The BIG Chill Swim! Event review by Helen Gilburt

With a backdrop of snow tipped mountains, there’s nowhere in England quite like Lake Windermere for a swimming gala. So like 100’s of others, last weekend I travelled to Low Wood Bay to take part in the Big Chill Swim. For anyone who has never been to a winter swim event or been put off by taking part in a ‘gala’ the Big Chill Swim is a prime demonstration of how eclectic and inclusive cold water swimming is. My first year I signed up for the 60m and 120m events but 3 events on, I’ve been building up and along with 2 shorter distances I was finally entered into the British 1 kilometre Championships.

The Big Chill Swim, water a bracing 7.3 degrees: Photo Credit Helen Gilbert

The event kicked off on Saturday with the 450m endurance event. Yet again I asked myself – why does everything I enter have to start first thing in the morning?! Despite all the training, I always feel awash with nerves. It’s only when you get into the final briefing and take your allotted seat, when the opportunity for ‘just one more wee’ has finally passed that it’s time to go with the flow. For our group that meant a lot of banter and laughter enhanced with someone explaining to the younger age category sat opposite ours that “this is what you’ll look like in 5 years time!”

I can’t say it was a disaster (I took 3rd place in my age category) but it certainly wasn’t what I visualised. Perhaps the tell-tale sign that yet again the adrenaline had got the better of me and I’d gone off too fast was that 3 lengths in out of 15 all I could think about was how out of breath I was.

Between swims you often have quite a bit of time, but swimming is only part of what Big Chill Swim is. Like other events, I often travel on my own. This can seem a bit daunting at first but the common bond of winter swimming means there’s always someone to chat with. And if you’re not embroiled sharing stories with one of the many teams in attendance, there’s always the relay. Teams of 4, each member racing 30m for me is one of the highlights of the event. Not for the speed per se but the diversity and creativity of the fancy dress at play. You’ve heard of 4 lords a leaping, but can you imagine 4 turkeys swimming… not to mention the obligatory mankinis.

For many Saturday was completed with a buffet and barn dance at the fabulous Low Wood Hotel, but for me it was a burger and bed in preparation for the 1k event. Yes, as you’ve guessed, yet another early morning. Big Chill Swim is associated with the International Winter Swimming Association attracting participants from across the world. With two ladies from Finland, one from the US and one from Chile – our race was certainly a demonstration of that.

So what will I be taking from this year’s event? A gold, silver and bronze in 3 separate events and entry to the Big Chill Swim 1k club, learning how to sauna the Finnish way (on your back with your feet and hands in the air) but most importantly a growing group of friends to hang out with at next year’s event.

Champion! Photo Credit: Helen Gilbert


A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

Travelling 574 miles to swim 120 metres. The Big Chill Swim Weekend

I just travelled 574 miles to swim 120 metres; Why?


Looking out from Low Wood Bay Marina to the white horses galloping across the beautiful rich darkness of Lake Windermere, up to the tips of the surrounding forests and on to the snow-covered mountains is reason enough.

What a setting! Note the expert time keeper on the left!
What a setting! Note the expert time keeper on the left – Thanks Jenny!

But throughout the Big Chill Swim weekend, that breathtaking view was also punctuated with cheers, laughter, world winter swimming champions, mind blowing feats of endurance, inspiring personal achievements, outstanding fancy dress swimming joy, hot tubs, hot ribena, fluffy dogs, wood fires, trail running, wild swims, wine, dancing, and the shapely buttocks of the ‘East German Ladies Swim Team’ (those of a delicate disposition may not wish to scroll down beyond this first photo …)

East German Ladies Swimming Club: Censored
East German Ladies Swim Team: Censored


East German Ladies Swimming Club uncensored
East German Ladies Swim Team: Uncensored

On the Friday evening there was a showing of ‘Big River Man’, the powerful documentary following Martin Strel on his 3,375mile swim of the Amazon River, followed by a Q&A with his son, Borut Strel.

The intensity of the film was balanced with a delicate exhibition of art and poetry: Chiang Yee ‘A Chinese artist in the English Lake District’, that was tucked away in a corner of the Low Wood Bay Hotel. Chiang visited the Lake District in the 1930s and wrote an illustrated journal about his time in the area. As a sinologist and swimmer it felt particularly special to read his thoughts on the inspirational waterscape of the Lake District and the parallels he drew with places in his home country, like the West Lake in Hangzhou.

“This morning I paid my visit to the lake and mountain. They smiled at me like relatives and friends.

And the next morning I completed a beautiful 120 metre swim in delicious water alongside an inspiring group of swimmers and cheered on by friends old and new. Very proud to have won my first swimming medal too – a bronze!

120m swim ladies keeping toasty pre swim. Ever so slightly excited...
120m swim ladies keeping toasty pre swim. Ever so slightly excited…
120m Freestyle Start. Credit Jacqui Scott at Mountain Creative
120m Start. Credit Jacqui Scott at Mountain Creative
Enjoying 120 metres of Lake Windermere loveliness. Credit Jacqui Scott at Mountain Creative
Celebrating our 120 metres of swim fun with super swimmers Helen Lin and Helen Gibbs
Celebrating with Helen Lin and Helen Gibbs, the 120 Metre Freestyle Ladies 🙂 Credit :Jackie Cobell

Thank you to Chillswim for such a wonderful event.

芙蓉出水。Out of the water a lotus rises.

Cheers - Celebrating with Hilary Richardson - that's my pint , not Hilary's - she was smashing the 1km endurance swim the next day - congratulations Hilary!
Cheers!  Celebrating with Hilary Richardson from Wild Highlanders, who I met on the OSS swim on the Isle of Skye- Note that’s my pint , not Hilary’s – she was smashing the 1km endurance swim the next day – congratulations Hilary!
Mary makes sure the serpentine ladies relay team keeps meets the gender quota
Mary makes sure the serpentine ladies relay team meets Chillswim gender quota requirements.
Post 120m swimming excitement with Fiona B. Swim excitement levels went off the scale late that evening when I discovered I had won bronze - never won a medal before - wicked!
Post 120m swimming excitement with Fiona 🙂
Hilary and other 1km endurance swimmers head off on their swim
Hilary and other 1km endurance swimmers head off on their swim
Gold Medalist, Doggie paddle
Gold Medalist, Doggie paddle


芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

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