Writer and swimmer Lucy Harper spent the winter swimming at Hathersage Lido. The lido sits in the heart of Derbyshire and for the first time, opened unheated for the winter season. The heaters are now back on for spring, however, Lucy discovered winter swimmers have interesting stories to tell and has collected tales from the poolside.
I was at Hathersage Swimming Pool, a stunning, 1930s open-air lido at the foot of a gritstone edge, for the New Year’s Day swim. I got talking to a woman in her 70s in the shower, the way you do. I thought I’d been intrepid cycling a few miles from Sheffield in the sleet to reach the pool, however she’d travelled two hours from Whitby on the east coast for a quick dip in Derbyshire. She said she always liked to do doing something special at New Year as a statement of intent to make the most of the year ahead. I was impressed.
This was my first inkling that the people who use an outdoor swimming pool during its first unheated, winter season might have an interesting story to tell – not just about why they swim, but about what they get out of life, their passions, challenges and achievements.
I spent January and February interviewing twenty-two winter swimmers on the poolside and typing till my fingers froze. A collection of pen portraits has started to take shape with beautiful photography by colleague, Mark Howe. We intend to turn them into a coffee table book and an exhibition, which we hope to launch next winter, when you’re average person finds it far too cold to swim outdoors.
I took a punt that I’d meet ordinary people doing extraordinary things, it turns out I was right. It’s been breath-taking to hear their winter swimmer stories and other life adventures. I can’t wait to share their stories with you. In the meantime, here are few observations from our wonderful, water-based discussions: