Bathing with Selkies: Wild Swimming in England's Lakes, Rivers and Seas

Although we may no longer rely on it for our survival in the way of our ancestors, water continues to draw in humans. For many of us, it is no longer a main source of food, nor do we need to defend our shores - and yet summer upon summer, we flock to the beach in our droves. Much like how candlelight coaxes more intimate conversation around the dinner table, water holds a primal allure, reminding us of wilder times in our collective past.

I think that even among the most frequent of cold-water swimmers there's a sense of trepidation as layers of wool, down and fleece are peeled back to reveal pink flesh - quickly covered in a rash of goosebumps - and ankles wrapped with the indents of discarded socks. And concerned the dipper should be; plunging into near-freezing water, whether an ice bath or the ocean, should be approached with a healthy dose of common sense and respect for nature.

However, as with many things that nudge the limits of the body, the effects of submersion can be transformative and even addictive. Tiptoeing awkwardly through mud or hopping across shingle, there's always a moment of doubt that flashes through my mind when the water first laps around my feet - maybe today's not the day. But the battle is half won by that time. I'm already in my swimsuit (probably in full view of some poor dog walker) and there's nothing for it but to slowly make my way in, and try to remember to breathe...

Read the full article in Volume 30: The Health Issue.

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