Despite living next to the sea for nearly 8 years, the thought of going in for a swim had never entered my mind - never! That was until last summer when I went up to visit friends in Aberdeenshire. We went to the beautiful Cruden Bay beach, and my friend’s kids went in swimming. I thought they were the bravest, strongest and quite frankly the craziest people I had ever met! My friend had packed her wetsuit and the kids asked me to come in for a swim. I told them it was the most ridiculous idea I had ever heard, me swimming - in the North Sea - no chance! Well, minutes later they said the words - ‘we dare you!’ What can I say, I can’t resist a dare! And that was it, within 5 minutes I was in, getting dunked over and over again. The temperature of the water took my breath away, but it was such a thrill!

The real effect came afterwards. It was like my mind had been spring cleaned. It felt clear and sharp and just thinking about it made me smile! Later that day before returning home, my friend Jenny suggested I keep it going and that I try and hook up with a wild swimming group locally. That’s exactly what I did - I found a group called the Lubnaig Loonies - apt name I felt - and I’ve never looked back!

Since that day, I have been in swimming multiple days a week. I have met a new amazing circle of friends. Wild Swimmers have to be the friendliest bunch I have ever met, you couldn’t be more warmly welcomed wherever you go. My group has taught me a lot about the value of community, and the invaluable support being with others can bring during tough times, such as the lockdown.

There are many things the cold has taught me. I’ve learned that I’m stronger, braver and more resilient than I thought. Passers by who see you swim will say to you almost every time without fail - ‘You’re so brave! And slowly but surely I’ve started to internalize this, and apply this new found courage in other areas of my life.

Wild swimming is very much about mind over matter and stepping out of your comfort zone. I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t admit that each time they still doubt if they can do it, particularly when it’s only 2 degrees out and the wind is cutting through you like a knife! There needs to be an internal shift where you tell yourself ‘Ok, come on, you can do this.’ This has been such a valuable lesson, as I now transpose this to my work. Difficult work call? I can’t do it. 5 minutes later I’m on the phone.

Wim Hof widely known as ‘the iceman’ who has raised the profile of cold water immersion says ‘the cold is a mirror’. I now understand what he means. The cold, and more specifically the dark water, used to scare me. Every time I swam and looked down at the dark I would get anxious. ‘What was down there?’ The dark water was a reflecting back to my fears, but most importantly it also taught me that I didn’t trust my inner voice, the one that was telling me ‘It’s ok you are safe.’ Over the past few months, I have learned to trust that inner voice, and I’m now able face the dark, and other challenging situations in my life, without fear.

Nature is a marvel it really is. I’ve come to appreciate that. Thanks to wild swimming I have a deeper bond with nature, and it has taught me things about myself, motivated me to make changes, take action and be brave. I see it as one of the blessings of lockdown, giving me the chance to establish a new and deeper connection with nature, learn from it and use it to destress, reset and fuel my wellbeing.

So what do you think, fancy a swim?

For Bea and Charlie,

By Lauren McQuade.

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