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  • Writer's pictureliz

Swimming with ducks, canal boats and a few nutters

You may have seen a few mentions on the website and on our social media account on Open/Cold water swimming. Here’s an account of my Introduction to Open Water Swimming with Run Surrey Hills. If the very thought of getting your clothes off, getting kitted out in a wet suit or swimming costume and stepping into freezing cold muddy water is absolutely a crazy idea, you can stop reading right here. But if you want to look at a couple of really stupid pictures of me in a wetsuit, please go ahead and laugh, they’re not pretty and might out you off your dinner – or at least you can re-evaluate how slim you all actually are.

So, heads up, I’ve always loved the water and swimming. In my younger days I enjoyed various water sports with the sea rangers a teenager, After rowing, canoeing and sailing, we’d regularly jump in the Thames near Hampton Court to cool down on hot summer days, dip into cold water tarns in the Lake District or go racing into the sea, convinced we could swim to France – however as I’ve got older, I’ve felt more reluctant to challenge myself and lost the confidence to try.

But with lockdown, as we know, all our indoor activities ceased – including trips to the local swimming pools, which I had been attending regularly until then. However, we were (and of course still are) allowed to exercise outdoors – social media went into overdrive advertising various open water venues locally – Divers Cove, Godstone, The Surrey Hills Adventure Centre (The Shac) at Buckland and of course, Hever Castle all offer life guarded open water swimming opportunities.

Still feeling a bit reluctant to have a go, my husband came up with a brilliant suggestion. He is a very keen runner and has recently progressed to guided trail runs with Run Surrey Hills. Jude Palmer, who organises the guided runs is also a keen swimmer and with a couple of her friends, she also organises swim sessions locally. Right from beginners up to crazy triathlon junkies. It just so happened my loving husband pointed me in the direction of an Introduction to Open Water swimming at the beginning of May. Before I had a chance to reconsider (wimp out completely) my bee keeping friend and I booked!

On Saturday 1st May, me and 11 others literally took the plunge into the Wey Navigation at Ripley. My fears were very quickly allayed on arrival. The weather was beautiful, and it was all very safe and all very relaxed – and very experienced guides. The swim course was about 2 hours long with three highly qualified instructors for groups of up to 12 people. Before we attended, we were sent a questionnaire and a suggested kit list.

Once on site – a beautiful wide bank on the River Wey - we had introductions and a very comprehensive and interactive safety briefing. There was an eclectic group of people, experienced divers and paddle boarders, open water swimmers and complete beginners. Then the moment finally came to get into the water. We were divided into 2 groups – those with wetsuits and those in swimming costumes. And in we dipped.

Slowly, slowly to adjust to the chilly water and we were in. Our nerves disappeared once we were immersed in the water. Although it was really cold, it was lovely to float around with swans and ducks and we had to keep an eye up for the boats! We weren’t in for long – the shortest was 2 minutes and the longest 15 over a very short distance. And there was no pressure to even go in at all. Afterwards we got dressed as quickly as we could. In lots and lots of layers. Hot drinks and cookies were very much appreciated.

We were well looked after and the course informative and useful. The safety talk and the risks to be aware of was invaluable. The whole event was really well thought out and the leaders very engaging and encouraging. Wetsuits not needed BUT you have to be a confident swimming pool swimmer and expect COLD water. Those in swimming costumes didn’t stay in as long as those in wetsuits. You’ll also need layers of warm clothes to dress back into to get warm again. A large towel, dress or dry robe to get changed under. Modesty out the window I’m afraid. Sadly, no public loo or changing room. So wild wees only. Shoes and gloves for the water recommended too. The course is run by Run Surrey Hills and costs £35. Details can be found on their website

It really is very recommended for complete beginners (although you’ll obviously need to be confident to swim 200 metres in a swimming pool). I’m sure if a large enough group are interested, we can book a course with Jude and her team over the summer. Or just book online with a couple of friends on a course already in the programme online. Once this course is attended, you’re good to go swimming at the Shac in Buckland and Divers cove in Godstone – and you’ll have the confidence and safety knowledge to decide whether to swim in any body of water you pass. If you'd like to join us swimming over the summer and are not entirely confident in your ability, I can highly recommend this course. For your own safety and peace of mind it's £35 well spent.

And here’s an article about the some health benefits of open water swimming -

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