It’s so easy to find blog posts about how wonderful wild swimming is – and for good reason. The health benefits are well-documented, and once people try it, they often get the bug – I certainly did!
What I particularly love about wild swimming, however, is the way it can bring people together. My love of wild swimming comes from my mother, who loved swimming in the sea in particular. She died three years ago, and my return to wild swimming makes me feel connected to her. I grew up in Newcastle, with the North Sea only a 20 minute drive away, and as a child I swam in the sea at every opportunity, usually with my mum. I remember loving testing my limits by swimming on cold days, and especially in the rain, which remains one of the most amazing things you can possibly do, in my opinion.
When I was around 14 or so, I stepped on a jellyfish in Cornwall and got a nasty sting on the bottom of my foot. It really hurt, I think in particular because I had to walk on it, and I stopped swimming in the sea. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I didn’t swim in the sea for years, and now in hindsight I’m sure it was this that stopped me. Fast forward to a year ago, when I was on holiday in the Lake District with some friends. We went to Loughrigg Tarn to swim. I wasn’t sure, mainly due to the fact that I thought it would be very cold. I took the plunge, and it was completely wonderful – being in the middle of a lake made me feel incredible.
The water was invigorating and the view to the shore, surrounded by trees with mountains beyond, felt so special – something that could never be seen from that perspective unless you were in/on the water. I had the bug again – in fact, I couldn’t believe I’d ever stopped. That summer, I swam everywhere I could, and overcame my fear of jellyfish enough to return to sea swimming! Then, the following winter, my husband and I made a radical decision – to move to the Newcastle coast, from our home in inner-city Hull.
This move felt a bit bonkers when we first talked about it, but the more we discussed it the more excited we got. I had started my own business, a classical music agency and consultancy called Polyphony Arts, a couple of years earlier, seeking a better life balance with our young son, and this felt like the culmination of all that hard work – when you run a remote business, why not move to live by the sea!
We finally moved in July – lockdown came in between, and we all longed for the space and opportunities for play and wellbeing that the beach would bring. In the first week we arrived, I was sitting outside our new house chatting to the neighbours, when a lady walked past and said ‘wild swimming anyone?’! I joined her group and it is wonderful – there is always someone willing to go with you, and there are all abilities from people swimming for rehabilitation and wellbeing to those ploughing miles across wide bays. Some have goals, and some just love being in the water.
But, it’s not just living at the coast that I’ve encountered the togetherness that wild swimming can bring. A close friend from Hull and I share the love of sea swimming, and have found odd moments that we can swim together. We both have young children and making that work around them, to get some true space, was a real challenge. As I prepared to leave Hull, we went out at 7am to travel to the East Yorkshire coast for a goodbye swim. We had the sea to ourselves pre 8am and it was glorious. It was a truly special end of an era.
I love the way wild swimming can be done by anyone, and have enormous health and well-being benefits. It’s so incredible to be able to go and plunge into the sea at the end of a hard day, and also to be part of the community that goes with it. It really brings people together and provides a wonderful outlook on life.
Katie Beardsworth is the Director and Founder of Polyphony Arts – a classical music artist and project management business. She will soon be launching a podcast called Music Works, exploring the future of classical music. Katie lives in Cullercoats, North Tyneside, with her husband, 3 year old son, and cat called Keith. Outside her paid work, she is a doula and breastfeeding peer supporter, and keen wild swimmer.