reports2021/09/28

The Power Of Wild Swimming

Photographs by Kate Trouw

Spend any time with my mum and she will tell you pretty much all I did as a kid was get wet: pool, river, loch or sea, heated or freezing cold, it didn’t matter to me. I just had to be in the water. Recently, after twenty years away from the coast, living in big cities, I reluctantly returned to my childhood village by the sea. 

A lot can happen in twenty years. I was coming back a new mum, newly widowed and at the beginning of a new career. I had left architecture behind and jumped into making jewellery and although I would not have admitted it at the time, I was completely lost, getting through a minute at a time and trying desperately to keep the show on the road. Getting back in the sea and reconnecting with my childhood passion helped me ground myself again.

The problem was that my adult body was used to city life and had gone soft. It was spring and the sea had only just started to warm up after a cold winter so that first swim was memorable (and, with hindsight, inadvisable). It was 10°C (50°F) in the water and I had none of the knowledge or kit that I have now. I stayed in too long and was very wobbly once I climbed out, stumbling over the rocks to my towel. However, once I had stopped shivering and warmed up, I could still feel the adrenaline rush, more alive than I’d felt in a while.

I was hooked. Whilst in, the shock of the cold had emptied my head and all I could do was observe my body being held by the water - an all-encompassing but strange mix of a sense of peace and the feeling of being stabbed all over by tiny icicles. I went in a tired, sad mum and came out changed.

So for the last four years I have been in the sea (or a river, or a loch) at every opportunity, usually three or four times a week. It’s been a pretty radical form of self-care. I’ve swum in the winter, using the sharp pain of the cold water on my skin to silence my anxious brain. I’ve swum in the rain and wind, ploughing through the waves to clear my mind and come out smiling. I’ve swum in bright sunshine and glassy clear waters that have filled me with joy and energy. I have never regretted a swim. 

Slowly the sea and the coast have begun to influence my work, albeit in an abstract way. My Sea Floor collection is inspired by the shapes of creatures and plants I see under the water – seaweed, jellyfish, anemones, and by the ripples and reflections of the water itself.

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