wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Archive for the tag “skinny dipping”

On Skinny Dipping (OSS Version)

IMGP5036 I’d already written this piece on Skinny Dipping when artist and OSS member Natasha Brooks posted her film Blue Hue on the OSS Facebook page. In the film Natasha swims and floats naked in a wintery Llyn in Snowdonia while discussing her love of swimming wild, free from boundaries between her body and the environment. Natasha’s film is undoubtedly Art, a canon in which nudity is acceptable. But everyday nudity does not always receive the same welcome.

A while ago I blogged about a trip up the river Dart on a sweltering summer’s day, during which we encountered male nudity in the form of two opportunistic skinny dippers and a yogi in the tree pose. I jokingly entitled the post Hot Naked Men and Cool Dartmoor Water. Adverts for Russian Brides suddenly appeared on my blog, which my iPhone blocked owing to ‘unsuitable content’. On checking the stats I discovered the most frequent search terms are ‘naked swimming’ and ‘skinny dipping’. An interesting comment on the schism between those who strip, leap in and enjoy the feeling of cool water on their bodies, and those who misread their purpose.

Last summer in Northern Ireland a couple of men were threatened with arrest for skinny dipping:

“There are young children in these areas too…You could end up with a criminal record and placed on the sex offender register (sic)” said a police spokesperson (The Daily Telegraph, 30 July 14).

Meanwhile a couple were arrested for skinny dipping, in East Lothian. Nudists can be prosecuted under the Public Order Act for ‘outraging public decency’, although rules vary by country in the UK, and in England skinny dipping is specifically excluded from this offence. Clearly there’s little room for objectivity here.

In Scandinavia, there is a space in society for non-sexualised nudity; there naked adults routinely share saunas with naked children. Perhaps swimmers are in a position to create a similar space in our confused country, where pop culture reveals an overtly sexualised aesthetic made officially decent by the addition of a bikini or some hot pants.

Once you’ve plunged yourself into a moorland brook on a stormy day and sensed that surging energy through your wetsuit, you develop a desire to feel it more directly. It’s a matter of time before even a swimsuit dulls the senses and skinny dipping becomes inevitable. What does this represent but the exposure of one’s body and soul to nature, a baptism, a metaphorical sloughing of the skin? It’s this that Natasha’s film (and the numerous positive reactions to it) shows so beautifully.  Yet it goes still deeper.

Skinny dipping is often seen as cheeky and rebellious in that peculiarly British saucy seaside-postcard way. But it’s also seditious in that you can’t sell kit to people who aren’t wearing anything, and we live in such a commercialised environment that a product-free activity becomes subversive in itself. Meanwhile, the routine media shaming of imperfect celebrity bodies regulates our behaviour and our views of what’s shocking (cellulite!)

As a wild swimmer I know that a friendly covering of blubber helps me to withstand the nip of cold water. I can forget to shave my legs (or shave one and lose interest as a friend did recently). I can strip and leap in with alacrity, knowing that the men and women I’m with are too busy enjoying themselves to judge my physique. The experience can be bracing, exciting, sometimes painfully cold, and sensual in the literal meaning of that word, where each nerve ending responds and the movements of our bodies echo the paths of the currents.

Perhaps the careless exposure of un-photoshopped flesh and unstyled wet hair conspire to engender horror both at the thought of one’s own mortality and at the lack of concomitant marketing opportunities. While confusion reigns over nudity, what our culture finds truly shocking is the display of bodies in all their diversity, freed from the triumvirate of religion, advertising and the gym. The beauty in skinny dipping comes from how it makes us feel, whether we’re young or old, fat or thin, or anything in between. We plunge together into waves and lakes and waterfalls and gorge on life and cake while our minds float away. That’s liberation.

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On Skinny Dipping (Tacky Version)

Skinny Dip, Norfolk

Skinny Dip, Norfolk

A while ago I blogged about a trip up the river Dart on a sweltering summer’s day, during which we encountered male nudity in the form of two opportunistic skinny dippers and a yogi in the tree pose. I jokingly entitled the post Hot Naked Men and Cool Dartmoor Water. Adverts for Russian Brides suddenly appeared on my blog, which my iPhone blocked owing to ‘unsuitable content’. On checking the stats I discovered the most frequent search terms are ‘naked swimming’ and ‘skinny dipping’.

Last summer in Northern Ireland a couple of men were threatened with arrest for skinny dipping.

