Andrew Fusek Peters on why he loves wild swimming

Wild Swims from the Borderlands by Andrew Fusek Peters. Picture: Tom Middleton
Wild Swims from the Borderlands by Andrew Fusek Peters. Picture: Tom Middleton
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FOR POET, author and photographer, Andrew Fusek Peters, a proper holiday has to involve water.

With his wife Polly, he’s currently on a week-long visit to Loch Ness, followed by a tour of the west coast and the Cairngorms, and various wild swims will be scheduled in along the route.

Andrew Fusek Peters the author of Dip - Wild Swims from the Borderlands. Picture: Tom Middleton

Andrew Fusek Peters the author of Dip - Wild Swims from the Borderlands. Picture: Tom Middleton

They’re a necessity, as these invigorating activities are more than just a fitness pursuit for this writer.

In the past, Shropshire-based Fusek Peters, 48, suffered from severe depression, which at its worst resulted in him having to be hospitalised at one point. However, as detailed in his new memoir, Dip, swimming outdoors proved to be the therapy that would raise him from the depths.

In the candid, personal and poetic read, he describes the “swims, submersions and explorations” in England and Wales (as well as one in Hong Kong) that he took over a year-long period, with a single month described in each chapter.

Although he won’t be writing about it, this will be his first swimming trip to Scotland.

“My dad was a Maxwell, so I’m part Scottish and have no English blood at all. I should take advantage of it,” says Fusek Peters, who is half Czechoslovakian.

He has swum outdoors since he was a child, “except in the Seventies it wasn’t called wild swimming, just swimming,” and he bemoans the fact that this activity is no longer readily part of our lives, with a disappearance of public lidos, mainly for health and safety reasons.

“If someone died in a car crash we wouldn’t ban cars,” he says.

Despite the lack of man-made outdoor pools, the pursuit of wild swimming has become increasingly popular in recent years.

However, Fusek Peters only occasionally meets anyone else on his excursions.

“I do bump into people who’ve read something like Daniel Start’s excellent Wild Swimming book – a geographical guide to wild swim spots – but many of the places I go to are very private and I visit at odd times,” he says. “I love the solitary aspect.”

Maybe the other swimmers have also been put off by the cold. Will he be able to handle our H20?

“Dip goes all the way through the year, with Welsh waterfalls in January and semi-submerged mine shafts in September, so temperature’s never an issue for me,” explains Fusek Peters, who usually wears trunks rather than a wet-suit, accessorised on occasion with a woolly hat, if one photo in the book is anything to go by. In fact, if anything, Fusek Peters seems to enjoy the jolt and the subsequent adrenalin rush of immersing himself in cold water, as if this were a natural form of electroconvulsive therapy. “I got so ill that I was offered that, and I’m glad I didn’t take it, this is a better part of my recovery,” he says.

Just before he leaps in, he feels “terrified” and thinks about getting dressed again, but, as he writes in Dip, the chilly water eventually seems to centre and ground him.

Fusek Peters doesn’t make a plan to swim any particular length, or for any amount of time. He takes two immersions that last as long as he wants them to. The first one is a shock to the system, while the second is, as he says, “more delicious.”

“All I own is this Darwinian skin, evolving out of hair and into clothes. From outdoor hunter and caveman to inner-bungalow-sedentary-sapiens. I am not made for this, but as I dip, I am the arrow, flying back in time to my ancestral memories. I came from water, I have briefly returned and I feel this elemental urge that drives me on.”

In the book, he also he describes jumping into water as “defeating fear of death.” What does he mean?

“I think when I was very ill that was the thought I had every day, I just wanted to die,” he says. “When you jump in water, it clears your head, it’s therapeutic, you’re with the wildlife and in the water.”

Dip: Wild Swims from the Borderlands by Andrew Fusek Peters, is published by Rider, £16.99.