Day 22: Cold bathing
I grew up in North-West London, but have never before swam in the ponds on Hampstead Heath. I thought that my 100 Days of Play could be an ideal opportunity to experience this for the first time.
I could chalk it up to skinny-dipping, which is surely a form of play – though it turns out that this is now banned, apparently to prevent men having their tackle nipped by crayfish – with nudity relegated to a tiny, corrugated iron area that must rank among the world’s least attractive sunbathing venues.
Instead, I’ll call it wild(ish) swimming. I’m in a genuine pond, with flora and presumably fauna, though thankfully nothing nibbles my toes.
Perhaps late October isn’t the perfect occasion to try swimming in a pond for the first time. The water is, apparently, 11 degrees Celsius, which sounds to my mind not too cold. But water does have a very high specific heat capacity. I remember this as the wind is punched out of me as I descend into the water via the ladder. I’d feared diving (okay, jumping) in as having the potential to kill me through shock or heart attack.
I’m always amazed when swimming in the cold quite how powerful and hard the experience can be. I was gulping in air and finding it difficult to get any purchase on the oxygen, and whimpering slightly. I did manage to swim for a short while, and, yes, sure enough it did feel a little better after I’d become accustomed. But my time in the water was certainly limited.
But then, after a while in the water, I reacquainted myself with one of the activities I really do find truly joyous: drying myself in the sun and a gentle breeze. Despite the season there was a clear sky, and a gently warming sun. After showering down I stood on the jetty, watched braver souls than I dipping in, climbing out, warming up, and then going back in again. No chance for them to acclimatise.
In fifteen minutes I was dry, except for beneath my trunks, so retired to the aforementioned corrugated iron to dry the rest. By the end of my sun-dried experience I was calm, collected, meditative and full of joy.
Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air. – Ralph Waldo Emerson