The beauty of Snowdonia’s rainy climate is that all the dips and clefts in the saturated green overflow with pure water. It glistens, wind-whipped, in mountain cwms [hollows], rushes over into waterfalls and sits silently on huge valley floors.
You can find electric blue (reflecting a hot, clear sky), green (lots of plant life), black (deep), brown (storm-stirred), matt white (icy) or a shivering upside-down landscape (windless) — water amplifies whatever is around it. That’s partly why I go; as Nan Shepherd, the Scottish poet and intrepid Cairngorms hill walker, said, “To aim for the highest point is not the only way to climb a mountain.
Last year I set myself the challenge of swimming in 50 Snowdonian lakes. I started in the summer and by December I had finished.
Wild swimming is a real leveller. Style, fitness and skill: none of these matters much. Forget the goose fat. Nowadays long-distance swimmers sometimes use a grease, like Vaseline – to prevent chafing, not heat loss. But really you need neither.
The beauty, in fact, is that you don’t need anything. You remove clothes, stripping off human stresses a layer at a time until you’re literally on a level with the frogs. Water creatures accept you as one of their own. My ambition is to drift downstream past an otter.
To start, I’d recommend getting in for a little longer than feels good. To begin with, a quick dip is enough to give you a wonderful rosy glow when you get out. As you get in, accept the cold. Breathe in and let it go. She banned the C-word [cold]; we were allowed to say things like ‘refreshing’ or ‘elemental’, but not that. Once I learned to accept the temperature, as she did, I found I could calmly slip in. Everything became easier after that.
These days the sight of fresh water makes me thirsty to just get in, whatever the temperature. Be warned, though, it’s addictive: the more you swim, the longer you’ll need to stay in to get the same rewards.
Sarah Stirling is an adventure travel writer based in Snowdonia. She posts pictures of her swims @sarah_stirling on Instagram