Wild Swimming -
“Swimming is a rite of passage, a crossing of boundaries: the line of the shore, the bank of the river, the edge of the pool, the surface itself. When you enter the water, something like metamorphosis happens. Leaving behind the land, you go through the looking-glass surface and enter a new world, in which survival, not ambition or desire, is the dominant aim.” Roger Deakin, Waterlog.
To begin, I must confess that I am not a strong swimmer. I have always preferred walking. I prefer the feeling of my feet beating against the ground, I prefer walking ways to riding waves, prefer chalk paths to sandy bottoms and prefer certainty to mystery. I am a proud biped and love to feel my feet upon terra-ferma.
Despite this, many of my happiest moments have been in or by the water; memories of getting under the skin of lakes, ponds and seas have remained with me and I have always wondered why?
In writing this I recalled swimming in Cornish seas, skinny-dipping in the Scandinavian archipelago and floating down Tuscan rivers, but one particular memory seemed to stand out.
Sometimes living in a city can be hard: hidden from wild places, lacking fresh air and space, it is easy to become a little suffocated and give in to the melancholy of brumal days. During one especially gloomy winter, a close friend of mine told me that the only thing which kept her feeling alive was by swimming in freezing cold water. I was obviously a little worried about her, but she explained to me that jumping into lovely, dark and deep water meant escape, but also excitement. For her, breaking through the surface of the water meant entering a new world, it meant seeing the world afresh. At the time I was feeling a similar wintry weariness, so I took my friends advice and headed down to Brighton beach the next morning in order to swim myself better. Being in Brighton meant it wasn’t the wildest of swims, I could see the neon lights of the Pier, the fish and chip shops opening for the day and cars on their way to work; but looking at the weather I could guarantee that it would be fantastically cold.
The morning mizzle had yet to lift and Brighton was drained of its usual colour. It was wet, unsympathetic and grim. I walked down to the beach, a somnambulist, my head groggy, my legs tired and with every step I began to regret my decision. The beach was windy, pebbly and empty. I took my coat, jumper and t-shirt off to reveal my pale body to the Atlantic; I wasn’t certain who looked less appealing - the sea or me. Stripped down to my swim shorts, I took a deep breath, counted to three, then sprung forward, jumping head first into the grey water.
Before coming up for air I had a few seconds of complete peace. I was hidden from the world, the winter and mundane responsibilities. I had been consumed for a few moments by the water and it was not until I re-emerged that I thought ‘fucking hell that’s cold!’. My whole body was gripped by a freezing rush of energy, a cold-heat, sudden panic and then a primal rush of energy. I felt more awake than I had in months, in fact, I felt wild. The grey, faded world which I had left behind had suddenly become high-resolution.
The evidence for the mental health benefits of cold-water swimming are convincing, ‘cross-adaption’ meaning swimmers deal with stress or shock better, a non-synthetic high gives lift and as I felt, it really can make you feel joyously alive even at your lowest ebb. I think, as well as that, there may a little more. Whilst walking home, teeth-chattering, hair wet and catching the wind, I was smiling. The swim was not just sensuously liberating, but mentally too. The everyday world, a lot of the time, is rational, sensible and sober, but this was instinctive, illogical and even a little Romantic; in a small way, it was a defiant act against my normal life and one which made me feel a little closer to myself. The human mind, a bit like a bee in the summer, zips, buzzes and flies in multiple directions. There are so many colours, shapes and smells to choose from it is sometimes hard to stop on one flower; being in nature, meditation, cooking and as I found cold swimming, allows the wandering mind to stop and be still… if only for a few moments.
If you decide to respond to my clarion call to swim in the freezing cold, I have thought of some ‘ante-diluvian’ or post-dip recipes to warm your stomach and soul.
Ribollita..... A warming, hearty and seasonal autumnal soup. Perfect for returning home to after a cold swim.
Ingredients: 1 Onion, 1 Carrot, 1 Stick of Celery, 2 GarlicCloves, A Sprig of Rosemary, 250g Purple Sprouting Broccoli, 200g Kale or Cavolo Nero, 400g Tinned Plum Tomatoes, 400g Tinned Cannelleni Beans, A Parmesan Rind (keep hold of them), 500ml Good Vegetable Stock, A Handful ofFresh Basil.
- Finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic cloves.Add to a pan with a healthy glug of good olive oil. Cook until soft, stirring meditatively for 15 minutes. Add chopped rosemary after 10 minutes.
- Pour and squeeze in the plum tomatoes, I like to do this with my hands, it is quicker and Jamie Oliver told me too. Then add 500ml of vegetable stock, and drained beans and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Drop theParmesan rind into the soup (an umami flavour bomb)
- Chop the purple sprouting broccoli into little chunks, wash the kale and then add both to the soup.
- Allow to simmer for 10 minutes, before removing theParmesan rind and serving with some thick, rustic and tearable (not terrible)bread.
Flapjacks. I can’t think of any better energy boosting, simple and delicious snack to bring along to the water.
250g Jumbo Oats, 125g Sugar, 125g Syrup, 125g Butter.
Heat oven to 200C.
Mix 250g jumbo porridge oats, 125g butter, 125g light brown sugar and 2-3 tbsp golden syrup.
Lightly grease a 20x20cm baking tin with butter and spoon in the mixture. Press into the corners with the back of a spoon so the mixture is flat and score into 12 squares.
Bake for around 15 minutes until golden brown.
- Catch Elliot cooking and dipping over at: e_j_prior123 -