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Why Do We Do it?

The Simple Magic of a Wild Swim

By Kirsty Watt

My fingers are dead, numb. Well, almost. I can feel a slight tingling where the skin rests against the warmth of the plastic mug, but apart from that, they have no feeling. They are little sticks of ice desperately trying to cling onto their life raft: a hot mug of tea. It might still be summer, but a swim in the wild Atlantic off the Northwest of Scotland can leave you feeling washed up on the shores of Greenland. Yet I don’t feel like a foreigner -isolated and cut off- in fact, the truth couldn’t be more the opposite. I feel alive, empowered, like someone has lit a fire inside of me and it’s bursting to get out -like lava preparing for an eruption. And happy. So very happy, as if the water has washed away all my worries and left a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

I look out at those breakers -grey and angry; salt spray leaping back into the sky, too scared to come close to land- and I see friendship. Not the dangerous and unpredictable enemy the sea can sometimes be, but a friendship stronger and more nourishing than any list of half-known Facebook friends.

People used to look at me crazy when I told them I swam every day. “What? Outside? Without a wetsuit?” The reaction would not have been dissimilar if I said I flew to Mars every morning. But not now, now I’m simply one of the crowd. Since the rise of COVID, wild swimming as a regular hobby has become so popular folks barely shift an eyebrow when the topic breaks the surface. Winter, summer, heatwave or rain, somewhere, someone will be bobbing in the waves or sliding into a river.

Being trapped for so long indoors has left us all shrivelled up, desperate for some fresh air and space and so, instead of heading for the normal summer haunts of cramped parks and deck-chair smeared beaches people began turning to the hills and glens. And to the water. There they found not only a moment in which to breathe, but an escape, a moment to really become a pa