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Why I Swim - Sara Barnes

I am a freelance writer and have lived in the Lake District for 26 years. The outdoors is where I am at my happiest, whether that be cycling, walking, running or swimming. I live near Cockermouth and my nearest lake is Crummock Water. My teenage son and a British Blue cat called Baloo, share my home. We spend our time cooking, listening to music (very different tastes!) and exploring the landscape around on us by bike or foot. If we could combine a bit more Mediterranean sunshine and warm water with our beautiful mountains and lakes life would be perfect.

In February 2017 I had to have major leg surgery to alleviate symptoms of osteo-arthritis, but the operation was not particularly successful and it has taken me nearly four years to learn to walk properly again.

When you can’t walk and do all the outdoor stuff that keeps you sane, where else do you plonk your body? In cold water of course! Swimming is non-weight bearing and at first it was all I could do. I felt liberated and pain free: emotionally and physically. No pressure on my healing bones, no pain because my wounds were numb from the cold and no chlorine because my water is pure Lakeland water, fresh off the fells. Cold water therapy at its best.

Sara in the water looking away from the camera

And I just kept swimming all year round right up until this day. Back then I only dared swim with others, but found their company priceless. I soaked up dos and don’ts like a sponge. Thank goodness. Now, every day, I give myself time out from being a mum, a breadwinner, a provider, a worrier and a writer. It’s time in nature and in water, both of which brush and rinse all the stale, negative and uninspiring crap out of my mind and body like a washing machine on a gentle 30 degree cycle. If I’m feeling utterly wired and as if I could throttle the nearest thing that moves I crave the wilderness; Crummock Water and the screaming dervishes that live around her edges.

Sarah walking out of the water

Wild swimming has given me back myself. Over the last four years I have rediscovered the person I was before life’s stresses, disappointments and complexities took over. As I grow older I am loving the connection with nature, the water and my physical capabilities even more. To me, age and body shape have become insignificant and I feel more confident, at peace with myself and more understanding and forgiving of myself and others. I know I have limits, but it is exciting to push them on a daily basis by immersing in cold water often and often solo. As a creative writer I need to regularly reboot my imagination and inspiration and get outside my own head. If you see me walking along talking to myself, or swimming with concentration it’s often because I’m right at the point of solving a complex plot structure, or trying to work out how a character would respond to a given situation.

I will keep swimming outdoors and seeking increasingly wild and remote places because the reasons for doing so are evolving. No longer for pain management or exercise, it is becoming like a journey: an emotional and spiritual one. When I lost my mum in August 2020 I thought grief was going to crush me, but because I had already acquired such a deep understanding of how being in the water affected me, I have been able to manage that grief so that it doesn’t overwhelm me as much.

If I could inspire just one other person who feels lost and isolated to find solace and joy in this most simple of activities I would be happy. It is a strong global community, made up of an incredible array of people from all walks of life, but it seems to me that we all have one thing in common: a connection to the water and a need to be immersed in it. It’s a thing of trust, beauty and mystery.

Each time I swim or dip I know I will emerge the Sara I want to be.

Sara standing at waist height 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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