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The pleasure of untamed winter swimming | Travel

My toes sink into the mud on the fringe of the river Mole on the backside of Box Hill in Surrey. The water instantly cools my toes past feeling. I had hoped for a unusual swim right here. Normally there are stepping stones that cross the river at this level, and I pictured myself skipping over them in my swimsuit. But the fact is sort of totally different. After important rain and snow soften, I ought to have recognized the river could be increased than typical. The spot – tranquil in all of the pictures I had checked out – was now a speeding, quick flowing river. And the color of chocolate milkshake, slightly than the clear water I’d pictured. Oh nicely, I have swum in worse.

I step gingerly into the unknown. I discover the stepping stones beneath my toes and attempt to stroll throughout them, however with the robust present in opposition to my legs it’s no use, so I simply get in. I fumble into the water with zero grace. The water feels silty and leaves brush in opposition to my physique speeding downstream.


Ella swimming within the river Mole, Box Hill in Surrey. Photograph: Ella Foote

But I barely discover the chilly anymore. I have been doing a Dip a Day December –swimming day-after-day this month, exterior, in rivers, lakes, ponds and sea – and at present is day 14. It isn’t unusual for me to achieve the sting of a river and query my sanity, however the delights of swimming within the darkest month of the yr all the time wins me over. We are sometimes inspired to decelerate, concentrate and recognize the little issues in life, however at the moment of yr it may be arduous to take a second. Swimming on a regular basis exterior, usually in low mild or darkness and in fairly chilly climate, forces me to search out the sweetness in winter. It is far simpler to catch the dawn and sunsets at the moment of yr, and the glitter path in water reflecting the solar is one thing price pausing over.

Of course, not day-after-day has the glint of frost on the bottom and blue skies. Most of December in Britain is gray. When I get up to the sound of rain, when the sunshine by no means appears to look, these are the toughest days. On most swims I’m solo, balancing my digicam on a river financial institution hoping to seize the magic I really feel from the water. Swimming alone, particularly is colder climate, isn’t advisable. But there’s something particular a couple of swim all on my own, nature reveals itself to you extra steadily and I have taken the time to grasp my limits and don’t take pointless dangers. Swimming with like-minded cold-water fanatics has its charms too, yelping and whooping, gathering afterwards to share scorching chocolate – there may be a lot pleasure to that too, so it’s all the time price discovering a tribe if you wish to give it a go your self.

Ella Foote swimming on the Jubilee river at night

Ella evening swimming within the Jubilee river, Berkshire. Photograph: Roger Taylor

Living in Berkshire, I have a wide selection of swim spots on the Thames and Jubilee rivers. There are loads of lidos inside attain too, however by mid-December I ache for the ocean and I’m extra assured to attempt locations I haven’t swum earlier than. I plan my days across the climate forecast, working across the dry spells and sunshine. There is a stunning spot in Medmenham, close to Marlow, that’s excellent to catch the solar rising; the Jubilee river close to Maidenhead provides boat free swimming and ice on the edge when it’s actually chilly; and a spot by the Flower Pot pub close to Henley offers an amazing jetty to leap off of whenever you’re feeling daring!

Now I work freelance I may be extra versatile however there are nonetheless days when solely an early morning swim or night dip will work, and meaning scrabbling round at midnight on a chilly riverbank, sinking into inky black water – which offers an entire totally different problem. I’ll swim on Christmas Day and day-after-day till New Year’s Day to finish the month – the nip of the water and the zing of a swim is sort of addictive.
• Follow Ella’s swims on Instagram




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