One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Meldon Pond Is Not Cold Enough

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.


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4 thoughts on “Meldon Pond Is Not Cold Enough

  1. As a cold water aficionado, who has recently lost his acclimatisation due to work and being bunged up, I have had to refer to my own advice about acclimatisation. This time last year I did 4000 yards at 8 degrees. In the same temperature on Saturday I managed 30 yards. I found it hard to believe that anyone could swim more than a few strokes in such Baltic climes. Today I did 200 yards and realised that once my outer skin is numbed, and the pain has abated, I felt cold, but not desperate to leave the water. I know from reading, that below the immediate layer of outer skin, my core was going to stay warm for some time. But I also remembered that with acclimatisation, it is for most people, a necessarily gradual process. Tomorrow I shall do 400 yards. Regularity and gradual increase in time in, is critical. I’m looking forward to the busiest endurance race ever; and to doing a km under five before the CWSC arrives. My theory of acclimatisation will be out to the test!

    • Pauline’s doing really well, she didn’t get the shakes and was in for a considerable time. I got afterdrop and was in for less time, I also wore a rash vest and gloves and boots! I’m better than I was last year having dipped wetsuitless in very cold water regularly over the winter, and having swum mostly without all summer. Good luck with your acclimatising…

  2. Hi there, I’m hoping to enter the endurance race at Tooting Bec also, so hope to see you there. We are at 10 degrees here in the sea and it feels fine. But every 1 degree drop feels MUCH MUCH colder! It’s agony for the first 5 minutes, thereafter gets better, until by 10 minutes you begin to enjoy it. Good luck!!

    • I can’t make the Lido I’m afraid, but several of my swimming friends will be there! You’re right about the pain and the difference with each degree drop…our sea is still quite warm here, around 12-13 which feels warm compared to the river. I start really noticing it below 11 now. Do say hello to Pauline and Queenie at Tooting (Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimmers). Lots of luck with your continued freezing 🙂

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