You can try pausing to admire the beautiful morning, the misty view as the lake snakes its glimmering way up to Pooley Bridge at the other end, the tranquillity of the scene, the lovely unspoilt Cumbrian fells… sooner or later you are going to have to get all the way in. And this is Ullswater, where it is always colder.
Drawing inspired by a swim when I was up there the week before last, at Glencoyne Bay with Francine, Rosie and Margaret. There may have been a little bit of squealing, but if there was, there was nobody else around to hear it.
All things are relative. While the prospect of an Autumnal temperature plummet to seven degrees may cause us to shudder at the very thought, reaching in vain after warm memories of summery 18 degrees and above; here at the back end of Winter and in the wake of winds from Siberia, 7 degrees is greeted with excitement and delight!
“It’s lovely now it’s warmed up” is not mere winter swimmer’s bravado, it is heartfelt. 10 days ago the shallow salt water dipped below zero. True, we still have that glazed look of the mildly hypothermic as we hug our hot drinks. True it is drizzling, and an icy wind is promised for the weekend. But all things are relative, and these things are mere blips in the unstoppable onrush of spring.
On Friday it was Mary’s Birthday. There being an icy blast coming straight from Siberia, and the water 3.5 degrees and dropping, she dressed appropriately for the occasion of a birthday swim. A bikini with tassels, of course!
The Birthday Suit
To those unfamiliar with the place, this is of course Clevedon Marine Lake. The water isn’t often this green, it’s generally muddier, but on this occasion it was even clear enough for underwater photos.
Some enter the water while raising arms in an attempt to remain as dry as possible. This works, for a very very, very short time. An alternative technique is to splash your face – or all of you – with water, which is rater the opposite: get wet before you have to get wet. It’s not for me, but I’ve seen people do this happily! Then there are those who like to inch into the water bit by bit, drawing out the appalling process for several minutes. It often helps to swear a lot. I used to be an arm-raiser, but I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that if it is very cold the best thing is to get the whole dreadful experience over as fast as possible, wade in and then plunge and swim as fast as possible until it stops being awful. For the sake of caution I should add this last method is not a beginners choice: do make sure you can breathe before you can swim!
It’s not often people ask me for artwork they are going to wear for the rest of their lives, so I am delighted to show you this little lady which I designed for Emma Cummings. It was a piece of work which I did last year. The brief was that she liked a line drawing, but also a watercolour-type loose colouring, so I combined the two, refining the line drawing and leaving the colour as a more random effect. Here’s the final effect, which may or may not have more colour added later. Besides, she seems an appropriate colour for an outdoor swimmer this time of year anyway! (even though, as we know well, we actually go bright pink, not blue…)
…But we think it’s much warmer. My thermometer claims it’s nearly 10.5. Winter swimmers will understand the difference.
Once it gets colder I like to know the temperature, partly I feel it’s safer, having an idea of the actual temperature, because my skin finds it hard to distinguish between the sensation of ‘cold and wet’ and ‘really really cold …and wet’. For some reason the duck shaped thermometers always seem to read low, but as long as you are used to adjusting for duck pessimism it doesn’t matter what thermometer you have if it’s the same one each time.
The first leaves began to fall, it seems like only yesterday. It was a few weeks ago in fact when I drew this one but it somehow got forgotten. I swam in Ullswater with Francine, Derwent water with Jackie. This is the drawing that was inspired by both those swims, though the scene is my memory of the Ullswater swim: there was no denying the leaves really had begun to fall, so had the temperature. We had brought warm clothes, but there was no real hurry to get into them: still time for faffing, still capable of holding a conversation and stringing words into sentences. But winter is coming…
The leaves had begun to fall, and so had the temperature.