Becoming mermaid – one year of wild swims

On the summer solstice, I celebrated one year of wild swims.

It was a magical sunrise swim and my longest ever dip in the Irish Sea (25 minutes).
Hanging out in the golden sea with my pod of Greystones Seagirls.
Eyes full of dawn sunlight and colours.
Body floating in the sea’s cool embrace.
Heart bursting with gratitude.

Happy swimversary to me!

One year of wild swims

My year of wild swims started on the June full moon in 2019, and came to a close at dawn on the summer solstice 2020. 

365 days of swims in the Irish Sea, but also in the wild Atlantic Ocean, in French rivers and in high altitude alpine lakes.

Twelve months of swims, come rain or shine – some stormy, some calm, some difficult, some magical. All of them a victory. A win for inner peace, resilience and friendship.

A year of becoming mermaid.

I started swimming in the Irish Sea in 2017. I got hooked from the get-go but I remained a fair weather swimmer. Initially, my outdoor season would last five months, from June to October, or early November at the latest. Then I would hang up my swimsuit and goggles for the colder half of the year, getting my water fix in the local swimming pool instead.

When I took my first dip of 2019 under the strawberry moon, little did I know that this was all going to change.

My friend Hayley, a seasoned cold water swimmer, created a WhatsApp group called “Full moon swim”, inviting a dozen women for a moonrise swim at 10pm on a Monday night. 

I hesitantly said yes. I vaguely knew only a couple of those women, which, as an introvert, always makes me feel anxious and awkward.

The swim was cold, dark and incredibly exhilarating! But that full moon swim and after party, complete with mermaid cupcakes, prosecco and of course strawberries, won me over.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Following an exceptional summer of wild swims in France, I came back to the Irish Sea in late August. From September, I started meeting up at the cove with Hayley and a couple of friends, to share a sea swim after the school drop-off, once a week on average.

Our WhatsApp group, soon renamed “Seagirls”, kept growing (there are now over 40 of us) and I kept meeting new swimming friends. I had found my tribe.

100+ wild swims

A quick count revealed that I tallied over 100 wild swims in the past 12 months. Not bad for a wannabe mermaid, eh?

Understandably, my year of wild swims has been marked by many firsts, including my first sunrise swim for the autumn equinox.

greystones-ladies-cove-autumn-equinox-swimrise

My first ever swimrise. The unexpected waves made for an energising swim. But seeing the equinox sun rise over the Irish Sea while bobbing in the choppy iridescent water felt like a gift.

Other highlights include 2 unforgettable wild swims in mountain lakes in the French Alps, which saw us smash our altitude record. Lake Laramon and Lac des Béraudes are at altitudes of 2,359m (7,739ft) and 2,504m (8,215ft) respectively. Talk of a high of wild swimming!

Related / Similaire  Holidaying on the wild side in the French Alps
lac-laramon-alt-2359-mètres-névache-hautes-alpes-france

Lake Laramon (alt. 2,359m/7,739ft)

wild-swimming-french-alps

Lac des Béraudes (alt. 2,504m/8,215ft)
This gem of a lake, located well above the tree line in the French Alps, is the highest we’ve ever swum. At this altitude, the lack of oxygen makes for a breathless swim. Or was it the breathtaking views?!

wild-swimming-french-alps-baignade-sauvage

In late October, swimming in the Pollock Holes, on Loop Head, Co Clare, felt like a dream come true. Wild swimming under the wide open sky, in the sheltered, crystal-clear Atlantic waters of the Pollock Holes, while the mighty ocean roared and splashed only a few metres away.

The Pollock Holes had been on my bucket list ever since reading Ireland’s Adventure Bucket List, a 2018 book by Helen Fairbairn.

The bottom was carpeted with multicoloured seaweed, as soft as velvet underfoot. The water looked tropical, even though the temperature suggested otherwise.

Floating on my back under the bright autumn sun, I closed my eyes, and time was suspended for a moment. If I stopped moving my arms and legs, it was as if they didn’t exist anymore. A sensory experience like no other, a moment of absolute stillness in the cool embrace of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was my swimming highlight of 2019. It was a dream swim.

Dream swim in the Pollock Holes, Loop Head, Co Clare, in late October.

By then, the fleece-lined DryRobe (affiliate link), which until then had seen very little use, had become my must-have piece of kit. Never mind a wetsuit, I couldn’t have swum through the winter without my trusty DryRobe.

A couple of weeks after my first ever December swim, came my first winter solstice swimrise. Forgetting the winter bugs. Sharing the sea love. Welcoming back the light. It was pure solstice magic.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Sea swimming into 2020

Bearing in mind that the sea is at its coldest in February and March, I had set myself the target of swimming until Christmas. December came and went, with a first December swim on a bright frosty morning, a winter solstice swimrise with the Seagirls and a Christmas Day swim on the South Beach. Then I thought, “why stop now?”

