I moved to the Lakes over six years ago from a less watery Bristol to be nearer the hills, as a climber this was the main objective however I soon realised that as it rains a fair bit, a new pastime needed to be unearthed!
Since then I can be found most days of the year swimming in Windermere which is just a few miles up the road from my house in Kendal.
Windermere is a ribbon lake over 12 miles long. It’s an old glacial trough and lies with North/South axis. At about 67M at its murkiest deep it is England’s largest body of water. It’s a migration route for geese in winter and harbours a whole host of fish and native species. In the winter it kisses 5 degrees and in summer can soar to a balmy 20. Not bad to have so close to my doorstep!
The weather on the lake can change fairly rapidly with thick mists appearing from sharp clear mornings, and white horses of waves from gentle undulating stillness. The main cruiser ship pilots on the lake are well versed to look out for swimmers, but the influx of smaller crafts are the ones to watch out for! There is a speed limit of 10 NM on the lake down to 6 in places but it’s not always adhered to despite great rangers and wardens.
The Swim Secure tow float (and ideally bright cap!) massively increase visibility on the lake. It isn’t a life-saving aid, but for the swimmers on the ‘Mere it does help us stay visible.
Over lockdown my friend and fellow ice swimmer and swim coach Katie and I cofounded ‘Blue Mind Swim’ (BMS).
We are advocates for mental wellbeing and its interplay with the outdoors and have, in the past few years, raised funds for the mental health charity ‘Mind’. I have practised meditation for over 15 years and find it and the cold water wonderful for all round happiness.
The BMS is a bi-monthly introduction to open water dipping specifically for mental wellbeing. We encourage those who have never swum in open water to come along and give it a go. With over 16 lakes in the region and countless bodies of water it’s the ideal place to encourage others to try something new to add to their mental health programme.
The sessions are free, and we have partnered with 2 psychotherapists Naomi and Annabelle who are on hand to provide mental health signposting and shore support. We’ve added water safety too and the National Trust base at Fellfoot on Windermere provides a shallow safe entry point for the swimmers and toe dippers.
At the session we do a short-guided meditation and a check-in before the swim and then we split the group into two - those who wish to swim with a wet suit and those who wish to swim in skins. There is no push to skin swim though folks are encouraged to slip off the neoprene at the end of the dip!
It’s great fun and we make sure everyone who attends leaves feeling good, even the small wins are celebrated.
Sometimes just showing up is the first step and takes the most courage.
Ideally we’d love to partner with a GP’s surgery, so we can demonstrate, in a measurable way, the power of the cold for a whole range of maladies. With funding we could run more sessions too, something we will look into in 2021 – especially as it seems so needed in the current climate. All the sessions have filled up in less than an hour and we have a waiting list, something we suspected!
Swim Secure kindly donated tow floats for the sessions, something we insist everyone uses, and we discuss how to approach lake swimming safely. There is less buoyancy in fresh water, there are bio security aspects to consider and obviously safety around boat traffic to name but a few teaching points.
We aim to provide newcomers the tools and information to safely swim with other groups locally and we provide a list of other Open Water swim Coaches if they wish to delve deeper in a 1-1 session. This is about rising each other up.
Water is a great teacher, a healer and a mirror, and the Blue Mind Sessions are helping a lot of people find themselves again. I’m proud of that.
Please contact Gilly and Katie to find out more about Blue Mind Swim Sessions via their Instagram account @blue_mind_swim.
Photographer: Jumpy James Photography.
Just for added information:
Below is a trailer for the documentary, Body Of Water (filmed by @Sequence13Films), where they spend a winter following Gilly on her mental and physical journey to seek out remote, icy waters. From the high mountain tarns of her home in the Lake District to frozen lochs in Scottish Highlands, this film dives into the heart and mind of the cold water swimmer, showing us why it's so compelling for those bold enough to take the plunge.