Have you ever looked into the water on a cold winter’s morning and shivered at the thought of being a seal, an otter or a duck? Just looking at them amid the steel-grey waves is enough to send me running back inside for a steaming mug of cocoa, with an irrational feeling of guilt that I’m all warm and cosy inside while they have to suffer it out there, in that.
When local women try to persuade me to join them on their cold-water swimming expeditions the same frozen-in-horror feeling sweeps through me. Me? Out there? In that? It’s not that I’m oblivious to the apparent benefits. I believe one feels very good afterwards. Yes, afterwards, much as someone with their foot in the fire might feel pretty good once they’ve taken it out. And then there’s the girly bonding, the stiff upper lip route-march through the woods to the chosen spot, breath turning to ice in the air, feet numb on the slippery stones before posing for the inevitable group selfie, just to prove how noble, daring and healthy they are all are.
I’m not keen on fads, although I acknowledge the merits of some. I recoil at the thought of going to the same beach at the same time with the same people every single day of my life, much like some people go to the same place on holiday every year, despite there being so much world to explore. It’s a mindset I can’t comprehend. And yet, I confess to having, on occasion, found myself at the water’s edge on a beautiful, calm day with scarcely a ripple on the water or a cloud in the sky and wondered if I was maybe missing out on something.
I love outdoor swimming. I especially love swimming in wild, unusual and unexpected locations. I particulalrly love swimming in the Indian Ocean; I do require the water to be free of ice bergs.
What to do, though, when tropical beaches are off the menu for the forseeable future and the summer is hurtling ever-faster towards autumn with still only a single dip under my belt?
I bought myself a wetsuit.
It has been hanging in the bathroom, looking at me. After a week or two of rather miserable and uninspiring grey skies and cool breezes I was beginning to wonder if I would have the chance to try it out before the end of summer. Then something made me look up from the laptop and out of the window just as warm sunshine broke through so I jumped up and squeezed it on before I could talk myself out of it.
I used to be hardier! In my Achiltibuie days I would close the gallery at five, jump onto my little Suzuki, speed off to Achnahaird and plunge straight into the deep channels between the rocks as the tide was coming in. It invariably made me gasp, but jumping into deep water rather than slowly wading through the shallows with the breeze playing around my waist ensured my resolve didn’t waver. No wetsuits were required in those days, and I thought of this as I climbed aboard my scooter. When did I become so soft?
I found a deep, dark pool on a bend in the river between two sets of rapids. Rowan branches hanging heavy with orange berries tickled the surface of the water while small fish jumped for flies. I lowered myself in gingerly but the suit was definitely a help. I could have stayed in all afternoon but was equally happy drying off on the heathery bank, a little relieved I hadn’t been swept away. It was all rather blissful; I must do it more often. I can confirm, you do feel great afterwards. At least, on a warm day in August you do.