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Taking the plunge again in beautiful surroundings of Applecross

By Rachel Smart

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Wild swimmers (from left) Rachel Smart, Elodie Matthews, Elizabeth Smart and Jill Fairweather.
Wild swimmers (from left) Rachel Smart, Elodie Matthews, Elizabeth Smart and Jill Fairweather.

Wild swimming has taken off in the last few years and its health benefits are well known. I was one of those that took up the activity during the post-lockdown craze of 2020 and, for a while at least, I was extremely dedicated.

However, as the winter took hold it became easier to wrap myself in my duvet in the dark mornings rather than plunge myself into icy waters for a thrill.

It was time to get back into it though, and what better opportunity than on a trip to visit family in Applecross? The peninsula is surrounded by the Inner Sound which hosts the deepest section of the UK’s territorial waters.

With the clocks going forward to mark the start of spring and the vastness of blue around, it seemed a shame to not take advantage of this opportunity to kickstart the swims again. Hopefully the water might be a bit warmer by now, too!

I arranged to meet a group of women from the village who have been gathering each morning to reap the benefits of a daily dip in the sea.

We made the journey along the shore and met my mum along with locals Elodie Matthews and Jill Fairweather, who have been loyal sea swimmers for the last few months.

They took me to their secluded spot, silent but for the gentle ripples of the water lapping off the beach. The sun shone over the sea, warming us, as we stood getting ourselves ready to brave the cold.

Distant swimmers bobbing about in the water.
Distant swimmers bobbing about in the water.

We made our way across the sandy and seaweed-strewn beach as Elodie, who runs her own chocolate business, navigated us around the rocks that were scattered around the rugged shore.

As we walked into the water, my feet and calves were met with a cold chill from the still sea that made me shiver.

After having a gap between swims, it felt like I was a newbie again and my tolerance for the cold temperatures has disappeared. As we walked further in, it felt as though I had frostbite and, to be honest, it was not an enjoyable feeling.

However, the water was crystal clear and everything could be seen below the surface – blue mussel shells, razor clam shells and crabs.

The area is also home to a large group of seals who pop their heads up now and again to investigate what is going on.

We made our way out to waist height as our bodies started to acclimatise to the freezing temperatures. “The sea is starting to warm up now,” the others joked.

It did not feel warmer. However, after a few minutes the fierceness of the cold started to subside, and it became more enjoyable.

A glorious spring day – but the water was still cold.
A glorious spring day – but the water was still cold.

Elodie, now an expert and beginning to remind me of cold-water guru Wim Hof, made her way under the water and popped back up with a look of glee on her face.

For her, the swimming allows her to exercise while also getting to enjoy beautiful views.

She explained: “It’s a really nice form of exercise that’s not strenuous on the joints or the muscles and I feel comfortable. What’s enjoyable is the sort of weightlessness.”

Cold water swimming does not just allow for physical rewards but also has been proven to help with mental health.

Elodie said: “Being an anxiety and depression sufferer, it resets me when it's really bad. So at least I know that if anything, [if I’ve gone for a swim] I’ve done that and that’s good enough for the day.”

The rush of water over her seemed to be exhilarating. Not wanting to be outdone and seeing the reaction it gave her, I braced myself for a plunge.

I put my head under and dived under the water, feeling the rush of clean, cold water over me.

I came up for air and by this time everything in me felt truly present, the heaviness of winter and sleepiness forced out of me by the sheer force of nature.

We swam around for a while, enjoying looking over the still waters to Raasay and Skye which were clear to see on this fine day.

The view from the beach was something special.
The view from the beach was something special.

My mum and I made our way out of the water after a while, a healthy colour of red from the water cooling our skin. Hardcore Jill and Elodie stayed in longer and looked so peaceful as they bobbed around in the water with a backdrop worthy of a movie set.

For Jill, who started swimming in the new year, she enjoys the community of it. She said: “Instead of going for a cup of coffee with your friends, you go for a swim.

“I spent a lot of my youth in the tropics so I never thought I would get in cold water, as I like warm water, but I find that, with a bit of neoprene, I can do this. I am always the last to get in though!”

Neoprene or not, I have been reminded that cold water swimming is good for both body and mind. The swim is even better when you are enveloped in such a beautiful backdrop with such fine weather!

We all got ourselves dried off again on the shore, full of endorphins and ready for a hot cuppa!

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