The Start – Kim

I have always loved the water even as a child, I’ve just been totally drawn to it! Swimming pools, paddling pools, the sea, rivers, rock pools… the water, near the water, you name it, that is where I’d be.

However, as an adult the cold water was not an appealing thought initially. In recent years my swim consisted of the local Leisure Centre swimming pool, which was enjoyable at the time, but what I’ve since found has been a total “game changer” for me personally.

Trips up to the Lake District and family holidays to Scotland with my boys and husband Chris, again brought us back to the water, days spent in the loch, jumping off the jetty, picnics on the paddleboard. It was there we discovered the complete joy of a morning swim albeit, in a wetsuit… nevertheless, a truly exhilarating way to start the day!

How amazing to be immersed in the water, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and then back in time for bacon butties and a hot coffee, to be enjoyed whilst gazing over the water… I mean, what better way to start the day?

Trips away carried on this way, and slowly the thoughts of no wetsuit became an appealing idea. I had seen people online across social media and in real life, in the water, “Wild Swimming “Cold Dipping” and from this I started reading about the real health benefits from it, both physically and mentally.…so why not give it a try I thought!

I took the plunge…. Lake Windermere, first dip without the wetsuit – loved it!! Okay let’s go again…. So a large walk was planned with the boys, we were walking by a beautiful tarn, it was a great opportunity to cool down from the walk on a lovely hot day! The boys enjoyed their picnic by the water and a paddle while Chris and I had a lovely swim –the feeling of total exhilaration afterwards was fantastic – I was hooked!!

The water had a warmth to it on these early adventures, but certainly not cold… not the cold I have now come to crave! The prospect of a 3- or 4-degree dip in the beginning did not “fill my heart with joy” until a breathwork session with Lisa (fellow dipper and friend) changed it all! Lisa booked us a session with the wonderful Kev at Breatheolution. We headed over to Buxton full of excitement and open minds to see what we would take from the day. I can honestly say it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had, to feel so free, reset, lighter from a heavy weight I hadn’t realised I was carrying with me.

Thanks to Kev’s patience and explanation on how the breathing techniques could help us prepare for the cold water, it became a practise that now encompasses the start to one of my days in the week. I cannot imagine a time where I would not feel the need to have this amazing experience in my life, the holotropic breathwork practise, the cold water dip, it’s worked wonders.

The little community of friends I now have to share this experience with is truly wonderful, and one I look forward to each week. From the excitement of packaging the kit the night before, popping the pan on to warm the milk for the hot chocolate in the morning to the walk up the hill in the gorgeous countryside, the breathwork by the lapping water, the bird’s signing in the background and then the dip itself. The time in the water gives me a chance to reflect, to feel the cold which is almost uncomfortable initially when we begin to creep into the water, but then accepting and acknowledging it, let it settle, keep breathing, just keep breathing in and out…. and then it ease’s – and lifts and then arrives the joy, a love of the cold water, the surroundings and the lightness I am feeling.

This moment is normally followed by a lot of joyous whooping and cheering, were in! Loving it, how amazing is that! It works for me – reset, refreshed and lighter every time, and who wouldn’t want to feel that?

The First Encounter – Lisa

Like a lot of people, 2020 gave me time to stop and reflect. Without my busy days filled to the brim, rushing here, there and everywhere, I was forced to slow down. There’s a lot I really enjoyed about lockdown (my daughter and husband home to enjoy maternity leave with me and my son, lots of time outside in the garden with our two chickens; growing flowers, fruit and vegetables, and local walks). I’ll look back on this with fond memories. Having said that there were aspects I found tough and I experienced a mental health wobble. Fortunately I got some professional help and am now feeling better (hooray!). Along the way I was determined to help myself and began experimenting with different things. Cold water therapy was one of them!

