COSSIE DIVES IN: WILD SWIMMING

As part of our new series 'COSSIE DIVES IN' we spoke to Sarah Tomczak (Editor of Red Magazine) and her 'Sirens' about the benefits of Wild Swimming, long extolled by converts who take to the waters, often wetsuit free in all seasons.
The Sirens grabbed their COSSIE's and hit the beach last week before we interviewed them about what drives them to get together on a weekly basis. They also shared some handy tips for those wanting to get into wild swimming and some top tips for exploring Ramsgate.COSSIE: Hello! Thank you all so much for being part of COSSIE DIVES IN. Why don’t you start by introducing yourselves, we’d love to hear how you all met.
Sarah: We are Sarah (a magazine editor), Pandora (a Quantum Transformation and Business Coach), Elise (a French tutor), Andrea (owner of jewellery brand Loel & Co) and Kate (who runs a Live Events company)  - and we met each other at various times, along with a couple of other wonderful friends, after moving to Ramsgate. We all arrived here looking for a different pace of life, lots of fresh air and a good place to raise our kids. I think we all fell in love with the faded glory of Ramsgate - a crumbling but grand Victorian seaside town - but never imagined that we’d find the community of people we have.
Elise: We bonded over communal spirit. Love of food, celebrations, our children who are all similar in age and of course the feeling we won the lottery by moving to Ramsgate!
Andrea: There are so many cool, creative people here - we joke it’s like living on a university campus because you always bump into someone you know!
COSSIE: You have a wild swimming group called ‘The Sirens’, how did that all come together?  Who is the ring leader, the one who leads the charge on the whatsapp group?
Kate: The Sirens swimming group came together in the first lockdown, when we were all feeling confined, isolated and a little terrified about the state of the world! We started taking to the water to enjoy an activity together, in a safe, socially-distanced way. It soon became a lifeline for us all - the freedom of the cold water had healing qualities we didn’t imagine possible.
Sarah: I don’t think any of us imagined we’d be swimming year round when we moved here but the feeling of being in the sea is so exhilarating, we’ve just continued going in. We are mainly led by tide times, sunny days and work schedules, but if there’s a blue sky you can guarantee that someone will send a message saying “fancy a dip?’ and at least one other person will say yes. Elise: And if not, there are lots of other wonderful women we know on the beach who we can join for a swim.
COSSIE: How often do you all get together to swim? What’s the process? Is it a quick dip or do you try and stay in as long as possible?
Pandora: In the summer it’s every other day and in the winter a little less frequent. I love our summer swims where we all feel like we have a bit more time for tea and cake afterwards.
Elise: Where we swim and at what time, also depends on the tides, as we all prefer to swim at our local beach, Westcliff, which is better at high tides. Although a sunrise swim has become a tradition for my birthday at the end of January. In summer we tend to stay in the water and do proper lengths, however winter is a bit harder. Apparently you should only stay in the water for the same amount of time as the temperature - since it’s usually seven degrees at this time of year, it’s best not to stay in for more than seven minutes.
Sarah: We’re all very good at listening to our bodies and knowing when we’ve had enough. But we have all felt the incredible power of being in the water too. Bodies react to the cold water by producing cortisol - the stress hormone - and going into cold water shock response, so your breathing and heart rate increases, but swimming regularly helps you regulate all these things, so your body learns how to handle these feelings of stress - both in the water and every day life. Andrea: It’s also great for your immune system, improves your circulation and apparently boosts your libido!
 
COSSIE: What is it about being outside, swimming in all weather that keeps drawing you back in?  Is this something you’ve all done for your whole lives or a recent hobby. 
Elise: After we started swimming together during lockdown, we enjoyed a sunny Autumn and then when Winter arrived, we just carried on. It was especially fun to swim with snow on the beach! Swimming outdoors gives you such a sense of freedom. It doesn’t involve any money and brings you so much joy.
Pandora: The best thing about outdoor swimming is the rush you get afterwards. Your immune system loves it and I always feel restored, like my body has let go of any heaviness and stress.
Kate: There is nothing more life-affirming than the expansive horizon, and the feeling of being totally weightless.
Sarah: It’s a great reminder of how big nature is, and how small we - and our worries - feel when we’re in it. The other day a seal was swimming just a metre from me, which felt pretty incredible - I don’t think I have ever felt more in tune with my surroundings than I do here.
Andrea: It’s also a lovely social thing to do together. We sit and have coffee on the beach together - someone might bake something to bring, our kids run around on the sand while we swim. It’s a reminder of life’s simple pleasures. 
COSSIE: What is your crucial wild swimming kit? 
Pandora: Standard, but in the Winter, a DryRobe. Personally I love a bacon sandwich and my ear pods so I can enjoy Mother Nature with some music afterwards.
Kate: Neoprene boots and gloves to protect the extremities, a flask of hot tea waiting on the beach, and someone to cheer me on!
Andrea: Growing up in Malta, I find it too cold here in the height of the winter, so I’ll be the one on the beach, holding the towels and hot water bottles - unlike Elise who goes in wearing just a bikini!
Elise: I used to wear a neoprene swimsuit the first winter, gloves and boots but I now tend to swim just in my COSSIE as I hate the faff of taking them off and having extra to wash and dry.
Sarah: I wear a cashmere sweater under my DryRobe and always bring a hat, gloves and woolly socks to put on straight afterwards. Getting warm is key - a hot drink and something sweet to eat are also crucial on really cold days.
COSSIE: Any advice for those of us who want to get into wild swimming? 
Kate: Just do it! Get a friend to go with, someone with equal ‘up for it’ spirit, and just get in the water.
Elise: I would start in Summer, when the sun is out. Then just carry on through Autumn - when the sea temperature is actually still pretty warm - and into Winter. The feeling of achievement and the smile you will always get on your face is totally worth it. No-one has ever regretted a swim! And I know lots of people who have benefited from it for their mental health too.
Andrea: There are loads of formal clubs you can join but also many regulars who just enjoy swimming and will be out there most days, so it’s easy to become part of a community. In Ramsgate there are lots of amazing older women who still swim every day - and occasionally one or two men! 
COSSIE: Tell us about your local area, what should we see, do, and visit in Ramsgate?
Elise: Ramsgate is very laid back, full of beautiful architecture and lovely restaurants.
Andrea: Archive, under the arches on the seafront, is great for coffee and snacks and Union Yoga does incredible quiches and salads. We all love Magnolia for pizza and a great view across the harbour. There are lots of unusual stores here, like Potters on the highstreet with lovely ceramics and houseplants and the British perfumery The Saltworks Company.
Kate: The Brasserie on the pier arm also has a divine view over the harbour, or take a walk up Addington St and browse our little independents such as Moon Lane bookshop, Positive Retail for pre-loved clothes, or Paraphernalia for some antique hunting.
Elise: Sunrise on the Westcliff… sunsets on the east cliffs… bird watching close to Pegwell Bay.
Sarah: And of course we have miles of beaches! A walk to Broadstairs at low-tide is a must, and when you get there, fish and chips from Flotsam & Jetsam and a Morelli’s gelato are also essential.