Pauline, Queenie and a few others are aiming to swim at the Cold Water event in Tooting Bec Lido in January. To qualify they need to swim at 6°C for one kilometre wearing only a swimsuit and hat, so we tried Meldon Pond which, being spring-fed and around 135 feet deep, is not known for its warmth.
It’s chilly and mainly overcast. Once again, Meldon Dam is in full overflow and the Ockment River rages beneath the leaf-spattered clam bridge as we cross. There are four dogs with us today: Honey, Max the Springer, Maggie the Spollie, and a Border Terrier whose name I’ve forgotten. They cavort, leap in and out of the water and charge, spraying rain storms of pond water as they pass close to swimmers in various states of undress, unleashing squeals and shrieks as the cold water hits warm bodies.
The water feels freezing, and my limbs are almost immediately numbed before glowing bright red and burning. It takes five or six goes before I can swim front crawl and bear the chill on my cheekbones.
Nearing the quarried cliff at the far end, I’m struck by the contrast with the rest of the pond which is surrounded by semi-skeletal trees clinging to their remaining leaves. The wind shivers the grey surface of the water and elicits similar responses in my skin. Below the cliff, the light reflects from gleaming white lime trails and turquoise water. Vines dangle. My brain is confused by the frigid burning and the surreal view; it could be tropical, or it could be Arctic. Afterwards, glowing cherry-red with my cold-water tan, I pull off my neoprene gloves and boots to expose luminous white hands and feet.
Sadly, the water temperature is a balmy 8.6°C.