Below The Ice
Taking a dip in a frozen loch is a sure-fire way to get your adrenaline pumping!
The snowplough was out, clearing the roads at the foot of Glen Feshie, while the frosted trees and icy landscape were doing their best to create the appearance of a magical winter wonderland.
A perfect day to be on the snowy shore of Loch Insh. But perhaps less than ideal for an outdoor swim.
Alice Goodridge, however, would disagree. The 33-year-old runs SwimWild which organises courses and adventures in the Highlands for those who like to get into the water outdoors – and that includes in winter.
Outdoor swimming has gained popularity in recent years and that now also includes the colder months, even when the thermometer drops below zero.
A quick change saw me even colder but ready to go in. When Alice produced a sledgehammer to break the snow-covered ice, however, I began to wonder if this was a bit too extreme an undertaking for me.
I needn’t have worried – the ice was thin enough to crack and move out of the way by hand and the water was genuinely lovely. Yes, it was cold – Alice said the water temperature was just above freezing – but the action of breaking ice warmed the body.
And thank goodness for thick neoprene gloves and socks – essentials at this time of year.
Then came the moment of actual swimming. I gingerly dipped down so my shoulders were submerged then decided just going for it was the only option. There followed a desperate imitation of breaststroke.
We had only been in for 10 minutes but the adrenaline was surging through me.
Now, however, the most important part of the experience was to come – it’s important to get warm as quickly as possible once you’re out of the water.
“Your hands and feet are going to get cold but it is your core you need to get warm as soon as possible,” Alice said. “Your hands and feet will be throbbing and your body will feel fine but there is this thing called ‘after drop’ which means your core keeps cooling down when you get out of the water. You want to get clothes on as soon as possible.”
Alice’s introduction to taking a dip in winter began when training to swim the Channel in 2012. In 2017, she set up the Cairngorm Wild Swimmers group and more than 20 meet for a dip every Sunday in winter – it is important to swim with someone else for safety, especially in winter. But it is the thrill of it that attracts most.
“I get a buzz afterwards – it is a little bit addictive,” Alice said. And after my rejuvenating dip I realised I might be an addict too.
Top Tips For Outdoor Swimming In Winter
▲ Good clothing — a woolly hat to keep the heat in as well as thick, tight-fitting neoprene gloves and socks.
▲ A wetsuit can be worn but only if you can take it off quickly afterwards to avoid getting overly cold.
▲ Never swim alone, and make sure the area is safe to swim in before setting out.
▲ Make sure you know what is under the water – such as any sudden drop offs in the river or loch bed.
▲ Clear ice before swimming to avoid being cut on sharp edges.
▲ Breathe out — focus
on your breathing to avoid hyperventilation caused
by repeated sharp intakes
▲ A hot water bottle and lots of warm layers to quickly put on afterwards.
▲ A hot drink in a flask, or café close by.
Get Into Wild Swimming
The Outdoor Swimming Society was established in 2006 to pioneer outdoor swimming in rivers, lakes, lidos, and seas. It has a comprehensive list of clubs which can be found on its website.