Welsh waters afterglow
We recently welcomed artist, educator and wild swimmer Vivienne Rickman-Poole to our Experiences Guide, with her new project Swim Snowdonia: guided dips in the wetter parts of the Welsh mountains. We couldn't do justice to the philosophy that led Viv to start and share her adventures, so we asked her to explain...
I started my project ‘Swim Snowdonia’ by accident really, a friend of mine does #30daysofbiking every April, it’s an online ‘thing’ where people all over the world share a daily photo and hashtag. When she was telling me about it, I felt a bit enthused, but I didn’t own a bike, I wondered if I could swim alongside her somehow and #30daysofswimming was born.
I have been doing it ever since and it has taken on many forms, but very quickly I realised I couldn’t swim in the same lake for 30 days, I would go crazy. I am one of those people who love change, admittedly a bit too much sometimes. So, I took a look on an OS map, decided to try out some new lakes and before I knew it I had set myself some new challenge to swim as many of the lakes in Snowdonia as I could before the first snow fell that year. Well, the snow came and went and #SwimSnowdonia was born before I dipped my toes into the first new lake, it’s since taken over completely and become a bit of a life’s work. I became interested in all permanent bodies of water and have extended my quest to included quarry pools, river pools and even the occasional old sheep dip!
Although I know I will visit all the lakes, my next location has to be special, there has to be a reason for visiting. It could be a recommendation from someone, perhaps the clarity is particularly good at certain times of the year, maybe it’s the translation of the name, or purely that it cuts a beautiful shape on the map.
I don’t always swim. There’s nothing nice about stripping off in a howling gale on the side of a mountain to lie in 6 aches of stinking stagnant water, but that said, I might dip my feet. Feeling the squelch of years of decomposing matter between your toes can be surprisingly nice! But, I always document my visit, visually with photographs and through written and/or spoken word.
I can develop obsessions, take my fascination with Llyn Trawsfynydd, a huge man-made lake, created by flooding a valley that was once home to several farming communities. It keeps drawing me back. There is a deep longing to feel the water, visualising the life that was once beneath its surface and a secret love of Sir Basil Spense’ Brutalist design of the now decommissioned nuclear reactors that sit on the shore. I can be quite dismissive, driven I guess by my own needs, but something about ‘Llyn Traws’ makes making me think twice, three times or even more.
I’d come across an article that mentioned the lake bed was contaminated. The lake has a mean depth of only 13ft, there is a strong chance of stirring that up. The if’s and buts are all a bit unanswered. I still can’t quite comprehend the life cycle of ‘a Nuclear Power Station, it seems such an effort for something that was only operational for a short time. I feel incredibly sad, for the lake, the valley, the lost communities, for the beautiful building due to be demolished. I am not sure any body of water evokes quite so much emotion in me, especially one that I have never even dipped my toes in.
I am unconcerned with distances, times and temperatures and swim for my creativity, for time and space away from distractions, I find the water gives me a great clarity of thought. I liken swimming to the zen-like qualities in yoga practice, staring down at the empty expanse of nothingness below me, is quite hypnotic, and I know I am ever searching for the ultimate abyss in every swim. Sometimes the abyss comes above the surface (Llyn Trawsfynnydd’s vastness gives me a similar feeling).
Lots of people come into swimming outdoors and feel they need to be swimming distances or entering events, and whilst these have a place, I am keen to share the adventure in exploring the water in our landscape and our place within it. Helping others to discover how they can make decisions about how and where to swim. Share the nervous anticipation of a swim in a high mountain lake. Enjoy the procrastination of entering unknown waters and how we can come to recognise our strengths and limitations. I want to share how I have come to see the mountains, no longer summits to climb and look down on life below, but places to position myself at the centre of everything, kicking back looking out at the world around me.
Beautiful, thank you so much Viv, it's a please to welcome you to the fold.
If you're inspired to enjoy the watery pleasures of Wales, do check out Viv's Creative Swim Days in our Guide, one of several wild swimming experiences we feature around the country.
If Viv's words have awoken an interest, the most rewarding way of spending your next five minutes immersed in the electronic aether would be to watch her award winning film Afterglow...