I went for a dip in the sea the other day. That is, I did swim, but not for long enough to count as "going for a swim". Yes, it was cold.
I spent eight months of last year - March to October - living in a flat in Borth, a few miles up the coast from Aberystwyth. I'd split up with my husband in February and moved out to give him time and space to sort himself out, before moving back to the house (without him) in the autumn. So I got summer by the sea, sharing a flat with a friend, living next door to a chip shop and just across the road from the beach. There are worse places to go and re-evaluate your life.
I've always loved the sea and enjoyed swimming in it when the weather's warm enough. Of course, "Warm enough" is very much a matter of opinion. Before last year, I'd only ever swum in the summer, on the kind of days in which I could happily sit out in a tee shirt all day. But then a few years ago, I started hearing about the reputed benefits of cold water for mental health, and I got curious. Living so close to the sea, it was practical to have a five minute dip in the sea then go straight home for a warm shower and a cup of tea. I wouldn't even have to get changed on the beach.
Before venturing into icy waters, I spent a fair amount of time browsing the internet, as you do. Regarding the benefits, there are plenty of anecdotal reports, but I couldn't find much in the way of scientific research. Still, the anecdotes were compelling enough to make me want to try. There are risks as well, of course, and I'd recommend The Outdoor Swimming Society as a good source of information, neither evangelical about the benefits, nor alarmist about the risks. The main safety rule I stick to is never to swim on an outgoing tide. If I get into trouble and can't swim back to shore, I want the sea to wash me in not out.
I took my first dip in late March of last year: About five minutes in the sea before rushing back to the flat for a shower and a hot cup of tea. Getting into the water was as cold as you'd expect, but even in the short time I was in, I got past the initial shock and it stopped feeling unpleasant. I think this must be because I've swum in cold-ish water quite a lot over the years, so my body's fairly used to acclimatising.
What I hadn't expected was quite how much of a buzz I'd get afterwards. I was bouncing off the walls! It wasn't just the triumph of having survived, or the relief of being warm again, but a genuine positive glow. I'd read about this sort of thing, but didn't expect to experience it until I'd been in a few times, at least, and got used to the cold water. Again, I think this must have been because I was a moderately experienced sea-swimmer before I started.
After that, of course I went in at every opportunity. There were quite a lot of reasons for not going in, particularly the weather. Rain wasn't so much of a problem as the wind - it's one thing to be cold in the water, but getting out into an icy blast is something else again. Don't ask me why, it's just different. Also, a strong wind makes the waves much more dangerous. I love playing in the waves, but there's a point at which they just knock me over and it's no fun any more.
After getting very cold, it does take a lot of energy to warm up again. For this reason, some people recommend cold-water swimming for weight loss. I'm not particularly interested in that, I just have to be aware that I'm going to be completely wiped out after a dip at this time of year.
As well as waves, other dangers include jellyfish, of which there are many on this coast. I'm pretty wary of swimming when there are lots, and I've got away without being stung. That said, the other day I completely ignored reports of Portuguese man o' war currently in the area. I got away with it.
I haven't swum as much this year, largely because a 15 mile drive makes it a lot less convenient, especially during lockdown, when we weren't supposed to travel more than five miles from home. After all these negative points, you might be wondering by now why I bother. The short answer is, it feels amazing. Quite apart from the psysiological reaction to the cold, there's the sheer beauty of being immersed in the vastness of the sea. Often, there's also a sunset, to top it off.