This blog post is a personal take on the pleasures of swimming all year round. It is not a guide to health and safety issues when swimming at low temperatures. We strongly recommend the Outdoor Swimming Society’s article for anyone thinking of starting to swim when the temperature drops.
Here’s a suggestion. Let’s stop using the phrase cold water swimming. Winter swimming too.
The very words could have been designed to dissuade people from visiting an outdoor pool except during July and August. Yet listening to some people you get the impression that summer and winter swimming are polar opposites (sorry).
Which seems strange. It’s not as if on the first of October, the water suddenly plummets to 4 degrees, excluding all but the hardiest swimmer. In fact, the gradual shift in temperature is one of the greatest pleasures of swimming outdoors.
As for cold water, what’s chilly for some is mild for others. It’s a very subjective experience. If you asked a random group of swimmers what cold means to them, I’m pretty sure you’d get a wide range of answers all the way up to 28C, the typical temperature of an Olympic pool.
It also misses out other climatic factors that affect the outdoor swimming experience. The discrepancy between air and water temperature makes a huge difference to your dip. Sunshine, rain, gusting wind, the gentlest breeze: All give the pool, lake or beach a shifting personality that alters from day to day, or minute to minute in some cases.
So, what’s a good alternative to ‘cold’ or ‘winter’? How about seasonal swimming? It sounds far more inclusive, not so intimidating, and a lot less macho, if we’re honest. It avoids talk of a summer-winter divide, and doesn’t make you feel like a failure if you swim through to the start of December and pick up again at the end of February (a bit like the continental football mid-season break).
What about when the water gets down to less than 5 degrees? Those days in January when ice begins to form on the surface of the pool? Even then, you don’t need to swim to enjoy cold water. Many outdoor lidos now have a sauna poolside. Some visitors come to heat up first, before jumping into the shallow end quickly for the full winter sauna experience.
You don’t even have to get in. As we’ve mentioned before, there’s a whole hug of hygge to be had by wrapping up in several layers and hanging out by the pool or the lake with a thermos of coffee to hand. Add a tin or two of lemon drizzle or flapjacks and you’ve got a full on ‘cakeophony’ (the noise made by outdoor swimmers laughing loudly while stuffing themselves with bake-offs finest).
Headbutting sycamore seeds
It also means that you can talk about the joys of swimming all year round. For many, this blogger included, Autumn is the loveliest time to swim. Who knew that headbutting maple leaves and sycamore seeds could be so uplifting? But it is. Spring swimming too, when an early heatwave lures you into cool waters still immune to the sun’s warmth. (Also known as an arctic roll swim – hot out, cold in).
And that’s the joy of seasonal swimming. Every day has its unique charm. 365 opportunities to wallow in the magic of swimming, surrounded by nature from the coast to the heart of the city. With many pools now opting to stay open all-year-round, now’s the perfect time to start seasonal swimming. See you there!