Wild Swimming with the early birds

The shrill, shrieking bleep reverberates around my skull and my eyelids flicker upwards, although the difference between eyes open and shut is negligible. It’s dark. It’s Monday morning. And I know that’s it’s below freezing out there. I can hear the sound of my neighbour, scraping ice off his car as he gets ready to go to work. And I ask myself “Whyyyyyyy am I doing this?” But I know why, really.

Wild swimming at sunrise. It’s just magical.
I’ve arranged to meet three friends, early. We’re now standing on the edge of the lake (Rydal in the Lake District) looking in wonder at the mirrored surface. Wrapped warm in multiple layers, we’re watching the fish rising. They’re creating concentric ripples that spread silently across the glassy surface. The tips of the fells are just turning pink as the sun emerges from its slumber. But the moon is still high. Its twin reflected not far from where our feet stand.
And here’s where my planned story changes.
I’d thought this blog was going to be about the wonders of wild swimming. Specifically wild swimming at sunrise. About the thrill and the joy and the peace and the calm and the icy cold exhilaration. About the deep nature connection that comes from being immersed in a body of water, surrounded by the majesty of fells, woodland, wildlife at this still and silent hour. The meditative, in-the-moment restoration for mind and the scientifically proven physical health benefits for body.
But a chance encounter with a stranger leads my story a different way…

I was just at the stage where the cold starts to seep into your bones, and you know it’s time to exit. Gracefully gliding  😉 towards the shore, I spotted an elderly, but spritely looking chap taking photos of the golden-orange sunrise. “Morning” I hollered. “What a glorious morning.” “Isn’t it?” he agreed. He was saying something else, but I couldn’t quite hear so I splashed my way towards him and waded out.

He had a warmth about him and, I sensed, a desire to talk. And I knew, somehow, it was important to hear what he had to say.

“I come out every morning at sunrise. I’ve done it every day since my wife died 18 months ago. I’m 73.” My breath caught, and not because of the chill, as I stood in the cold air, dripping lake water from my wetsuit in front of him.

He told me how he walks every morning in memory of his beloved wife, revisits places and walks they did together, takes photos and videos and uploads them to his YouTube channel. He told me how he still feels full of grief but is accepting of that as he doesn’t want, ever, to forget how much he loved her. Derek Teather and his beloved wife Briony.

His connection to the natural world and the places that had meant something to them both, was crystal clear. It brought him the space and the time to reflect, to find healing and a purpose to get out. It connected him to the beauty of the landscapes around him whilst finding meaning in the shared experiences and remembrances of his life with his soul-mate.

The sky had by now turned pale blue and the early, pinky-orange light had hardened to a sharp yellow.

Light and shade.

Life is a balance of both. In nature, we can find experiences and meanings which profoundly enrich our lives. On the surface, I’d simply gone for a swim with friends, for laughs, company and a mini-morning-adventure with added bacon sandwiches. But underneath this, something deeper had happened. Without knowing, or even trying, by osmosis (or even a little bit of magic) I’d found myself experiencing many of the elements of the 5 ways to well-being and the 5 ways to nature connectedness.

I’d been active, (walked and swum – in 8 degrees water!) taken notice with my senses (saw the incredibly moving sun rise, felt the icy water on my skin, smelt the bacon cooking – not quite nature, but still, mmm….) felt my emotions (spellbound and filled with joy at the glory of the early morning views, grateful for the shared experience with good friends) connected (with friends, with a stranger and with the natural world all around us) gave to others (the tomato sauce, but more importantly, much more, my time and myself to really listen, with compassion, to someone else’s story) found beauty and meaning (in a shared moment of nature’s awe and wonder with friends and with a someone I had never met before).

Nature connectedness at sunrise (or any time). It’s just magical.
We turned away from each other and said goodbye. Derek to continue his pilgrimage and I to a flask of tea and the bacon buttie fry-up with my friends. As I sat on a rock, watching a cormorant dive through the reflected fell-scape, tomato sauce dripping from my fingers, grease on my chin, this early bird was truly thankful for a moment of grace between two strangers colliding in nature’s space.
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