achieve. On any swim, whilst we each take responsibility for our own safety in the water, there is a sense of community within the group which is something hard to describe until you’ve experienced it.
Cold water swimming is now a recognised way of helping to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. For me personally, there has never been a time when a swim has not improved my mood or a general sense of wellbeing – the feel of cold water is truly exhilarating and you feel amazingly alive. I feel noticeably different if I am not able to swim due to adverse weather or other commitments. I have a busy life at work and at home, so my time in the water is absolutely my release from this.
Being in the water focuses my mind and I’m able to fully concentrate on the task in hand rather than thinking about everything else I have going on. It’s also available to all abilities - I swim with channel swimmers right through to self-proclaimed bobbers – you do what is right for you. For anyone thinking of starting cold water swimming then I would just urge them to literally take the plunge. Small steps are what is needed, particularly if starting in the colder months, but you will find the open water swimming community supportive and always there to offer advice or encouragement.
Start your adventure
Open water swimming as a movement is gaining traction at the moment, so even if you are not by the coast there is usually somewhere to swim fairly close by and there will be a local group for you to join so you won’t be alone. It’s also something family and friends can dip into if they feel like it. I regularly cajole my children and husband into swimming in the warmer months and friends visit us with the specific aim of being introduced into wild swimming as they wouldn’t dare to try it on their own.
Being healthy, physically and mentally, from my swimming is something I can’t put a high enough price on. I feel better in myself and am able to put more energy and enthusiasm into my work and home life. I love the fact that my new open water swimming lifestyle has brought me new friends, enabled me to explore some beautiful places I would never have seen otherwise, whilst increasing my sense of well-being generally.
Highlights from Alison's fantastic inspire me story.