Court Farm Lakes

Swimming spot: Court Farm Lakes, Gloucestershire

Digital journalist Abi went to chat to co-founder of Court Farm Lakes, Nix Barnaville, about her exciting new swimming hub on the England-Wales border, offering cold-water inductions, full moon swims and… cold-water singing!

The temperature gauge on my car reads 4°C as I pull up to Court Farm Lakes in Gloucestershire. The twin lakes on the beautiful 4-acre site are completely frozen over but there’s a very inviting ready-made hole for me to have a VERY quick dunk (water temperature 1°C) before I head into the cosy on-site cafe. There, co-founder of Court Farm Lakes, Nix Barnaville greets me with a hot chocolate and we sit next to the woodburner to chat about this wonderful new swimming space she runs with fellow founder Jo Yorke.

Nix, I’m guessing it’s been an exciting few months for you and Jo!

Yes, Jo and I took on the lease back in October, then we opened in December. Prior to that I was running a swim club at Barefoot & Bower in Herefordshire and Jo was running another swim venue in Gloucestershire. Jo and I had never actually met before. We were both interested in taking on the lease for this place so we met for a cup of coffee, and within 20 minutes we were saying, “Why don’t we do it together? Let’s go for it!” We gel really well together.

So what were the lakes used for beforehand?

It was a trout fishery. This cabin was used mainly for the fishermen to bring in their tackle and weigh their catch. We knew we could turn this into a cafe.

And how’s it all going so far?

It’s been overwhelmingly, excitingly busy and amazing. We have so many people coming from Bristol, Cardiff and other places, as well as lots of local people who can’t believe they now have this on their doorstep.

Tell me about your Equinox Swim, Sauna & Sing sessions – I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like that before.

We’ve hosted a few Full Moon Swim & Sauna sessions and they’ve been very popular. Doing an Equinox swim is a really nice way to mark the seasons – particularly in Spring – to notice the notice the changing in the trees and the awakening of things, and celebrating getting through the winter.

My background is in circus – I was a trapeze artist for 20 years. Last year, I got some funding from an Arts Council fund called ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’. I used this to learn to sing and reclaim my voice, working with a natural voice practitioner. At the end of it I hosted an Equinox swim and it gave me this idea of forming a cold water choir. When people get in the water they make all sort of noises, and I think we can make that into something. When you sing there’s a lot of breath control, so that helps with getting into cold water, so we’ll do it as a warm-up activity for the Spring Equinox swim. Then, after getting out, we’ll do something with a bit of rhythm just to get the body nice and warm.

It’s more for those taking part; it’s not for an audience, as such. It’s all about how it makes you feel, not what it sounds like. And celebrating being in nature.

What other things will you be offering over the next few months?

There’ll be outdoor yoga, aerial yoga, fitness classes, SUP sessions and acoustic music nights. We’ve also got some Yoga & Swim Camps in May and Septemer.

We plan to put some jetties in, including an accessible jetty. We want to be able to offer swimming to anybody.

A local triathlon club will be using this place as their HQ, so there’s potential for some triathlon events, too.

Something we’re working out how we navigate is that we don’t want it to be too busy. This sounds odd as a business owner, but we want for people to come and find headspace and feel that can they swim on their own. So as well as events, classes and family sessions etc, there’ll also be sessions when people know it’s quiet, when they can just let us know they’re here then go and swim. They can just get on with it. We realise the importance of that for people’s mental health.

Skinny dippers are welcome, too! They tend to go down to the far lake, which we appropriately call the Bottom Lake. They can go there for some peace and quiet.

What wildlife do you see on the lake?

We get swans, geese and I’ve spotted a heron on the smaller lake. I’d like to make time to sit and watch the banks when no one else is here, to see what’s there.

It’s all been a bit of whirlwind since taking on the lease – opening up, getting our heads down, marketing, building the website, etc. Jo and I are now going to make time to enjoy these lakes for ourselves too.

Location: Court Farm Lakes, Main Rd, Lydney GL15 6PJ

Facilities: There is a cafe and toilet on site, plus a fire pit area for warming up post-swim. Dogs are welcome.

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.