There is a rich tradition of festive dips around the UK, with short sea swims on Boxing Day and New Years Day being particular favourites. While I didn’t get to swim on either of those days, I did have a lovely day out on the 29th with the lovely Helen Gibbs, and a good number of other cold water swimming people.
First stop of the day was Coneygeare on the River Great Ouse. I had swum here a couple of times before with Helen and the River Swimming Gang, but this was to be my coolest dip yet in the ROD (River of Death). Most of the rest of the gang have swum through previous winters while this is my first, so new personal lows are being tested quite regularly. It was COLD when we arrived at 9 AM, and boy was I not feeling it. The air temperature had struggled its way to around 2C , and a sharp frost remained on the ground. Furthermore, the river was in spate after recent heavy rains, so the usual entry point adjacent to the car park was not possible. Instead, a short walk up the riverside path led to an upstream entry point. This was to be a fast, cold, downstream rush of a swim, pushing over to the river bank past the bicycle bridge, before pulling oneself out onto the bank before the current whipped you away downstream.
This was cold, but wildly exhilirating. While we were probably only in a few minutes, it was VERY cold on the extremities as we got out and got dressed. Every degree below 7C is hard-earned and not to be approached lightly. Also to be considered is the sum of the air temperature and water temperature. Those with previous experience of swimming through the winter will tell you that AIR + WATER < 10C will feel cold. The ROD was at an invigorating 4.6 C. The air was around 2 C. 2 + 4.6 = 6.6 C. A 20 minute swim would have been challenging on that day.
As is customary, swimmers had breakfast at Ambiance (sic) our reward! Unusually there was no shivering to speak of, due to the short duration of the swim. The hot food and cups of tea felt great though!
The second river of the day was the Cam. It’s odd, but the second swim of the day is never such a shock to the system, as the mind and body appear ‘used’ to the water, despite maybe a couple of hours elapsing. This day was no exception. The Cam was modestly warmer (4.7 C) than the Ouse earlier, but felt warmer. The customary for the time of year swim up to Deadman’s corner and back felt great, taking only 7 minutes or so. Some nice chat afterwards, as the hardcore group of me, Helen Gibbs, Helen Liddle and Tom Reed were joined by Sarah Tunnicliffe (EC, 2013), Phil Hodges and his daughter Poppy. Maybe others too – getting old – memory failing…….
The third swim of the day was back to the Nene at Tansor, and was an absolute treat. This was to be the first time swimming the Nene from the RMEP. The RMEP (Reed Martin entry point, eponymously named after pioneers Tom Reed and Dan Martin – fittingly Dan was back from Saudi Arabia to try it out) is about 1/2 a mile upstream from the boat club at Tansor. It involves climbing down the side of a small road bridge, then launching yourself into a fast flowing mill race. which sends you away at high speed with a bit of an undertow, before popping you up just downstream. I admit I was slightly worried about this part of the day. I wasn’t worried about the 1/2 mile in icy water down to the exit point, as there was a healthy flow helping us out. I was concerned more about the presence in the same thrilling jump of 4.9 C temperatures, racing water, and an undertow. There something about that word undertow that gives me the heebeegeebees.
Needless to say, all was well. It sure was fun, and it sure was fast, and somehow the cold failed to register. I don’t have any photos taken on the day, but this was put up on Facebook by Dan Martin from a day or so earlier, and gives you the general gist. I didn’t dive by the way, I bombed, which seemed much more sensible at the time….. In the photo that is Dan ‘committed’, and Phil Hodges praying for his safety, or something.
All in all, a fab day out on the rivers with some lovely people. Like the Famous 5, Helen and I returned home, tired but happy, and around to fight another day!