Wild swimming seems to have become a thing (of course, back when we were kids, we just called it swimming). Growing up on Dartmoor, my sister and I spent large amounts of time building dams and trying to catch tiddlers in the frigid waters that tumble over the moors and my kids have been happy to repeat this family tradition.
Whilst the children are content to splash around all day in a river, impervious to the temperature, I really cannot handle the cold. Anyone with metalwork in their limbs will attest to the bone chilling cold that grips like an icy fist, magnifying arthritic aches and is impossible to warm up again.
I had thought that wearing a wetsuit was no longer a possibility now that my ankle is fused, being unable to point and flex my foot rendering navigating into a sheath of neoprene a feat of unimaginable contortions. However, my experiences at paddle boarding the other week had shown that whilst it wan’t a quick operation by any means, it was not impossible.
I had been told about a local company that makes wetsuits, so today the children and I went in search of it. With my familiar lack of planning, all I knew was the name of the nearby village and figuring that a wetsuit company in a small Devon village would be fairly easy to find, we set off.
It turned out that I did have to stop and ask a passing dog walker as the company turned out to be hidden in a nearby winery. The helpful staff at Alder Sportswear kitted us out with suits and when my difficulties became apparent they cut the bottom two inches from my suit to increase the stretch around my ankle making it easier to get on and off.
Of course, what better way is there to christen a new wetsuit than to jump in cold water?
About a half hour walk from our house, across fields and woods is a deep pool in the river that runs through our village. Ringed with flat stones and edged by a waterfall the village youths have strung up a rope swing from which you can propel yourself into the deep water . It was to there that we set off armed with our new suits and a couple of towels.
The sunshine was warm for the first time in days. We had the whole river to ourselves, passing not a single soul on the walk there. My eldest son and I kitted out in our new suits were straight into the water. My youngest son quickly regretted his decision to brave the waters in just his trunks, the cold setting his teeth chattering and driving him to race along the bank to keep warm.
We spent a couple of hours in and out of the water, joined at the end by an older gent from a neighbouring village, who stripped to his boxers to take his daily dip in the river. ‘Bracing!’, he exclaimed when he emerged from the pool. He denounced us cheats with our wetsuits before setting off with a rusty hacksaw over his shoulder, ready to collect firewood on his walk home.
I survived the trip with only a slight limp caused by numb toes and a minor mishap when my hair got tangled in a low hanging hawthorn tree. I asked the boys what they wanted to try next: ‘The Sea!’, was their unanimous decree.