I parked the car and felt a surge of adrenaline fill my body.
I picked up my phone to text my husband, unsure whether it was to reassure him that I’d arrived or to to get some extra confidence that I was doing the right thing. No Signal.
Was I crazy? Should I bail? Was this too reckless, being on my own with no phone back up?
I gave myself a mental pep talk and strode towards the woods….
Rewind a few hours
What do you do when your partner in adventures is working away from home on your birthday?
I had a few thoughts in my head – spend some time with family, treat myself to a day of shopping and cafe culture, just have a normal day until the weekend came. But above all, I was craving something to feed my adventurous spirit.
One of my social media friends had been posting pictures of cold water swimming in the snow and for whatever reason, the idea of an early morning dip in a river had been slowly taking hold. I’m not a big fan of swimming, I have a slightly neurotic fear of unknown rivers and I’m definitely not a big fan of feeling cold, but I do have happy memories of swimming in the local rivers as a child….in the summer.
The more I thought about celebrating my birthday, the more a pre-breakfast swim in the river grew on me. There were just a couple of problems: 1. It was only March and in the midst of Beast from the East numbers 2 and 3 (meaning that it was still damn cold outside) and 2. I was going solo, which ordinarily would not bother me but I had the thought that at my grand old age with the frigid conditions, I might just shock my body into a heart attack when I was submerged in the river.
Managing the variables
Luckily, I have a husband who encourages me to do crazy things in my life – and instead of feeding my natural fears he calmed my thoughts.
I’d chosen to drive to the Yorkshire Dales, back to an area which will always be home for me and which always feeds my soul. My summers were spent swimming with friends in Janet’s Foss near Malham so I knew how the river bed deepened and the best way to get in and out quickly. Best of all, it’s simply one of my favourite places to be.
Before going to bed the night before, I told myself that if I woke naturally at 5am, it was game on. I did, but in the early hours I was mulling over the sense of what I had planned to do. In need of some final encouragement, my husband sent me a message just before I set off ” I know where you’re going, text me when you’re there, text me when you’re done”.
Actually, I had a better plan, I was going to see whether FaceTime would work – and if not, a phone call while I was swimming would be the perfect way for us to share my birthday adventure.
The final countdown
When I parked up, I felt a little sick with nerves. Remembering to let my husband know I’d arrived, I checked my phone and found that I was out of signal – no FaceTime then! I knew he’d be waiting to hear from me – was doing this an act of stupidity and would it ultimately lead to my watery death for some unsuspecting walker to find me in a few hours.
I gathered my big furry woman balls and walked down the the pool, telling myself that I would choose once I got there.
A strange thing happened once I stood in front of the river – I felt calm. Going for a swim no longer felt crazy, it felt natural. I stripped off and waded in.
The benefits of cold water swimming
There’s tons of information on the internet about the benefits of cold water swimming, one of which is about relieving depression. I remember watching a BBC programme about it, the “Dr Who Gave Up Drugs”
I can honestly attest to the fact that it gave me one hell of a buzz for the rest of the day.
Yes, it was freezing cold, but thankfully I learned as a child the best way for me to swim in cold rivers (wade in quickly up to my thighs, take a couple of deep breaths, practice swimming strokes with my arms – muscle memory I reckon, then just go for it).
I swam for a few strokes, considering going deeper into the pool, then remembered my poor husband away at work, wondering whether I was safe. Taking the sensible option, I waded back out and quickly dressed. Ah the bliss of warm, dry clothing. I can honestly say that I felt toasty warm for the rest of the day, despite it hailing on me later!
Finishing up, I abandoned my plans for hot chocolate and rice pudding by the river and headed back to my car so that I could get a message back to my husband.
The fates were smiling on me, near my car a text message came in. Realising I had a floating signal, I managed to send one back saying that I was safe and even managed to leave an answerphone message.
Hot chocolate was back on the menu and I spent a wonderful half hour sitting quietly above the waterfall, opening birthday cards and presents before heading away to spend the rest of the day with family.