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Getting along swimmingly


Ella Foote meets Zen seeker Tessa Wardley, who says wild swimming is the perfect medium through which to practise mindfulness


“The water that opens out

in front of you is like a

blank sheet of paper – open for influence,” is just one of the brilliant and beautiful lines written by swimmer and author Tessa Wardley in her new book, The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming. It is also something that all swimmers can relate to, whether you are starting a session in the pool or about to leap into a lake.

Tessa and I are standing on the

banks of the River Wey just outside

Guildford, Surrey. It is an overcast

warm spring day. Wild yellow flowers

sprout from the river edge, birdsong

twitters around us and our nostrils are

filled with that fond earthy water scent,

mixed with the sweetness of wild garlic

blooms.

Mindfulness is just a new way of

asking us to pay attention. It is so easy

to get caught up with training plans,

fighting for time to swim or concerned

with distance and temperatures, and to

forget why we even enjoy swimming.

How many times have you heard a

swimming soul exclaim they have lost

their mojo?

“I enjoy entering events and setting

myself a challenge,” says Tessa. “In a

pool I can set my watch, plough up and down, time myself and do training

exercises. But it is lovely to get to the

river, get in and think I am swimming

just because I enjoy swimming. Just

for the feel of it, for the fun of it and

for the experience. To remind myself, I love swimming and that is why I am doing it. Not for the amount of strokes I can do a length!”

Swimming came first for Tessa and

it was only later that she recognised

her mindful approach. “Growing up,

my family were very much into the

outdoors,” says Tessa. “We used to go to Scotland every summer, Exmoor every spring and we lived in Norfolk, which is surrounded by the sea and partially submerged by the Broads. So we were always in and out of water from a young age. I have a photo of my mother dangling me in the water at just two years old.”

Tessa’s previous books explored

natural environments, drawing upon

her love of rivers, woodlands and

countryside. “I discovered my style was

quite mindful in the way I carry out

activities and the way I do things,” she says. “My approach to swimming and

life in general is to be quite mindful

and while I haven’t done any formal

mindfulness training, I have explored

the practice of it.”

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The book is quite different to Tessa’s

other work. She didn’t want it to be

a swim guide, but was aware that it

should be responsible – reminding

readers about how the natural

environment can have unpredictable

conditions. “I want it to be a book for

all swimmers. So many people love

swimming and are thinking of taking

their swimming outside,” says Tessa.

“I had those people in mind, as well

as those who already swim outside

and could bring more to their outdoor

swimming. They might go out and have

great adventures, but don’t think about

their mindfulness while exploring. It is

about how being mindful can enhance

their experience.”

The book transports you to the

waterside. “When we connect with

wild waters, we learn how great they

can make us feel and how they benefit

our lives in so many ways,” Tessa

writes.

The book begins with taking the plunge and ends with water wisdom, taking you through the seasons as your mind swims along with Tessa. It isn’t a book for the train; you will want to get off. It is a book that can reconnect you with your passion, the water, nature and yourself.

“Often it feels like things are a real

problem when you get into the water.

Then you start swimming, get into a

rhythm and it starts to flow and you

start thinking, actually that isn’t such

a problem any more, I can do this,”

says Tessa. “I don’t think I have ever come out of the water in a bad state of mind. There are many times when I arrive at the river undecided and not really feeling like it, but I never come out of the water feeling that way.”

Tessa has travelled all around

the world as an environmental

consultant, exploring rivers and

waters as part of her work and passion.

However, one of her favourite spots to swim is in this country. “The Langstrath Valley in the Lake District is absolutely stunning,” she says. “Massive boulders, beautiful clear green water that you can see right down to the bottom of pools and runs where you can swim and dip, with rock shoots you can slide down!”

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As well as enjoying trips like this with her family, she also appreciates local spots near her Surrey home. “The beauty of the rivers in Surrey is less obvious. But to come across somewhere like the River Wey, slow enough flow to get in and swim without being swept away – it is beautiful,” says Tessa. “These places are almost more precious in a way. In the Lake District you are surrounded by beauty and it is kind of expected. It becomes more of a surprise to find a retreat like this.

“My book is a success if

it inspires people to get out

there. So often it is hard to get going and life gets in the way of life,” says Tessa. “The mindfulness trend is really

interesting and the amount of

people that include it in their life is amazing. The health benefits are great, so I encourage people to get out and enjoy our waters.”

Tessa will be swimming at the

Outdoor Swimming Society’s Bantham

Swoosh this June and has challenged

herself to a swimming holiday covering

22km along part of the coastline

in Crete this October. Her book,

The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming,

published by Leaping Hare Press, is out

now priced £8.99.