My husband is a fan of cold showers and has been having them for over a year (though it never really appealed to me) and I’d read about Wim Hoff and watched a couple of documentaries. My friend Chris (husband of Kim, one of the other Chilly Dippers) sent me a video of himself peacefully bobbing along in a local reservoir, looking out over the calm and beautiful blue water, with the most incredible green hilly, mossy scenery all around him. It looked more like an infinity pool than a peaty brown reservoir and it peaked my interest.

A few months later I came across Kev from Breatheolution and he was guiding people through cold water therapy and raving about the benefits. I got in touch and booked a session for me and Kim. So one very cold, very windy, very sleety January morning, we set off with nervous excitement. We got there and Kev immediately put us at ease. We sat on the edge of a very choppy reservoir in the Peak District and did a few rounds of Holotropic breathwork. This is to make sure you get enough oxygen in the system to reduce the shock response of getting into such cold water. I could do a whole blog post just on the benefits of this type of breathing there are so many. Once we were done it was time to get in. Eek!

We started to walk into the water and IT. WAS. FREEZING! But we stayed calm, breathed through it as we inched deeper and deeper, and tried to be mindful of the sensations our bodies were feeling. We felt cold, our skin burnt, we got pins and needles, then our bodies settled into it. Somewhere in between all that was a euphoric feeling. We were in there, in super cold water (2.8 degrees), with gorgeous views of snow topped hills around us, properly ‘in’ nature and it felt amazing. I was completely in the moment and thinking of nothing else. I felt genuinely happy and couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. I felt refreshed. I felt rejuvenated. I felt I could do anything.

From that moment I was hooked! I wanted more. I wanted connection with nature. I wanted water. I wanted wild. I wanted that feeling. I wanted to have a bit of time completely to myself doing something I love. I wanted a slice of time where I could clear my mind of anything else. My sister in law Emma (also part of the Chilly Dippers!) was well up for coming with me, to the reservoir our friend had been to nearby. I tried to guide Emma through it as Kev had done with me. We both absolutely loved it and Emma was bitten with the bug!

Fast-forward a couple of months and the Chilly Dippers were born! There’s Emma, Kim and Me (Lisa). The three of us go every week if we can, or at least every other. We’ve had a few other newbies come to try it too and we’ve bumped into other cold water dippers. We tend to meet up really early, have a little hike up to the water, do our breathing on the side, get in, have a bob around and sometimes a swim. Each time feels as amazing as the first. It’s always a totally new experience depending on the weather conditions. I love surrendering to nature in this way. Yes we can look up the weather in advance but we really don’t know what it’s going to be like until we’re there. It depends on the air temperature, the water temperature, the wind strength and direction, the rain, the sun, the clouds, the sky. For me it’s awe-inspiring.  I love looking out across the water to the hills and sky beyond. It brings such a sense of peace and calm but I also feel so alive. Once we’re out and dry we have a hot chocolate to help warm us up.  Through the hike up and down, and our hot chocolate break we chat and put the world to rights. I really appreciate this, we’ve become a little like-minded support group. It would be really easy to stay at home on some days especially when it’s chucking it down, cold and windy, but it feels good to be determined, be resilient, put mind over matter, grit your teeth and go regardless. I’ve never regretted getting in that water!

I’m still not a fan of a cold shower, but a cold bath now you’re talking.  

We’ve got plans to check out some other local spots, travel further afield once restrictions lift, and dip at different times of day. I can’t wait for a sunset dip. I think it’ll turn into more of a swim once the weather and water warm up over summer which will be equally lovely but I think I’ll crave the cold water again come the winter.

For anyone wanting to give it a go, I’d say go for it! Everyone should try it at least once. I feel I should warn people that it’s not a hobby to be reckless with. You need to research where you’re going, be able to swim, check it’s ok to get in (and observe any warnings against it, only get in if you’re sure you’re allowed), get the right equipment, go with someone else (preferably someone who has done it before), and be mindful that you’re getting into a very cold body of wild water and can quickly become too cold which can be dangerous. But if you’re sensible and respect your body and the water, it’s pretty magical.