home      my running story      races from the beginning      talk to me       product reviews      

Saturday 4 February 2017

Swimming in the Thames: The River That Burns Cold

So here I was again. Wondering what the hell I had got myself into.

I was TOTALLY blaming Rae for this.

She had mentioned a swim that sounded pretty good that was happening on the 2nd January. 

I definitely had not totally invited myself along. Well. I might have done.

A bit.

And here I was standing in a car park in Oxford with my breath steaming into the freezing air and trying not to slip over on the ice that coated the puddles and concrete. 

Did I mention that the swim was outdoors?

In our swimming costumes? No wetsuits today. 

And across the River Thames and back?

Well it was.

And here I was, in a carpark. Waiting for the other nutters who were going to do this with us. And Rae. 

Had I mentioned that I was totally blaming Rae for this?

Well everyone else turned up and actually looked quite sane which is always reassuring in strangers off the internet. No sign of stabby knives or other killing-Rae-and-her-friend-off-twitter type equipment. Although of course they wouldn’t ned to actually be violent per se. Just wait for us to get in the river and get hypothermia. Maybe very passive killers then. Killers from a distance. 

I suspected I was overthinking this.

Actually everyone was very nice. We all got chatting and there were some amazing stories and adventures that had been had. Channel swims, leisurely swims along the River Avon before a trip to the theatre and ice swimming. It was all quite reassuring, that should I dip one toe into the water and refuse to get in any further, I would be laughed at by PROPER swimmers.

We all walked down together, alongside the river, our feet cracking the ice in the puddles and crunching on the frozen grass. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was bright and there were plenty of people out, mostly walking dogs or pushing prams, all wrapped up well against the cold January morning. The only things visible in the water were the ducks. 

We walked along the river bank until we got to a place where there was a tiny sandy bay, just about big enough for one sun lounger should you wish to catch some January rays. Rae and I looked at each other. This was it.

We got changed quickly, relieved that our swimming costumes were on under our clothes so we didn’t inadvertently bare flesh at any of the people walking along the footpath who were looking at us curiously, wondering why on earth these people were REMOVING layers, rather than adding extra on this chilly day. 

I added 2 swimming hats (the extra hat is important - it keeps a bit of heat in and stops you losing your goggles in the river!) and briskly walked the 10 steps to the river. I walked in without hesitating. I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to change my mind and stood in the river water up to my ankles. 

it wasn't as cold as I’d expected.

I quickly ducked down, covering my shoulders and the cold water took my breath away. My feet were obviously made of asbestos. It was freezing. I huffed out, the water stealing my breath in cold puffs.

Ok. Swim. You’re here to swim. 

I swam across the river towards the opposite bank. It burned. The cold burned. My limbs didn’t stop moving or freezing, but the cold burned like fire. I moved across the current in the direction of the brown banks and green grass bordering the other side of the river until it became shallow again. I stood, my feet sinking into thick mud. The mud squeezing between my toes, smooth and thick. It seemed that it should be warm but it was cold, frigid as the icy water rushing past my legs and tummy. 

I stood and smiled. I was standing in the River Thames in January. In my swimsuit. Yep. Completely bonkers.

I turned. The trees and the bay I had come from seemed further away than I remembered coming. I sank down again, the water covering my shoulders and put my face in the water, blowing bubbles and moving my arms, front-crawling towards the shore. The freezing waters gave me a headache, a bubble in the front of my mind like pressure. I concentrated on swimming towards our bay and my warm clothes. The cold burning was more intense now but there was warmth and socks on the river bank. 

I swam. Then my hands touched mud of the bottom of the river and I raised my face to see the grassy banks of Port Meadow. 

As I climbed out and started adding warm layers on top of my swimsuit, I noticed our little group of swimmers had gathered a small group of onlookers. Onlookers in thick coats, scarves and hats. Onlookers dressed for the weather and marvelling at this small gang of lunatics who were smiling and laughing as they swam in the frigid waters of the Thames in Oxford.

I smiled too. Who would want to do a thing like that?

I wonder if Rae knows of any other adventures I could invite myself to?


  1. Great post and sounds like a lot of fun, albeit just a little chilly!!! What's the next adventure you're inviting yourself to?

  2. Haha!! Not sure yet but there's a swimming place near Stratford called The Old Bathing Place which sounds lovely! I'm thinking maybe I'll go when there's a bit of sunshine and less ice!

  3. Intrepid or what? I might just be tempted to join you if you're doing this in the summer!!

    1. It was brilliant fun! Can't recommend it enough. If you're interested it might be worth looking up the Openwater Swim Society on facebook as this was the group that organised this one! :)