– Immerse yourself in nature – even if it’s freezing! –

by Joanne Ford and Anna MacLean

Working in a National Park you might think we’re connected to nature at all times, but as it has been for most people, the last year for Anna and I has been spent in our own homes, mostly in the same four walls, on multiple screens and managing bursting inboxes. Not to mention the homeschooling….no please don’t mention it!

Where we have been incredibly lucky, however, is living close enough to at least part of the National Park, and to each other, to be able to get out swimming in Loch Lomond every single week through the winter lockdown.

We’ve both swum in the loch a bit before but never all the way through Winter. So why, in the midst of a global pandemic and through some pretty challenging times both personally and professionally, did we feel the need to get into the (almost) freezing cold water week in and week out?

Well, for exactly that reason – we needed it. The amazing thing about open water swimming, or any outdoor activity, is that that it takes you out of the small space you’re in, whether that’s physically or mentally, and opens up your perspective, forces you to look at things differently.

It makes you feel small, in a good way. Pausing for a float in the middle of Loch Lomond (okay, we didn’t really make it as far as the middle!) where you’re surrounding by the vast expanse of water and the beautiful hills above, you can’t help but feel that you are part of something bigger.

It takes focus. At least for that first few moments right before and as you enter the cold water all you can think about is breathing slowly and letting your body adapt. There’s no room for any other thoughts or worries. Having to turn off everything else in your head and think about just one thing is incredibly helpful at times.

It’s refreshing. Once you’ve adapted to the temperature, and you always do, the water feels fantastic. Often washing off a stressful day or energising you for a busy one ahead.

It keeps us connected. Swimming together, as well as being important for staying safe, has not only kept us connected to the amazing place we work in but to each other. Sharing the appreciation for what’s around us with someone else enriches the experience even further. Pretty much every swim has been our ‘favourite one’ (“no really, I think THIS might be my favourite swim ever!”). We’ve also been able to gradually introduce other people to the amazing boost that outdoor swimming gives us. That sense of community, of sharing such a special place with people you care about and seeing the buzz they get from (literally) immersing themselves in nature, has given us as much joy as it does to our friends who’re just discovering open water swimming or cold water therapy for the first time. It brings out the best in people; being in nature does that.

Finally of course, there’s the huge sense of achievement in doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone again and again. The confidence you gain from doing something physically and mentally challenging spills over into other parts of your life too. Every swim, every time you force yourself into that cold water (even when you don’t feel like it), it helps build your resilience, helping your remember what you’re capable of. It’s something powerful to remember when times get tough. It might not be easy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. There’s a lesson for all of us in that, and that’s nature’s way of nudging us along, even when we don’t think we can make it past the shore.

Anna MacLean is Director of Engagement & Innovation and Joanne Ford is Communications Team Manager at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. They are both original unpluggers.