Wild swimming with Winnie Poaty
(5 minute read)
Raised in the Republic of Congo, it was only when Winnie Poaty arrived in the Lakes in 2006 that she learned how to swim. Now an inspiring advocate of the mental health benefits cold water swimming brings – as well as running Ilovememost, her own ‘lagenlook’ clothing and jewellery shop in Kendal – Winnie can be found in Lake Windermere most days. In recent months, she’s even introduced comedian Jack Whitehall and Strictly Come Dancing judges Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Toniolo to the Cumbrian waters. Back on dry land, Winnie tells us about the wild swimming community and why the lake will always be her happy place.
“My relationship with swimming goes back a long way. I grew up in the coastal town of Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo, and, although we lived by the sea, going near the water was forbidden so we were never taught to swim. As a child, I promised myself that I would learn to swim one day.
I came to England in 1999, but it was only when I moved to the Lake District in 2006 that my dream of learning to swim resurfaced. Eventually, with a little help from my daughters, I taught myself how.
For years, watching others swimming in the Lake made me sad. So, once I’d learned how to swim in the pool, I couldn’t wait to get out in the open water.
For me, open water swimming has been life changing. I use it as an escape. It’s almost like a form of therapy.
“Once I’m in the water there’s always that beautiful feeling – the feeling of ‘I belong here’; of being one with water. The air always feels clean, fresh and revitalising. It’s my happy place.”
I struggle with my mental health and swimming is the one thing that helps me switch off. After a swim, I feel that I’ve rebalanced my life and redirected my thoughts. For anyone struggling mentally or just struggling with life’s ups and downs, I strongly advise them to try open water swimming.
My all-time favourite place to swim outdoors is Millerground in Windermere. It doesn’t matter how busy or quiet it is, once I’m in the water there’s always that beautiful feeling – the feeling of ‘I belong here’; of being one with water. The air always feels clean, fresh and revitalising. It’s my happy place.
For me, swimming is about relaxation and taking it all in. It helps me to be in the moment.
The thing I want people to realise with swimming is that it’s all about you and the water. You leave your phone behind. It’s the one sport where, if you allow it, it’s just you, your breathing and your time in the water. Embrace it. Enjoy it.
I swim with a tow float, which helps with visibility and safety – but it also allows you to simply float and enjoy the scenery. My tow float gives me the option to be still for a little while.
“Head out for a swim with an open heart, because there are friends to be made, stories to be shared and so many new memories to be created.”
It’s important to me to remind swimmers old or new to say hello, smile and be friendly. Head out for a swim with an open heart, because there are friends to be made, stories to be shared and so many new memories to be created. When I took up swimming in open water I was going through a really dark time in my life, but other swimmers unknowingly helped me simply by being friendly and chatty.
Honestly, in my 42 years on Earth, it’s through swimming that I’ve discovered the truest sense of happiness. Life isn’t perfect but there are little wins placed on our path that we must all collect along the way. I believe open water is one of those.”
Stay at Another Place and swim in the lake right from our hotel jetty. Borrow a wetsuit and boots from the Sheep Shed or join one of our guided swims with open water swimming expert Colin Hill.
Try an introduction to cold water swimming, a wild swim adventure to Kailpot or, for the more experienced, a cross lake swim or a technical lesson in the endless pool.