“There are young children in these areas too…You could end up with a criminal record and placed on the sex offender register (sic)” said a police spokesperson.

Meanwhile a couple were arrested for skinny dipping, in East Lothian. Nudists can be prosecuted under the Public Order Act for ‘outraging public decency’ (Telegraph, 30 July 14), although rules vary by country in the UK. But how is this anything other than subjective?

Place these incidents in the context of the relentless sexualisation of our culture. Without even mentioning Miley Cyrus, pre-pubescent girls can be seen twerking and slut-dropping on TV (Big Fat Gypsy Weddings for example). Even an X-Factor judge commented on the inappropriateness of twerking women surrounding a 16 year old male contestant.

We’ve certainly lost the art of seduction and become entangled in the snake lock weeds of confused representation. Here hip thrusts represent female sexual empowerment packaged for the male gaze through the iconography of shagging dogs. Meanwhile, careless nudity by people swimming outdoors can be deemed offensive. Even swimming groups are not immune to the controversy. Why is this so when the context is so clearly not sexualised? In Scandinavia, naked adults routinely share saunas with naked children. So why do we inculcate our children with our cultural confusion surrounding nudity and sex?

Men have penises (shock!), whether or not they’re exposed. As an 18 year-old art student in life-drawing class I was barred from drawing male nudes (till age 21), while 16 year old boys legally drew female nudes. Presumably this was to protect my girlish sensibilities, while Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile leered and pawed young girls on prime-time tv. The times I’ve been flashed in a sexual way (a few, out of the very, very many men who have treated me with respect and kindness) the perpetrators have been fully-clothed, furtively exposing a penis and on one occasion forcing it into my hand. They weren’t swimming; in fact one was on a tube train. The water temperature in Britain mostly militates against confident flashing in any case.

Is the presence or otherwise of clothing really the issue? Of course clothing is about far more than simple protection from the weather. What we wear is a cultural statement of status and wealth, and of more nebulous values such as identity. We can use clothing to outrage as Lady Gaga knows. Why then does the law attempt to enforce Victorian, table-leg-covering mores over us when we’re naked?

Like every activity in our consumerist culture, wild swimming has become a lifestyle choice. It’s aspirational, and visually suited to glossy magazines luring city-folk with a country-living wet-dream. Can nudity possibly be a part of this? Skinny dipping is subversive in a more complex way than that of being cheeky and rebellious, not least in that you can’t sell kit to people who aren’t wearing anything. Once you’ve plunged yourself into a moorland brook on a sunny day, skinny-dipping becomes almost inevitable. What does this represent but the exposure of one’s body and soul to nature, a baptism, a metaphorical sloughing of the skin?

As a wild swimmer I know that a friendly covering of blubber helps me to withstand the nip of cold water. I can forget to shave my legs (or shave one and lose interest as a friend did recently). I can strip and leap in with alacrity, knowing that the chill will be thrilling and that the men and women I’m with are too busy enjoying themselves to judge my physique. The temperature of the water and the context is about as far from hot as you can get.

Perhaps the flagrant exposure of flesh that might be sagging, and wet hair, conspire to engender horror both at the thought of one’s own mortality and the lack of concomitant marketing opportunities. While confusion reigns over nudity, I wonder whether what our culture finds truly naughty is the joyous display of bodies in all their glorious diversity, bulging un-choreographed from the triumvirate of religion, advertising and the gym. We can revel both in youthful beauty and in ageing flesh without concealing the evidence. We plunge into waves and waterfalls and gorge on life and cake made with (gasp!) real butter. It’s far better than sex.

Black Tor Dell

The First Sneaky Peek of Black Tor Dell

The First Sneaky Peek of Black Tor Dell

Today’s dip stems from a sudden whim to visit the little dell below Black Tor where we haven’t been for some time. I have no towel or swimsuit so it’s a skinny dip, clinging to mossed rocks like hairy pectorals in the surge below the falls, in a howling gale, just before the storm hits.

Afterwards I stand spreadeagled on the bank while the wind whirls and chills still more. Flicking the drops of water from my skin with both hands, I turn and slowly dry. As I dress slinky grey stripes of rain advance from Burrator.  Water runs from my hair and down my face, and my sandalled feet are frozen from squelching through sucking boggy tussocks. Honey has the wind up her tail, cavorts like an excited camel, then eats some perfectly-matured vintage horse poo which means a choice between warming my soaking feet with the van heater and fainting with the pong, or winding the window down and breathing fresh, cold, Dartmoor air…you can guess which option I choose.

