An The city of Essex is experiencing an explosion in the popularity of cold water swimming. A Facebook page for people who want to swim in Leigh-on-Sea, which launched in mid-October, reached nearly 650 members in two months as numbers skyrocketed through lockdown 2. Swimmers say work from home it has given people more time to enjoy simple pleasures and the sea allows a moment to get away from normal life in uncertain times.
Jenny Bier, 45, a project manager, is a co-founder of the Leigh-on-Sea branch of the Bluetits – an informal swimming movement started in Pembrokeshire in 2014, with over 6,000 members worldwide. He first tried swimming in cold water in September this year, crossing the pebble sands and into the Thames estuary. “I got up to my thighs and thought, ‘That’s absolutely horrible.’ It really, really hurt, ”he said. “I went out again. And then I gave myself a talk and came back in and it was just glorious.
“A ship had just come in with a load of cockles or fish or something and the guy said to me, ‘You must be absolutely crazy.’ It was raining at the time. He said, ‘What are you doing, are you okay?’ I was like, ‘This is the best thing ever!’ I was so happy I did it, but it wasn’t easy the first one. I’ve tried to go maybe three or four times a week since then whenever I can. “
Above, Thorpe Bay; above, Chalkwell Beach, Southend-on-Sea.
Her friend Lisa Monger, 44, also from Leigh-on-Sea, had also been trying cold water swimming and had heard of the Bluetits as there is a branch in Falmouth in Cornwall where her daughter went to college . Monger, a fitness trainer, decided to start a Bluetits branch (so called because “it’s quite fun and it’s cold”) with Bier.
While the group offers general advice and a way to connect members, there are no fees, no formal training, and people choose to swim when they want to. Now dozens of swimmers and bathers, some in bikini or swim shorts, others in wetsuits with hats, boots and gloves, can be seen in the tides of the Essex riviera. The ages range from children to a 70-year-old woman, and include tax consultants, accountants, paramedics, police officers and people who work in theater, Monger said.
Monger said: “This year he has eliminated all the things that are not important and has made people appreciate the simple things. That’s what has attracted people, I think.
“It can make you feel completely stressed and overwhelmed and it’s something that calms you down and eliminates stress and really forces you to forget everything else because you’re so focused on the moment, feeling everything as you walk into the water. Feeling how cold it is. Other times I go there wanting camaraderie, laughter and jokes with other people who are on the beach ”.
He added that working from home had given London commuters “maybe three hours back a day” and helped free up partners with babysitting responsibilities.
He said he has seen up to 50 people in the water at 7 a.m. “The ones that surprise me are when it’s 11 a.m., and usually people are at work, and actually people say, ‘You know what? I’m going to take my lunch break when the tide is there.'” .
The group is for men and women (the men are called Campanillas) and it has become a community. Bier said you can hit the boardwalk on your own without making plans and there are usually between five and 15 more swimmers there. “It’s been a lovely way to connect with people in a very strange time,” he said, and it’s become so popular that “you can’t buy wetsuits or gloves or anything for love or money right now.” Being in the water is “a kind of withdrawal from normal life,” he said.
“Once I get in the water, everything that exists outside of the water is completely irrelevant for those 10 or 15 minutes, and that’s a lovely feeling,” Monger said. “It is simply glorious. People literally take off their clothes. They are so focused on wanting to get into the water that they practically run down the beach. “
Leanne Mariage, 46, a fellow cold-water swimmer, has been following the advice of another group, Southend Seals, since completing a two-hour water safety course. Mariage, who works as a tutor, went swimming every day in enclosure 2. “There really was nothing else to do,” she said. “It was just to have a routine and a purpose.
“You have to focus a lot on getting into really cold water. Your brain goes elsewhere, you feel somewhere different, in the sea you feel a bit disconnected from the world and connected with nature. It’s so cold it’s invigorating. It makes you feel really alive. “
“People walk around and take photos or point at you and think you’re angry,” Mariage said. “But it’s not difficult and it’s a lot of fun.”
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