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Why I Swim - Anna Parkes

I'm Anna Parkes, aged 63 and I live on the island of Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly off the end of Cornwall.

My day job is very creative; I manage an art Gallery, although currently I'm furloughed. I've been married to Steve for nearly 40 years and we have two grown up children both of whom live and work here on the island too. I run a fashion blog in my spare time and love that I can dress up every day for work in whatever takes my fancy. My office overlooks New Grimsby Bay offering me tantalising glimpses of the sea all day long. I spend my days checking the wind direction and state of the tide so that I can get the best swim of the day. Swimming isn't just my hobby, it's part of who I am. Without my daily swim I'm a fraction of my whole self, running on low until I'm topped up again by the energy of the sea.

Eight years ago I was quite poorly, laid up at home, not able to work, to go out, or even to climb the stairs to get to bed. Bowel disease has been my unwelcome companion since I was 18, compromising my life at times and then loosening its grip as it slipped into remission for months or sometimes years. This time after a week of crawling between sofa and bathroom, weak as a kitten, I knew that something had to change; I wanted to get well without medical intervention. The drugs didn't work and often gave me side effects. I needed to remedy what was wrong once and for all. And so I searched the web, trying to find a natural remedy, a way to strengthen my immune system and get me back on my feet. 

Anna standing out in the sea at knee height

My recovery came in two parts - the first being my diet. I found a book written about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which reported success for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (the disease I suffer from). The diet is strict, involving an elimination process as the starting point which is key to discovering any food allergies or intolerances. I've stuck with it and it works. 

The second part was Cold Water Therapy. There's lots written on the subject and the more I read, the more I knew it was what I wanted to try. I've always been a fair weather swimmer, but this was to become a daily ritual. Taking the waters was key in rebuilding my immune system. Initially it was merely a quick dip, to give me the cold water shock that is so vital in boosting the immune response. Over time I built this up, gradually increasing the distance I could swim without feeling cold or exhausted. Eight years down the line I can swim in the sea for an hour during the summer months dropping down to about ten minutes during the winter, always in a swimsuit with cap and goggles.

Anna far out in the sea swimming across the horizon

What started out as a cure for bowel disease has developed into a way of life. I can report that I'm very well now with no symptoms of my previous illness. Swimming is my passion, my drive, my joy. I prefer to swim alone although I have a friend who likes to join me for my second swim of the day during the summer months. Solitary swimming is like a meditation, a time to connect with not just nature, but to be part of something much bigger, all encompassing, that makes me feel like a tiny droplet of water within the universe, moving with the tide. Over the years I've had swims with seals, both large and small as well as seeing all sorts of marine life along the shoreline where I swim. Each dip is like a mini adventure, a little outing and a wonderful escape all rolled into one.

Sea swimming also benefits my mental wellbeing, giving me a stability that I'd never known before. It's interesting to see that cold water bathing is now being prescribed by doctors as an alternative to antidepressants. As a sufferer of S.A.D. I rely on my winter swims to keep my sane, to lift my mood and give me a reason to be. 

And finally, let's not forget the joy of the afterglow, that amazing physical rush of blood that happens when you emerge from the briney. Is that what makes swimming so addictive? I don't know, but it's my daily dose of wellbeing that's for sure!

Anna standing in the water


Our Why I Swim project aims to give voice to our untold swim stories and strengthen our fantastic community. If you would like to share your story, drop us an email at


If you are new to outdoor swimming and feel inspired to give it a go, please ensure you do so safely. 

Firstly, have a read of our tips for winter swimming here and familiarise yourself with what's useful to have in your wild swim kit.

We would strongly advise trying out your first swim with an experienced cold water swimmer until you are completely confident of your own abilities. 

The Outdoor Swimming Society has a great list of local swimming groups which is well worth checking out and a quick search on Facebook should provide results.

And if you have any questions, pop a post in the Swim Feral Facebook page and our fantastic community of swimmers will be sure to help. 

Happy swimming xx



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