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Swimming in Snowdonia

26th September, 2017

Swimming often results in enhanced friendships or brings new friends in with the tide, like beachcombing treasures. Snowdonia OSS Member Charly Wylie embarked on an adventure to become more of an outdoor swimmer and soon became part of a group called the Snowdonia Softies.

Charly yearned to be a proper outdoor swimmer, “I live in the right place, Betws y Coed in North Wales,” says Charly, “With 400 Llyns or lakes to choose from some within walking distance, there really are no excuses! Yet all I had done was reserve my outdoor swimming, to a few warm days each summer. I would clad myself head to toe in neoprene and swim in Llyn Mymbyr or the local river and love it, just wishing I was brave enough to do more.”

When the OSS Bantham Swoosh was advertised Charly saw it as an opportunity to give outdoor swimming a proper start and a chance to raise money for charity Level Water. “The photos looked so inviting, especially the swoosh at the end of the swim,” says Charly. “I was brought up in Devon so the event was even more appealing. Before I knew it, I had entered and the enormity of the task became apparent when I realised I couldn’t do front crawl for more than about five lengths of a 20-metre pool.”

Charly started a training programme helping her to swim a mile in six weeks and hoped to keep building this up to the Swoosh, however, training was stopped due to sickness and needing surgery. “I had raised about £300 for Level Water at this point, so was a bit upset at not being able to go through with the swim,’ she says. “I did decided to go to Devon to watch the Swoosh and to volunteer for the event and it was here when I was taking down tents, I chatted to another volunteer about how I was unable to swim. I explained I was going to do a two-mile pool swim to have something to show for all the sponsorship I had raised.”

Little did Charly know, but she was talking to OSS Director Kari Furre and had no idea. Kari suggested instead of a pool swim to try and swim outdoors for 30 consecutive days. After being given the all clear to start swimming again post surgery, Charly decided to give the challenge a go in the comfort of her wetsuit. “I waited for a good day in July and started with the dog in tow, he is a breed that loves swimming, he is like a fish,” she says. “All went well except I found it quite hard swimming in a wetsuit. I chatted to Kari and she told me ditch the wetsuit, July is a warm month so the water should be warm. So skins it was, at first though with the comfort of a rash vest!”

Since the first swim, Charly never looked back and is now well over 30 days and still swimming without wetsuit or rash vest and is quite comfortable swimming in skins. “The lowest temperature I have encountered has been 13 degrees, which was chilly but perfectly doable,” says Charly. “I posted every day on Facebook about my swims, just as evidence and soon friends asked to join me. My daily swimming became a sociable occasion and a group was formed called the Snowdonia Softies. Our motto became ‘It’s all about the place, not the pace!’ and our merry band of swimmers has grown from strength to strength, with loads of new ideas and places to swim.”

Charly now rarely swims alone and has swam in nine different Llyns, the sea and the local River Llugwy. “We have found a strength in each other, it has been a blast and hopefully will continue to be so, even if not every day,” says Charly. There are now plans to swim as far into the year as possible and a journey down the river.

“I feel so much more confident at a home in open water,” says Charly. “I have conquered my fear of cold water, I have grown in strength – swimming in all sorts of conditions along with friends. Found a great new hobby that is healthy, sociable, in the great outdoors, for young, old and dogs to enjoy to the full. I want to say a massive thank you to Kari for inspiring me and now many others.”

Charly has located 391 more local Llyns to explore and while she admits she isn’t in quite the same space as OSS Ambassador Vivienne Rickman-Poole, she is following gently in her footsteps. “ I love swimming outdoors,” she says. “It has been one of the best things I have discovered, for natural beauty, physical and mental wellbeing. Also the sense of achievement, sociable side and for taking away stress – the list is endless!”