"To enter wild water is to cross a border. You pass the lake's edge, the sea's shore, the river's brink - and you break the surface of the water itself. In doing so, you move from one realm into another: a realm of freedom, adventure, magic, and occasionally of danger." So says Robert Macfarlane, Patron of the Wild Swimming Society.
Have you ever been wild swimming? It takes an awful lot for me to take the plunge.
There are plenty of magazine articles and books around at the moment that speak of the benefits of wild swimming* and the 'freeing' and 'therapeutic' experience available to us all out in the open; but I've generally been a bit too chicken to try.
My sister, my partner and my seven year old, feel excited and exuberant wading into murky green waters in cool temperatures. Me? I sit on the bank and watch them in mortal fear and incomprehension. Whilst I, too, love the idea of communing with nature and feeling the benefits of the silky fresh water enveloping my body as dragonflies scatter their colour and birds carry on the business of being noisy, the reality for me is quite different.
We went to North Portugal last year and stayed in a farm house in the countryside, visiting a different river beach every day. I sat on the grassy banks sulking for the first four days, as I watched everyone else bobbing around in the natural waters surrounded by trees. When I ventured into a river, my overriding feeling was the vulnerability of my body in the chaos of nature and what life I was sharing the space with underneath the surface of the water.
Then one day it all changed.
We visited a river in Lousã that had been conveniently tiled on the bottom and sides, so that it was a bit like a swimming pool. The water flowed down from the mountains and was the freshest clearest, coldest water I had ever immersed myself in. Surrounded by trees and plants, floating around in a fully tiled river, in a wood, in the mountains, soothed from the white hot Portuguese sun, I had one of the most magical, almost mystical, experiences I've ever had. I felt like a queen indulging in the luxury of a lifetime! After my continental introduction, this Summer I vow to taste the freedom of some murky British depths.
Jane Anderson, Co-Founder and Arbiter of Taste (self-appointed), Loose Debra