From swimming in the sea once a week, never leaving more than 7 days between dips, I soon found myself down at the cove 2-3 times a week.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Yet every time it is the same battle between mind and body, between comfort and challenge, between doubt and determination. Every. Single. Time.

It is a battle that I win every time. As I walk down the familiar path down to the cove in Greystones, my heartbeat quickens at the sight of the sea. Can I do this? Do I really want to do this?

Funny how a sea swim is both energising and calming.
Both movement and stillness.
Bracing yourself and letting go.

But the heartwarming friendship of my pod of Greystones Seagirls makes it easy and fun. And so I keep going back to the sea. To feel connected. Courageous. Alive.

IWD swimrise

The Greystones Seagirls’ swimrise for International Women’s Day, on 8th March 2020, was undeniably the next highlight of my year of wild swims.

70+ women going for a sunrise swim to raise funds for Women’s Aid Ireland.

Women taking space, making waves, coming together in support of other women. Women celebrating women with a life-affirming dip, and tea and cakes.

It was beautiful.

Related / Similaire  Greystones Seagirls' IWD swimrise / Baignaube du 8 mars

The chats and the whoops, the cakes and the laughs, the squeals and the buzz – the smiles say it all.

It was a beach party like no other. 

The IWD Swimrise line-up in Greystones
© Carole McGloughlin Speer Photography

Then the rug got pulled from under our feet. One swim and five days later, Ireland went into lockdown. 

Shared wild swims and chats on the beach suddenly became a thing of the past, as social distancing restrictions weighed down heavily on everyone.  

Related / Similaire  Lockdown – Surfing the waves of change / Confinement : une déferlante de changements

Thankfully, access to the beach remained open, provided the sea was within a 2km-radius from one’s home. Still, swimming alone is just not the same.

Yet, far from pacing myself, I started going for wild swims as often as the sea would allow. Spotting by chance a fellow Seagirl and having a quick socially-distanced chat was all I had to hang on to the heartwarming feeling of having found my tribe.  

Three weeks into lockdown, it suddenly dawned on me how much I miss my pod of Greystones Seagirls. I had been out for a late afternoon dip. The sea was choppy, the water shockingly cold. The sun soon disappeared behind thick clouds, and the cove fell eerily quiet, all colour drained out of it.

Socially distanced selfie with Hayley, two months into lockdown

Mother-daughter wild swims

April came and went, with a sunny solo swim on my birthday. In May, the water started getting warmer, and Brian and the acorns took their first dip.

Mermaid, true to her nickname, has become my swim buddy. She used to come with me and look for seaglass while I swam. But since having her first swim of the year at the beginning May, she now takes a dip every time I do, getting a bit braver and staying in a bit longer every time.

Having given the boot to the demands and distractions of our former “normal”, lockdown has brought us closer. And I’m loving it!

Solo sea swim for my birthday

My Mermaid and me, all smiles after a mother-daughter swim

In June, the slow easing of lockdown restrictions meant that 15 of us could show up before dawn for a surprise swimrise for Seagirl Hayley’s birthday. 

It did feel strange to keep our DryRobes and towels 2 metres apart on the beach and resist the urge to hug each other. But after three months of staying apart, we got to finally share a swim, as the most beautiful pink sun slowly rose above the silky water. 

Photo by fellow Seagirl Joanne

365 days of wild swims on the summer solstice

The summer solstice marked a full year of wild swims for me. What better way to celebrate than a swimrise with the Greystones Seagirls on the longest day of the year?

Getting out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4.15am, I walked down to the Cove for Minaste Yoga‘s Sunrise Yoga, in support of the Irish Network Against Racism.

There are no words to describe how good it felt to hang out again with my pod of Seagirls. 

Saluting the sun, taking it all in, stepping into the midsummer light together;
Swimming into the golden halo of the rising sun,
Out of the shadows of lockdown and into the second half of 2020.
Into the silky blue I go, floating on sunshine, becoming mermaid.

Sun salutations on the longest day of the year (photo by Seagirl Yasmin)

Solstice sunrise silhouettes (photo by Seagirl Eloise)

Swimming on sunshine (photo by Seagirl Joanne)

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links. Should you choose to make a purchase after clicking on one of them, I may receive a small commission and your purchase will help support this site.

 

One Response to “Becoming mermaid – one year of wild swims

  • I’ve only just started on my own wild swimming journey and I’ve found this so inspiring. Your autumn equinox swim actually got me feeling pretty emotional, I could tell how very special it was from your words and photos. I love the idea of doing similar. Thank you so much. Perhaps I’ll start getting a little braver and bolder now ❤️

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