Nothing quite compares to the extraordinary feeling of plunging into ice-cold water. It’s both electrifying and terrifying – painful, but also incredibly rejuvenating. The key (if you’re going to do it without a wetsuit) is to plunge in and get out almost immediately and feel that wonderful tingly afterglow. Then do it again, then get out, and do it again!
Obviously, you need to be hot before you jump in and you don’t want to stay in more than a few seconds. A great way to do it is to run or stomp up a hill to your favourite wild swimming spot. Another way is to join a festive swim. A New Year’s Day swim is the ultimate hangover cure. In Scotland they call it Loony Dooking, and it’s a great Scottish tradition.
But for a really icy dip, nothing compares to dipping in the plunge pool beneath a frozen waterfall. Walking through a frosty wood is like going into Narnia, the water is unbelievably clear and icicles stretch above you like some kind of fairy palace (see above – albeit without the icicles).
TOP SPOTS FOR A WINTER DIP… WATERFALL WOODS, BRECON BEACONS
Coed-y-Rhaiadr means ‘waterfall woods’ and you’ll not find a more impressive network of forest lidos and falling water anywhere in Wales. A landscape rich in Welsh mythology, this extraordinary landscape was formed from the shells of sea creatures that inhabited the early tropical seas. Soft limestone layers have eroded into the plunge pools; the harder red sandstones and gritstones above that form the hard lip at the top of the falls are compressed desert sand that once covered the earth; the carboniferous (or coalbearing) seams are remains of the first forests that colonised earth once the seas and deserts receded. Warped, compressed and contorted, all these eons of time are visible in the waterfalls. The image of jumping in beneath these icy waterfalls still sticks in my memory.
FESTIVE DIPS, ALL OVER THE COUNTRY
Joining in a Boxing Day or New Year’s Day dip is one of the most fun, sociable and safe ways to get your cold-water kicks. Some of the most popular include:
BRIGHTON, CHRISTMAS DAY
In the shadow of the Palace Pier, countless hardy swimmers run into the sea – some in wetsuits, others in Santa costumes. The first icy dip here took place in 1885, and 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the Brighton Swimming Club, who organise the event.
TENBY, BOXING DAY
Started in 1970, the Tenby swim attracts over 600 swimmers, who are treated to a roaring fire and a medal for their bravery when they emerge. Thousands look on from the beach and clifftops.
SEABURN, BOXING DAY
Raising tens of thousands for charity each year, the Sunderland dip is one of Britain’s biggest with up to 1,000 swimmers and 5,000 spectators.
THE LOONY DOOK, ALL OVER SCOTLAND
Over 600 crazy but well-intentioned Loonies brave the freezing watters of South Queenferry each New Year’s Day to the sound of bagpipes and heart warming cheers. It’s the perfect post-Hogmanay hangover cure.
*Wild swimming has inherent risks and dangers, especially in cold water and unsupervised locations like Waterfall Woods, which can be fast flowing and prone to flooding. Take care; swim responsibly and respectfully and do so at your own risk.