Like many twenty-somethings, I have heard a lot about open water swimming in the previous year or and so, the supposed health benefits and the inclusive community that come hand in hand with the hobby.
And as a self-confessed water baby, I’ve wanted to try it for some time.
So when I came across the new ‘wild swimming’ sessions run by The Falcon Hotel in Castle Ashby, I knew I had to dive right in (well, not literally - you have to use steps).
It’s not the easiest to find...
On my first attempt to swim in the pond just over a mile away from the hotel, I was 40 minutes late for an hour-long session.
And I HATE being late, even for virtual meetings - ask any of my colleagues!
I was, of course, given directions, so my lacking ability to follow them is mainly to blame for me driving around a small village for the best part of an hour in search of the correct body of water, but as I found out when I eventually got there, I was not the only one to be stressed out to the maximum trying to find the pond down a dirt track, the entrance to which is mainly covered by bushes.
Once you know where it is though, it is easy to remember and there are small orange and white arrows from the hotel.
For anyone wanting to try it out, the pond is called ‘Par Pond’, GoogleMaps recognises this and took me straight there, once I knew the name.
You can also use the ‘what3words’ of sprint, nightlife and narrating.
Onto the actual swimming…
One thing I was unsure of before I first attended open air swimming was the cleanliness of the water.
At Castle Ashby, the pond is in a Capability Brown landscape, is naturally spring fed and is bordered by irises, water lilies, wildlife (think dragonflies hovering an inch over the water) and centuries old oaks.
And although I could feel weeds of some description, the water itself felt clean and tasted completely natural - no I didn’t drink a pint of it, but you obviously get a taste of it when you submerge your head.
Swimmers don’t have to wear a wetsuit, a normal costume or swimming shorts are fine, although some people do wear wetsuits.
However it is mandatory to wear a tow float, which can be picked up cheaply online.
This is of course for our own safety in case we come into any trouble.
Although all sessions are watched by a qualified lifeguard (the woman I had at my session was so lovely and chatted away to everyone with advice and tips) and the design of the pond means moving a metre or so closer to the edge will allow swimmers to stand up anyway.
When I eventually submerged myself into the water, which was extremely warm during my first attempt as it was a hot day, it felt like an instant sense of relief, which I, personally, don't feel when entering a chlorinated, indoor pool.
As I started making my way anti-clockwise around the four, huge orange buoys, the previous hour’s stress became a distant memory.
Surrounded by stunning nature and no sound other than the occasional splash or the ‘bah’ of a sheep, a sense of serenity and calmness took over.
I booked to go again the following week after my first attempt, as I needed to attend a complete session (and not be more stressed than I’d care to admit before I even got there) to be able to fully appreciate the experience.
On the second time around, I drove straight there and was around ten minutes early, as advised.
I made the most of the full hour and completed two laps of the 500 metre circuit, as well as another ten or 15 minutes of peaceful floating.
Even though the outside temperature was a lot cooler on my second swim, the water wasn’t unbearably cold and didn’t make me squeal when I first entered.
In terms of physical benefits, open water swimming boasts things like an improved immune system and better circulation. I’m not sure I’d be able to tell if they have improved, but I can definitely vouch for the mental health benefits.
It was one of the greatest stress relievers I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing and I can see why the hobby draws people back time and time again.
You can’t help but feel centred and content and like you have no worries in the world after an hour of weightless enjoyment surrounded by beautiful nature.
As for the community, despite a range of abilities, everyone talks to each other and any newcomers are made to feel instantly welcome. It’s a community and an environment that is truly good for the soul.
For me, open water swimming lives up to its hype and I’ll definitely be attending again!
Visit The Falcon Hotel website to find out more about the wild swimming sessions and to book.