Katy Boulton shares her new obsession and invites a commissioner to dip their toes in very cold water.
Robson Green has done it. Professor Alice Roberts has also given it a go. Darcey Bussell tried it in Scotland recently. Kate Humble did it naked. Susannah Constantine took an axe with her when she did it. Barely a week goes by without someone from either Countryfile or The One Show doing it. And Port Talbot resident David Bryan credits it with helping to save his life.
I’m talking wild or – as I prefer to call it – cold-water swimming. It’s something that I, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, took up last year as a way of coping with lockdown. And it’s something that seems to have taken over our TV screens and my life in equal measure!
I’ve always enjoyed the odd dip in a lake, but I started swimming outdoors on a more regular basis last summer. Why? Because it was something that would provide some much-needed exercise and it was one of the few things that I was permitted to do with a friend or two. So, when a mate suggested it, it was an easy “yes” in a summer of “nos/can’ts” – although I honestly didn’t think it would last, and I certainly had no idea just how much it would get under my skin.
The water felt cold that first summer’s day. In fact, it was 16°C, which, I’ve since learned, is fairly warm as things go. After every aquatic trip, I would say wistfully to my companion, “Well, that’ll probably be the last one until next year because it’ll be too cold next week”. But here’s the thing. Water takes longer than air to cool down, so the temperature difference from one week to the next is relatively small.
If you just keep on swimming regularly, you adjust to the cold, bit by bit, over time. Then, one day, you find yourself swimming in 4°C water, with snow falling around you (surreal but magical). And you confidently tell your friend in a Mr Toadish kind of a way, “I’m going to carry on doing this for ever!”
Other reasons for me to continue include: regular mid-swim sightings of a kingfisher; a definite (and much needed) mental health lift; the fact that it allows me to meet with a friend or two within the various rules and restrictions; the beautiful countryside (I live in the South Pennines); the connection with the changing seasons; the laughter (believe me – when you flash your backside at the fishermen for the umpteenth time while getting changed, you and your friends will howl with laughter); and, of course, the post-swim cake (medicinal purposes only, you understand).
It seems I’m very much not alone, and we can see the evidence of the nation’s new-found obsession with cold-water swimming all over our screens. Robson Green first went on his Wild Swimming Adventure (ITV) in 2009. The two-parter has since been re-released on Amazon Prime Video, reflecting current interest.
Last summer, we saw Roberts embark on a quest to discover what lies behind the UK’s lockdown craze in her BBC Four documentary Wild Swimming with Alice Roberts. And, just last month, we’ve had True North’s Wild Coasts of Scotland series for More4, in which Darcey Bussell went wild swimming off the Isle of Skye. And, of course, these are just a handful among many other programmes and features.
My new obsession is a campaign to create a lido in my local community. So, if there are any commissioning editors out there, I reckon the journey from idea to reality would make a great documentary series.
Or how about a TV travelogue of Britain’s lidos, exploring our many and varied outdoor pools? I’d watch it, for sure, and I’m certain I wouldn’t be the only one!
Katy Boulton is strategic development manager at TripleC/DANC (Disabled Artists Networking Community), which campaigns for representation and opportunities for disabled people on and off our screens.