Thoughts on the world, homeopathy, mindfulness and food...
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There’s something about the North East Skinny Dip.
Maybe it’s any early morning event, but arriving in the dark feels significant. Running into the sun rises on the autumn equinox, seeing the sky gradually lighten as we turn into the dark season.
Hearing the chatter, for some their first time, nervous and apprehensive, others, seasoned skinny dippers anticipating what this year will be like. Will it compare to others? How will it compare to others? Then letting go of that and being gloriously in the moment. Letting go of what was, what will be and being here, right in the here and now. The cold will do that for you. Entering the North Sea at any time is liable to bring you right back into the here and now.
Last year I needed it, craved the biting cold, the pain of the cold water on my skin. I didn’t dip here but plenty in the river and it was an urge I’d not felt before. I grew to recognise the life saving, life changing effects of cold water immersion.
This year I’m coming from a different place, a far more present, far less painful place and this morning, it’s feeling like a place of curiosity. We were recognised on our way in by a chap who recalled our ‘lifeguard photo’, that was a fun, happy moment 3 years ago where we dashed up to a couple of coast guards and asked for our picture taken with them. There was something surreal about standing there with these burly men, fully clad in their dry suits, with rescue gear and us totally naked, vulnerable, free.
It’s that freedom many seek here. The dropping away of the old, the being a certain way, instead just being. There’s a deep joy in that and in about an hour it’ll be palpable as people do their sea bound dash, giggling and shrieking. There is nothing really that divides us, nothing that really makes us fundamentally different from the other. One thing I love is the alchemy that accompanies this event. The difference between the walk there and the walk back is huge. There, eyes are blurry from the 5am (or earlier) alarm calls, smiles are less wide, bodies feel tired perhaps but warm. Back, smiles will be wider, stretching to and into the eyes, the warmth may not be physical but there’ll be a glow that is beyond mere warmth from clothes or a heat source. People will have raised their energy, it’ll feel good, buzzing, vibrant.
The difference on the beach is a wonder to behold too. People, by and large, undress awkwardly, discreetly and after? Well after, my experience has been they stand around, chat and laugh and you’d not think anyone was dressed like one of the starring roles in The Emperor’s New Clothes.
This year, it turns out, is different for me. The sheer amazing spectacle of the whole thing overwhelms me with emotion. Gratitude? Perhaps. Awe? Maybe. Appreciation for the goodness of humanity? I think so. And, to be fair, that’s before I get to the beach, before I’ve rounded the small hill and have a view of what’s in front of me. That’s just from the stewards and the blazing torches leading us on the path towards our destination. The view doesn’t disappoint once we get there. People scattered along the beach, a fire artist, couple of gongs, drums, a pop up waste reusing cafe, a coffee van. A check in desk with merchandise; we purchased two 10 year commemorative badges and I treated myself to a free glow in the dark wristband.
So much more than that though, the sun was making its presence known, the red glow on the horizon reflecting in the sea, ever changing with the slight lull of the waves. The coast guards, gathered in groups, the torches ablaze adjacent to the numbered signs for people of change behind - a great system to be able to quicker locate your clothes on the return trip. The energy on the beach felt good, a calm, excited kind of feeling. An anticipation. And an awareness of the cold, what was to come.
Whilst checking out the mirror installation, we stumbled into Jax Higginson. Jax who’s brainchild the North East Skinny Dip was, is an absolute inspiration. Without her, the event today wouldn’t be happening. Pretty much singlehandedly organising the first, and possibly even several after, Jax is still firmly involved, brilliantly passionate and I was pleased to have a moment to express my gratitude. Once again that morning, we were ‘the ones with the coastguards’ as our identifying description.
Some, a small minority, are making the most of the photo opportunities already, stripped off at the water’s edge. Others stand around in pants or naked in their groups, chatting. These, I presume, are the experienced skinny dippers amongst us, naturists or just those who are immune to the 8° Northumberland morning. At least there isn’t a breeze, it’s still, probably one of the stillest times I’ve done this. We’ve got everything off and coats on with dry robes over them, ready for the countdown to begin.