The Dell

The Dell

 

Strip in the Lyd

Waterfall

Waterfall

Continued downpours have left our little river the colour of Jail Ale and with a foaming head. Helen and I were intending to skinny dip, only there’s a couple just downstream setting up camp for the night and a lone walker on the far bank heading our way. So we wimp out and don our cozzies.  We’re still chatting about Helen’s trip to Russia and are properly iced by the swirly wind before we get in.

Helen Pre-Strip

Helen Pre-Strip

We duck, swim to the waterfall and explore for a time till I notice Helen is mid strip. So I join her and we toss our swimsuits over to the rocks. Although we’re almost naked, Helen is wearing goggles and I a pair of neoprene boots. How very English. So we whip those off too and lob them to the shallows. The surge beneath the big rock resembles ghostly frogspawn and I imagine ranks of frogs squatting in the depths, bums aloft.

We take turns to swim breast stroke against the flow. So many sensations, and far more subtle than a jacuzzi: the cold; currents that push and pummel howling like gales, or waft gently past like summer breezes; effervescence like birds’ wings brushing on skin, fizzing louder than the roar of the cascade. Each bubble oscillates and atomises on our faces. Our eyes are level with the surface so we see tiny spheres meld and grow before scatting across the pool in the wind. There’s nothing to beat skinny dipping in this exposed place.

Honey's Downward Dog

Honey’s Downward Dog

The wind whips around and chills wet hair so we dive back under to warm up. I open my eyes and float through beer that turns gold like scrumpy. We begin another chat, rolling and wallowing with the water but cold sidles around and we’re suddenly numbed to the core. After we leave, reluctantly, I can’t feel my towel nor whether I’m wet or dry. A current of ice runs along my spine and radiates like the sun.

The Bubble Uprush

Frogspawn Bubble Uprush

 

Skinny Dunk at Black Rock

Ready to Dunk

Ready to Dunk

The tempestuous weather continues unabated, and although I like it wild it’s playing havoc with my swimming. There’s wild, and there’s WILD. Today, Honey and I stomp through black peaty mud the texture of molten chocolate. We make  squelching noises that resemble a liquidised meal being chomped by an octogenarian with badly-fitting false teeth. The pool at Black Rock thunders and the edge of the dam has been washed away. I strip and wade carefully in before plunging under and popping back up like an ice cube in a whisky and soda.  I daren’t swim across.

Skinny Dunking

Skinny Dunking

Dunked

Dunked

Un-Dunking

Un-Dunking

Skinny Dip at Black Rock

Honey and I pootled over to the River Lyd this afternoon for a revivifying skinny dip in Witch’s Pool.  As we wandered upstream through the valley, Honey disturbed a young vixen who shot out under her nose from a gorse thicket and zig-zagged off up Widgery Tor, her brush going like a metronome to balance her flight. Honey continued to sniff excitedly in the thicket, having missed the entire escape.  I also forgot to take a photo, despite having my camera in my hand. We then saw an elderly man who reacted in much the same way as the vixen had, and shot off up the tor perpendicular to the track in order to avoid us.

We scrambled down the steep valley side and I stripped quickly, sliding into the chilly pool from a granite boulder.  I ducked under the clear brown water, and as I popped back up and floated through the familiar ache of cold skin, a skylark sang overhead echoing the tumbling course of the little river. Honey played in the shallows and the elderly man reappeared around a hundred yards away, freezing in a cartoon pose as he caught sight of me, before hurrying off back downstream. I dried by jigging on the grass to the clacking whistle of a Wheatear, although I couldn’t see him. I thought as I always do when we come here of the young  soldier whose verse, written during a leave shortly before his death,  is attached to Black Rock above a wooden bench:

Are we not like this moorland stream,
Springing none knows where from,
Tinkling, bubbling, flashing a gleam,
Back at the sun ‘ere long,
Gloomy and dull under a cloud,
Then rushing onwards again,
Dashing at rocks with anger loud,
Roaring and foaming in vain,
Wandering thus for many a mile,
Twisting and turning away for a while,
Then of a sudden ’tis over the fall,
And the dark still pool is the end of all.

Is it? I thought as I turned away,
And I turned away to the silent moor.
Is it? I said and my heart said ‘nay’,
As I gazed at the cross on Widgery Tor.

Captain Nigel Duncan Ratcliffe Hunter, of Lydford, killed in 1918 aged 23

 

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