Our columnist, endurance athlete and former BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin, delights in a little cold water swimming and reaps the benefits.

There is so much written and talked about cold-water immersion and its huge benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing, but even though I love the idea of it, having Raynaud’s makes me averse to getting in freezing water.

My hands can go white and numb even when walking down the freezer aisle in the supermarket, so swimming in cold water is a big challenge for me. But, there is always a but… I know how exhilarating a swim in cold water can be, so when Cath Pendleton, otherwise known as The Merthyr Mermaid, came to visit me recently, I couldn’t say no when she suggested a dip in the river.

Cath, unlike me, is a cold-water specialist; she holds a Guinness World Record for Most Southerly Ice Swim (female). She swam a mile inside the Antarctic Polar Circle in water that was 0.03°C and all she was wearing was her swimming costume, cap and goggles.

To me, that is unthinkable; I would probably only survive a couple of minutes at that temperature, but she was in the water for nearly 33 minutes. In comparison to her record-breaking ice swim, for Cath a short dip in the River Dee at a balmy 6.3°C is a piece of cake, but it’s not for me. It goes without saying that open-water swimming is a dangerous activity; safety is paramount and is something we both take very seriously.

Louise with Cath Pendleton just before their dip

My personal top tips are to never swim on your own, go in slowly, make sure you don’t overdo it and get too cold, and take warm clothes and a warm drink for when you get out. With all that in mind, when we set off on a sunny spring day, we were well prepared with woolly hats and layers to wrap up in afterwards.


Stripping off by the shoreline with dog-walkers coming past was hilarious; they all thought we were nuts and told us so. But once we had decided that we were going in, nothing could stop us.

Cath has a brilliant way of getting in the water, which not only makes me laugh but is very helpful. She has a mantra, “Bits, tits and pits”, which she repeated over and over to me as my feet slid in the sludge, and as I gasped for air, she told me to sing and breathe.

Obeying her instructions, I managed to get my shoulders in and do a few quick strokes of breaststroke. I was probably only in the water for just over a minute but when I got out, I was laughing my head off and even as I struggled to put my socks on, I could feel the wave of endorphins wash over me.

For Cath, cold water is her reset button; she says it switches off her brain completely. All she can do is concentrate on how she is feeling. Walking back from the river with my skin buzzing, chatting and giggling, I too felt reset and ready for anything.

Cath Pendleton is one of the women who features in Louise’s book Fearless: Adventures With Extraordinary Women, which is now available to buy in paperback (Bloomsbury, £10.99).

Words: Louise Minchin. Cover image: Rachel Joseph. Second image: Louise Minchin.