“Watch out for the flare” said the folk that checked us in before the car park. I’d kept watching out and nothing had made sense from that cryptic comment so far. But, patience little grasshopper. Your time will come. There wasn’t what I’d got used to as a warm up, but a samba band with “We will rock you” beaten out on the drums worked well enough to do some of that. It was a little after 7 when a flare was released and – ah – that was it. The signal. We peeled our way out of the remaining clothes and set off. Most times we’ve run to the sea, giggling with excitement. This time Steve and I walked, taking it all in. It’s really difficult to describe what the whole thing is like to someone who’s never done it before. It’s a crazy sense of normal when you’re out there. Of joy. Or at least for me. We’d been chatting about the whole thing on the way up. Steve came up with the description of how normal naked feels when you’re in a crowd like that as that bodies are like pebbles on a beach. I really liked that.
Like pebbles on a beach, we’re all unique and different and fundamentally there’s more that unites us than there is that divides us. I don’t know if the sea is the necessary ingredient in the magic, or the time you’re out there just being, walking around. I don’t recall right now who recently said to me that friction, proximity and time were three keys to successful relationships. Perhaps the friction in the not knowing, in the nerves. You’re close to so many folk, and the longer you’re out there doing it perhaps the better it gets. Or maybe the sea is a part of the magic too. I certainly think it can be incredibly healing.
So we walked. Others ran. I cried. Again. It was so incredible, so beautiful, so humbling and so inspiring all in one. A complex mix of emotions. Of gratitude for the other thousand plus people who had gathered, driving a variety of distances, to be there that day, doing what millions of others would think was insanity. And yet it felt so right. It has done every time.
I was there the first year, with 3 friends. In total there were just 168 of us. And my bottom made it into The Guardian. There are plenty of other bottoms, not just mine in the picture! I love that picture so much that when a friend said they’d do a painting for me, you know what I asked for? I now have this incredible picture done in acrylics of the 2012 skinny dip beach scene. And the fame that my friend painted my bottom. So I’ve done 3 others before this time, the 2022 one. 2018 with my partner, who fair play to him, had only been dating me a matter of months and was up for the challenge. Incredibly nervous, somewhat quiet, but up for diving in and giving it a go. The next with a friend of ours in 2019, the three of us drove up together. Steve and I recalled how we argued most of the way back. Bless, her not the best return trip company. That said, it is great sharing this event with people and I love seeing the magic happen at it.
We walked, waded, and breathed was the waves got higher. I was lucky enough to have chanced upon a local friend earlier in the morning, and saw him again in the sea so whilst we chatted, Steve went to swim and I appreciated the scenes around me. I love to swim, though it does take me a long old acclimatising time, and others go in much faster than me, but here, at this event, I’ve never swum. Who knows what next year will bring, but there is something for me about taking in the beauty all around me, absorbing the joy that I hear echoed in every part of my being. Just being. Fanny deep in the water is enough for me here. The sun was stunning on the water. People went into the sea, out of the sea, laughing, chatting. Taking photos, celebrating the moment. Meeting new people, chatting away. Somehow, subtly, changed. Not forever, though maybe, but for now, the smiles were more smiley, the eyes more alive, the laughter easier, the sense of wonder perhaps closer than before the day had started.
Steve came back from his swim, glad that he’d swum, and I? I was glad that I hadn’t. It struck me again about perspective. He felt if he hadn’t he’d have missed out, and me? If I had I knew I’d have felt cold and wouldn’t have been as open to the joy around me, instead I’d have felt more of an urgency and a coldness I didn’t need today. Today was savouring all about the joy for me.
The joy of being alive. Fully feeling it. The pain, the good, the flipping awesome. Mostly this morning for me, a joy of being. The joy of having come through last year, grateful to the people who were there for me, and feeling a deep sense of wonder for them, for humanity, and for the thousand plus incredible souls who gathered on a beach, on a Sunday morning for the equinox in September.
I'm a Homeopath working in the Skipton (North Yorkshire) area. I am also able to offer food intolerance testing using Kinesiology and advice around diet and lifestyle.
Em Colley Homeopath
Practitioner of Classical Homeopathy
BSc(Hons) Psychology and Neuroscience
Laughter Yoga Leader
Focussed Mindfulness Practitioner
Dip (SNHS) Kinesiology
Dip (SNHS) Holistic Nutrition
Certificate in Whole Food, Plant Based Nutrition