Fuelled by beans talk series - Wild swimming enthusiast, Emma Jane Whelan

Fuelled by beans talk series - Wild swimming enthusiast, Emma Jane Whelan

Fuelled by beans talk series - Wild swimming enthusiast, Emma Jane Whelan

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you like to spend your time?

I’m a mum of two beautiful, nearly fully grown-up humans, I live in East Yorkshire, and have done so, at various locations, since 2000. Yorkshire became my home when I moved to Harrogate to work in a nursery school after my A Levels, (an awfully long time ago), so I like to think that I might almost qualify as a local.

After a career in retail management, then a four-year interlude running my own commercial art gallery, and more recently, working as an assistant for a local chef in a food production business, I have finally decided to go it alone as a freelance writer. When I’m not hunched over a laptop, restoring my 1950’s house, or bent over a yoga mat, I am often found adventuring in the wilder parts of the world as a pillion on the back of a motorbike with my swim buddy.

When did you start wild/openwater swimming and what do you love about it?

I grew up on the south coast. We lived in converted granary next to a Napoleonic water mill, and I took chilly dips in the mill pond and the nearby English Channel whenever I could. My childhood summers were spent wading down the chalk-stream looking for treasure.

I guess I ‘officially’ took up open water swimming at Allerthorpe Lake, near Pocklington in about 2011, and it soon became a fundamental part of my life. Unlike swimming in a man-made pool there is a wonderful sense of freedom, and romance about swimming in beautiful wild places where you come eye to eye with the creatures that live there.

The cold water is also extremely restorative, and every dip is followed by a high! It’s been great for my mental wellbeing and helped a lot with stress and peri-menopause, and I do believe it has given me a super-humanly efficient immune system, too!

What recommendations would you give to someone who wants to get started with wild/openwater swimming? 

My first dip at Allerthorpe was in April when the water temperature was about 8° C. It was a bit of a shock as I only wore a ‘shorty’ wetsuit, previously used for surfing in sunny Cornwall, and not sufficiently thermal for Yorkshire!

It didn’t put me off, but I would recommend that if you’re a cold water novice, make sure to wear a full length, 3mm neoprene wetsuit for the first few dips, especially if you’re going in the sea or likely to be out of your depth. I bought myself a fluorescent tow-float that makes me more visible, especially if I need rescuing, and it’s a buoyancy aid to cling to if you get tired.

They call it ‘skins’- wearing just a swimming costume for swimming in cold water, and when you’ve become more acclimatized to the cold exposure and built your confidence in a wetsuit you might want to graduate to skins and benefit fully from the cold exposure! The buzz is amazing. Better than drugs. Ha ha! But I still wear my Zone 3 neoprene gloves and boots for winter swimming.

There are lots of useful organisations now that support people wanting to take up wild swimming and it’s always sensible to use recommended swim-spots. The Wild Swim UK website is a good place to start. And there’s a brand-new app called Wild Otter that’s worth checking out. And if you decide it’s just not for you, then at least you can read Water Log, by Roger Deakin, it’s brill!

How do you like to refuel after a big swim?

Swimming socially is lovely, particularly for sharing snacks, especially cake. A high carb snack after a long cold swim will help to prevent the dreaded ‘cold shock’ creeping in. (This happens when your core gets a chill and it’s hard to warm up, and can be quite serious)

A bag of Honest Bean’s finest, would make a much healthier alternative to a fistful of chocolate brownies though, and perfect to keep in my swim bag for solo swims or bike adventures too. Another post cold swim essential is a thermos flask. Mine is filled with boiling water to make Redbush (or is it rooibos?) tea.

Which are your favourite flavour of Honest Bean roasted fava bean snacks?

I really like the look of ALL the flavours, but Seaweed & Miso makes a particularly suitable seaside snack as I recover with my hot cuppa and gaze over the rockpools of Flamborough Head.

Where is your favourite place to go for a wild/openwater swim?

I’m afraid that if I told you that, I would have to kill you. The best swim spots are the ones that no-one knows about!

If you could do a wild/openwater swim anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I’d love to go back to my birthplace of Malaysia, maybe take my swim buddy with me, and do some dips in jungle pools and waterfalls. The beaches there are heavenly too, but we might be anxious about becoming shark fodder, not something I’m troubled by in the North Sea, although I was slapped in the face last month by a leaping codling just off Hornsea!