Taking the Plunge with... Anna Deacon & Vicky Allan
Today marks the official launch of Taking the Plunge: The Healing Power of Wild Swimming for Mind, Body and Soul. It tells real life tales of grief, mental health, body confidence and so much more, with cold water swimming at its heart. Photographer Anna Deacon and writer Vicky Allan have teamed up to bring the stories of wild swimmers to the surface in this book, through the art of words and photography.
Their Instagram @wildswimmingstories caught our eye as a platform for the diverse voices of cold water people, often unrepresented in the media. We asked them to share their stories…
1. Can you tell us a bit more about yourselves?
V: I’m a journalist at the Herald newspaper, and author of both fiction and non-fiction. I have, in my staff job, in recent years written more and more about the environment, climate change and the sea. I grew up on a farm in Northumberland and have always loved just being out there in the elements. I like running in the rain. I love the smell of mud. I have two children and, even though I’ve raised them in Edinburgh, always tried to expose them to the wildness of nature.
A: I’m a photographer and have been doing this for about 12 years, before that I worked in the music industry for a decade. I live in Edinburgh now near the sea after moving up three years ago from London. I have two kids and a busy job photographing fashion, brands and small businesses.
2. Tell us when and why you started cold water swimming?
A: I have always enjoyed taking a little dip, but I got into it more seriously over the last three years since moving to Edinburgh from London and being closer to the sea. I started for fun, but realised quickly that the water was helping me with painful joints, and was also calming down my anxiety and stress. It quickly became my ‘me time’ and has become such a passion.
V: As a kid I paddled in the North Sea off Northumberland, but I wouldn’t say that I was a cold water swimmer back then. That kind of swimming wasn’t really part of my family culture and my parents aren’t particularly good swimmers. But in my late teens I started to discover getting the kick out of taking a plunge in very cold water. There’s video of me, at about 18 years old, running down a snow-covered Northumbrian beach, throwing off my clothes as I pelt into the icy sea. I also remember a trip, in my twenties, to Newfoundland for a wedding, where there was a big group dip and I stayed in longer than anyone else, and kept saying, “I feel great. I feel really great out here.”
3. Tell us more about what being a cold water woman means to you?
A: I think, as women, we’re so often multitasking and dealing with a huge mental load, and we struggle to justify self care, or time to nurture ourselves. I know I’m really guilty of this. I’vee found that the mission of walking or driving to the sea, changing on the shore, the amazing hit of the cold, the warmth that follows and the fellowship of amazing swimmers, has been instrumental in my personal healing process. The time outdoors, the smell of the sea, the stinging skin; these are all like therapy to me.
V: I love the journey you go on when you get into cold water. It’s such a rapid trip through nervousness, shock and then onto the giggly thrill. There’s always a moment in the middle there when you wonder if you’re ever going to get to the other side, and whether your body will take you to that special place this time – it always seems to. Cold water swimming, over the last year, has helped me deal with menopause symptoms. Many times, I’ve felt relief in the feeling of being properly cold, with no imminent threat of a hot sweat or other menopause-related temperature issue. At a time when my body is going through these changes, I love that I’m doing something really strong, brave and physical. Swimming, for me, is a solace. Four years ago my brother died and I found the one place I felt relief was bobbing around in an Irish lough.
4. Tell us about @wildswimmingstories - why did you start it? How can people be featured?
A: I started taking photographs of swimmers just over a year ago. I’m really interested in people and I found the people I was meeting and swimming with were so fascinating. Their stories and why they came to the sea all had an element of healing, just like me! Combining my love of photography and swimming, with interesting people and stories, was the perfect mixture. I started an Instagram account as somewhere to document these stories and portraits, and it grew from there. Vicky and I were introduced through a mutual friend who suggested we create a book together, and we have done just that! I’m still pinching myself that it’s actually happened!
I haven’t photographed anyone new in the water for a while now as I’ve been focused on the book. But I’m always interested in meeting people to swim with, new locations and stories, so I ask people to just send me a private message if they want to get involved. Likewise, we set up a hashtag #mywildswim so people can share their stories too!
5. Last but not least, you have a book coming out! Tell us about that?
V: Anna and I were introduced to each other at an event about the explorer Isobel Wylie Hutchison. A friend thought we might get on because we seemed really similar and both liked wild swimming. Anna had already started @wildswimmingstories and she told me about some of the tales that people were telling her about how it was helping with depression, anxiety, pain, grief and other issues. I was fascinated and loved her photos. I felt I could relate to some of these stories. I also wanted to do more wild swimming and there was no better excuse for that than going on a few swim safaris around Scotland in a bid to write a book with someone on the subject.
A: We can’t believe this is actually happening, but our book ‘Taking The Plunge; The Healing Power of Wild Swimming for Mind, Body & Soul’ is out today, November 7th, through Black & White Publishing. It’s priced at £20 and available from all good bookshops.
It’s a really chunky, coffee table-sized book, packed full of stories around topics such as pain, adventure, body confidence, community, grief, mental health, mindfulness and much more. Each chapter contains some brilliant personal stories and portraits of cold water swimmers, advice and input from experts, psychiatrists and doctors. As well as loads of practical advice about how to start, how to push your boundaries and how to stay safe.