Ashley Harrison [AH]: After years of not taking full advantage of the sea we’re surrounded by on Islay, Christy and I decided we were going to embrace Islay’s elements and go wild swimming. Plus, during lockdown with the gyms and swimming pools closed, our leisure activity choices were pretty slim.
The first time we took the plunge into the sea it was a grey morning in September. We both live in Port Ellen, the south side of the island so decided to swim at Loch a’Chnuic. It’s a beautiful calm and safe spot for swimming and you can often find a seal or two lounging on the rocks. I’ll be completely honest, total regret came over me as we took our shoes off and stared bleakly at the hypothermic looking water. My brain was screaming to abort immediately and retreat back into bed. But somehow, most likely down to sheer peer pressure, I threw myself in.
After the initial panic of realising just how cold the water is your breathing starts to deepen and you can fully take in the experience. Once you reach that stage, that’s when the enjoyment kicks in. I’m sure you’ve heard those famous words before- it’s fine once you’re in.
What I’ve come to realise is that when you willingly submerge yourself into the sea your body and brain are so concerned (or panicked) about how cold the water is, that it’s literally impossible to think about anything else. The feeling of being in the water completely consumes you and it takes you into the present moment, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘wash away your worries’. The cold temperature forces you to focus on regulating your breathing and nothing else. That mental stillness, paired with the sounds of the crashing waves against the shore or the birds flying overhead, brings a sense of calm that has been a total sanctuary amongst the angst of the pandemic. It’s almost meditative.
A quick google of cold water therapy or wild swimming benefits and your screen will be flooded with a plethora of articles all containing long lists of benefits that taking the plunge in nature will do to your body and mind. It’s enough to make you get up out of bed on a cold winter’s morning.
I don’t shy away from admitting I’ve never been a morning person, but wild swimming totally negates the need for a morning coffee, and it’s effects are much longer wearing. On the days I go for a dip not only are my energy levels boosted, but my mood too. There’s a lot to be said for being surrounded by nature first thing in the morning instead of checking emails. There’s also no better way to feel connected to nature than literally immersing yourself into it. It’s the perfect reset for your mind and body, and a reminder that as human beings, we’re not designed to be cooped up inside on laptops all day. Adventure is on our doorsteps and it’s up to us to put our phones down and seek it out.
So if you’re feeling like taking the plunge and seeking the benefits of a wild swim, here’s some pointers that I’ve found to be essential before you go:
- Wear a wooly hat; I wear this while swimming and it’s a total game changer
- Bring a hot drink for afterwards, you’ll have earned it!
- Have a dressing down or large towel on hand for when you get out; something to instantly wrap around you and protect you from the wind.
- Swim with a friend! A little peer support is great for actually getting you in the water and it’s also safer knowing someone else is with you.