Christmas Day swims have been a bit of a chilly tradition in the UK for quite a while now but in the last few years, they have exploded a bit in popularity!
I pride myself on being made of rather stern stuff… it is, along with a fondness for solitary pursuits and complete and unwavering inability to play Monopoly, a family trait.
Each year, I commit myself to a chilling challenge… inspired by a personal literary hero, J. M. Barrie, the Christmas swim. Events are rapidly becoming, somewhat concerningly, a countrywide craze challenging fools and their kin to get scantily clad and dive in to the waters that grace over shores.
The idea was founded by The Serpentine Swimming Club with a Christmas morning 100-metre race in 1864. It was championed by London’s literary set and was so highly respected that the prize, commemorating the bravery and battiness of the victor, was presented by the founder and true eccentric backbone of The Peter Pan Club, J.M. Barrie. These days the London swim is an exclusive, members-only affair. The chilling event welcomes outsiders, spectators, hangover-wranglers, curious tourists and cads to gather and watch participants continue the traditions of yesteryear by being serenaded into the water by one of the last, true British fraternities, The Peter Pan Club.
Since its infancy, the concept of confounded madness has spread and, for the PC and ever safety conscious world, the mantle of corralling the Christmas swimmers falls upon Outdoor Swimming Society. Using their nifty little map, to you can find your nearest swim over the Christmas period.
If you are keen to get some skin in the game, here are my top (but, not remotely less brag-worthy, swims for the season)
Plum Pudding Plunge
A more gentle introduction to the world of the festive swim is offered by the December Dip, formerly known as the Plum Pudding Plunge, which takes place at Parliament Hill lido on the first Saturday in December. You only have to do two widths (unless you fancy more) and
the organisers offer Christmas hats, mince pies and even sneaky Christmas tipples to ease the shock.
The Black Country may not be the first place you think of when it comes to outdoor swimming, but the Christmas Day swim at Blackroot pool in Sutton Park offers one of a limited number of freshwater festive swims, with around 60 people in various states of (fancy) dress jumping in. Last year it was even the scene of a memorable marriage proposal, in the form of a banner reading: “Will you keep me warm for the rest of my life?”
The Whitby dip
On Boxing Day, up’t North is The Whitby dip, another swim with an emphasis on charitable fundraising alongside the usual fun, bravado and icy waters. There’s even an official fancy-dress competition to take your mind of your chattering teeth and numb limbs.
I am a local when I retreat home to Cornwall, so, am a frequent voyeur on Christmas day. I can attest to its bracing conditions, however, while the waters might be choppy, the beach is heaving with the best sort of hip flask toting, fire building folk that make the endeavour more than worth the risk of hypothermia. Several hundred keen water-babies are bound for the Cornish Cove’s annual Christmas Day swim.
Festive swims are a joyful celebration of life in the middle of winter’s darkness – just like Christmas itself. See you on the beach?
Tips on outdoor immersion:
- Take the plunge: Much of the acclimatization process is mental
- Exhale as you get in: The ribcage contracts in cold water which leaves many swimmers feeling they cannot breathe
- Wait 90 seconds: The pleasure of open water might not be immediate
- Find a rock or tree to swim to: You will feel good once you get moving
Edited by Demi Vitkute