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Dive in with Gilly McArthur

Have you met The Zest Life’s Lake District Swimming Leader Gilly McArthur? It’s time to dive in with her!

In this guest post Gilly talks about her love of spring as well as the challenges it brings, and shares her invaluable advice for getting the most out of cold water swimming…

Here in Cumbria the wild garlic is beginning to sprout up green shoots through the leaf litter of winter can only mean one thing – Spring is well and truly on its way.

I don’t know about you but this year January seems to have gone on for three months so I absolutely love to see these first signs of spring waking up. Soon the forest behind my house will be a wash with a heady smell of garlic, then the bluebells will pop up and I can’t wait!

Even after all these seasons of winter skin swimming, I find this time of year the most challenging in the water. The ambient air temperature is often far warmer than the water temperature, and I expect the water to be far warmer than it is.

In the autumn months when the water here starts to cool you’d think the same challenge arises, but my mind expects it to be cold. All this spring bird song and longer daylight lulls me into a false sense of security. The water is generally coldest in March across the UK.

So whether you’re coming out of hibernation to start swimming again, are a seasoned winter dipper, or new to this whole swimming malarkey, here are 5 suggestions to enjoy spring swims.

Remember hydration, sleep and stress can all play a part and how you’re feeling! Mondays swim may be really different to Tuesdays! Never expect it to be the same – and a snowy mountain top is always possible to bring a 3 degree drop in the water, even in April or May.

Come to the water with a personal risk assessment. Sounds dull but hear me out. Instead for immediately stripping off to get in, ask yourself “what do I really need right now” and then perhaps whisper that question again. I’m often surprised at the answers that arise when I ask this to myself. Perhaps you thought you needed company, but in fact a few moments in the water just to bobbing around away from the pod is actually what you need! Sometimes on very rare occasions it’s not to swim.

Focus on your breath. Spend a minute (it’s only a minute!) down regulating – count to 4 as you breathe in and count to 6 as you breathe out, do this 10 times. That minute of down regulation really will help you get so much more of your dip and leave you a far better person after the water.

Play and share a good word. Life is short, so have a laugh, order some Bengal spiced tea for after your swim (truly magic) surprise your friends by bringing some cake to the shore. Comment on what is good in the day, share what you are grateful for. Take notice of something joyful. It’s a habit that’s addictive!

Leave it better – as Thich Nhat Hanh said. “Everything can begin with you. You are the foundation of any change that will happen in your society” so that crisp packet tucked into the wall, that glass on the shore – take it away, we might not be able to control the state of our water just yet but we can make positive moves to leave it better where we can, and that’s a nice place to be for a spring time dip.

I’ll be up here in the lakes so if you are on the retreats hopefully we can meet – if not you can follow my swims and adventures on instagram @gillymcarthur.

Stay safe and enjoy the water,



Come and join Gilly and her team in the Lake District on The Zest Life wild swimming retreats exploring amazing swim locations in spring and autumn:

Swim the Lakes | Yoga & Wild Swimming Retreat 

  • April 26th to 29th
  • April 29th to May 3rd
  • September 28 to 30th
  • September 30 to October 4th

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