Big Dippers | Mental Health Swims

Tessa Kelly extols the ethereal wonder of open-water swimming

I truly believe in the healing power of nature and the magic that the sea and cold-water swimming bestows on our mental and physical health. The moment you bravely take the plunge into cold water your focus has no choice but to be exactly on that moment in time, releasing all other thoughts and worries into the waves and bringing a rare, salty sense of perspective and freedom. It provides the invaluable chance to breathe, reset and connect with your beautiful surroundings when life gets overwhelming, as it often does. It is the ultimate mindfulness practice, away from the screens, struggles and anxiety of everyday life.

The sea and open water swimming have helped me overcome so much. I started Dorset Dips with the desire to share the experience in the hope it might provide a release for other people too. I love to explore the amazing Dorset coastline and am proud to call it home. It’s a pleasure to share my favourite swim spots with like-minded dippers and meet up with them in the cold water. We are spoilt for choice here in Dorset; from the long, sandy stretches at Weymouth, Bournemouth and Swanage, to the winding roads that deliver us down to Eype, Seatown and Burton Bradstock, and the beautiful, hidden bays of Kimmeridge, Warbarrow, Lulworth and Worth Matravers. When I’m in the water, each one feels like the most special place in the world. Every time I swim, I decide on a new favourite.

Last year I was proud to become a Mental Health Swims host. This amazing community of volunteers offers peer support groups and cold-water swims in safe, non-judgemental environments across the UK. Our Mental Health Swims group is free to join and meets at 9 am on the first Saturday of every month in front of Cafe Oasis, Bowleaze Coveway, Weymouth. All dippers are welcome to stick around afterwards for a piece of cake and a quick beach clean – to give a little back for our swim. The aim is simply to enjoy a dip with company, and there’s no pressure to get or stay in for any length of time. All are welcome whether a swimmer, bobber, diver, toe-dipper or starfisher – the sea doesn’t judge!

All swimmers are responsible for their own safety, so it’s vital to know and stay within your limits. The most important aspect of open water swimming is to stay safe and respect the sea at all times. It is a force of nature and, much like our moods and feelings, is sometimes less welcoming than others. Do your research, join a group, and know your limits so you don’t put yourself or others around you at risk.

My top tips for swimming adventures:

• Be prepared; check the weather, tides and entry/exit points in advance
• Never swim alone if inexperienced, and always let someone know where and when you’re going and when you get out
• Wear a brightly coloured swim hat and tow float to ensure you can be seen
• Never dive in; enter the water slowly until you have control over your breathing and have acclimatised
• Lay out warm, dry and easy-to-put-on clothes in the order you’ll put them on, ready for when you finish your swim
• Know your limits; start slow and small
• Enjoy! Nothing beats that sparkly, post-swim moment when it feels like there’s glitter running through your veins – and the obligatory cake that follows

In the summer months when restrictions are lifted, I will be offering free coaching and ‘introduction to cold water swimming’ sessions for anyone who would like
to have a go, but doesn’t know where to start, or would like some company to begin with.

If you’d like to ask any questions or join our Mental Health Swims group for a dip, please contact me at [email protected] or via the @dorsetdips Instagram.

You can also check out for details of all the Mental Health Swims meets around the country and the amazing community they’re building.


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Almanac Editor

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