Why we swim in cold water in Breckland

The Outdoor Swimming in Breckland Facebook group is now 750 members strong, and as we are now in autumn, going into winter, we asked members to tell us why they enjoy swimming in cold water and what they get out of it, and also to share any fears and tips. Here are their eloquent and powerful words and images.

Swimming in cold water makes me incredibly present in the moment. Focussing only on my breathing and my environment. No thoughts of past or future worries, just embracing exactly how I am feeling and responding in that moment of time. Incredible. Shauna

water and trees starting to go autumnal Knettishall Heath

I’ve always enjoyed long distance open water swimming. Now it’s taken on a totally different holistic therapy for me. Feeling the water through your hands and watching the bubbles rise in sunlit water is so good for the mind and spirit. This is even more important after suffering life changing injuries. I can only endorse the power of cold water in helping deal with chronic pain. It’s far better than taking lots of medicines.
But it’s important to remember your capabilities and safety as it’s so easy to be taken “in the moment” in cold weather swim shorter and always with a group, cold can play tricks on your mind and should never be underestimated.
The lake is magical and the groups that swim there are fun, caring and great human beings which just adds to one of the most enjoyable pastimes I have.

lake with reflections of sunset and trees

I love the seasonal changes of autumn, through to winter. Seeing the steam rising from the water on a cold day, the winter sunshine filtering through the trees, feeling the bite of the cold water as I slowly enter. Enjoying a feeling of calmness, serenity and thinking of nothing else but of being in that moment. Clare

two cows reflected in a river

I suffer with anxiety. It’s hard to explain how hard that is to live with. It’s like a hundred thousand negative little voices in my head all fighting to be heard, hour after hour. They don’t even stop when I sleep. BUT……when the temperatures drop and I begin to think maybe I won’t swim any more this year I discover over again what drew me to these crisp cold dips in the water. When my head is submerged in water below about 11° something quite miraculous happens……….silence…..quite……calm…….every one of those endless voices is stopped dead. I can’t even start to put into words the relief that is.
Imagine being tortured with endless negative voices who constantly tell you you’re going to die if you don’t fix the world and everyone in it all on your own and immediately. Days and days, weeks and weeks of it. Enough to push you to the edge of insanity and sometimes over the edge. Then imagine it stops, instantly. It’s nothing short of magic.
The water is the only thing that can do this so completely. It can last hours, sometimes days before they creep back. But now I know how to show them they are wrong, and make them stop. The crystal clear, icy cold caress of the water has saved me from my own mind.
That’s why I swim.

lake with sunburst, reflected clouds and trees

Having found this group and open water swimming this summer it’s going to be my first autumn/ winter but I’m determined to try as I find it so relaxing and such a detox to life, I enjoy watch the seasonal changes in nature and the wildlife also the friends I have met, the camaraderie of group members. I enjoy The lake the most.
Don’t set targets or push yourself, listen to your own body.
PLANNING I believe is key, hot drink, plenty of warm clothes and plan to get dry & dressed warm quickly after exiting the water.
Open water swimming at anytime is as safe as you make it! Personally I read up on it before I even tried it.

water and reflected sky and trees

This is why I swim in winter:

“The lake cares not for my glories nor my woe,
Cares not if I choose to sink or swim,
Cares not whether graceful stroke or panicked thrash,
And yet, in her icy embrace, I find the better version of myself,
Held aloft the murky abyss,
I find my nerve,
My fire”
It’s by the poet Dylan Drummond, I hope you like it. Deb
poplar trees reflected in still water, sunlit

There is a special kind of calm that comes from floating on one’s back, so ears are submerged. I know that feeling for hours after, but not days because I have learned it’s a reprieve…it must be repeated. Ad

Well for me to want to swim thru autumn and winter is different to anything else I wish for, I still want the buzz that keeps me going especially in the bleak wet and short of sunshine days. I get excited just packing for the swim , and I need that feeling, period! Thank you. Theresa

For me this year will be the first I have been able to swim more regularly so it’s the excitement of seeing how low I can go, temp wise, fewer folk in popular swim spots maybe providing magical moments in beautiful places, mist on the water and seeing my breath, and of course the beautiful autumn colours. Nicola

I’m looking forward to it all! I’ve never done any real outside swimming other than dips in the sea and an outside pool in a gym. So a lot to learn and lots of amazing places to discover by the looks of it. I had a swim in the sea last Wednesday and that just put me on such a high the whole rest of the day it was amazing. Mental health wise it’s more important than ever at the moment. Allison

I am new to the group. Wanted to join for the support and opportunities, as well as meet new people (you seem like a friendly lot). Stephanie

It’s absolutely brilliant to see so many people enjoying open water regardless of the colder weather! With the group gaining members I thought it important to share, I suggest everyone has a look on the RLSS website and familiarises themselves with the open water safety advice that includes a bit of information on cold water shock.
Keep swimming everyone and stay safe x

poplar trees reflected in still water and sandy water's edge

I find it wonderful to see people getting into cold water in trepidation, and coming out with a smile on their faces. They’ve done the reading and are prepared, but the real thing can be a bit of a shock. The sense of achievement and feeling of well-being makes it worth it, though. I’ve been doing it for years and I still find it hard to get into cold water, but I know I’ll come out smiling! Imogen

Finishing with a smile and looking forward to swimming again is a great target for each swim. Also do not hesitate to exit should a swim be uncomfortable or too cold….. There’s always tomorrow. Happy swimming. Bryn

The Outdoor Swimming in Breckland Facebook group is there for people interested in swimming in the Breckland area– to find out about it, meet others, post about their swims, or to learn about safe swimming. The group has collected safety advice about cold and other issues, and other information about swim places in the area. We ask people to have a read of the advice, search in the group, and ask, so that they can prepare before starting swimming (if they are new or new to the area).

Some info on safety on this website here, https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/swim-safety/ and from this page https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/, including https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/getting-started-in-inland-outdoor-swimming/

The group has expanded greatly since summer, including people new to outdoor swimming joining the group and dipping a toe in the water. We now ask people to explain why they’d like to join, where they’ve been swimming so far and what their outdoor swimming experience is, as well as asking them to sign up to rules that make sure everyone can respect one another and the environment.

The group covers the area on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, centred on Thetford Forest, though many members travel in from further afield. Their reasons for joining are many and various, but all share a love of swimming outdoors – or are looking forward to experiencing it.

clouds and reeds reflected in a still river

The Healing Waters project, which will help promote safe and fun outdoor swimming in the area, funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, has begun running introduction to outdoor swimming sessions, with the first one in September and the next one in May 2021. Many who started at that session have now joined the group.

Read more about the project, and also the Tales from the River project looking at the history of swimming, on this separate section of this website https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/os-brecks-2/