Keri Hutchinson

50 by 50.

The ice cracked and tinkled beneath my bare foot as I gingerly stepped into the pond. I inhaled sharply as I felt the familiar burning sensation that only ice cold water can deliver and watched my breath make tiny furls of mist in the cold winter air as I breathed carefully out while trying to control the natural impact on breathing that immersing yourself in very cold water has.  It was approaching dusk.

The water shimmied away from me in perfect ripples as I marvelled at the glorious pastime of outdoor swimming. I thought that it was a perfect way to celebrate another trip around the sun as I made slow and sedate progress to the middle of the pond. I headed back to the shore, whilst doing so, reflecting on how grateful I was to have my family, my health, my friends, my lifestyle and my freedom and the levelling experience of thinking about this while immersed in icy water brought thoughts into sharp focus.

I thought about next year….50…blimey. How do I celebrate that? Can I make the celebrations swimming themed? Perhaps I’d come here again and do 50 laps of the pond? I’m such a creature of habit that I tend to frequent the same few swimming spots, so I set myself a little challenge of swimming in 50 different outdoor locations before next year’s birthday swim. I drove home, imagining the adventures….Scottish lochs, Yorkshire tarns, Nordic plunge pools…the possibilities were exciting. This was January 2020, and we know what happened next….

In Wales, during lockdown 1 through to lockdown 23 ¼ , outdoor swimming and driving to exercise was fraught with problems. We had local restrictions that prohibited travelling further than 5 miles and as any outdoor swimmer knows, lots of the locations that are available for outdoor swimming, aren’t always close to home. It was incredibly frustrating to experience the disparity in consideration of swimming across the home nations and ‘swimmy’ social media became a challenge. 

 The summer of 2020 was a strange one, we emerged out of lockdown as COVID-19 released its grip temporarily. We had new rules and a wariness of travel and venturing too far from home. My return to water came 3 months after the initial lockdown and I rejoiced in being able to swim again and gave scant thought to the lost swim adventures and my so called ‘challenge’.  A family camping holiday in beautiful Pembrokeshire changed that.

 We explored new places to swim and had little swimming related micro adventures that gained me 10 new swim spots on my swim location library. Azure blue waters and secret smugglers coves (vivid imagination) that we swam into that were new to us and instantly special. A quick tally revealed that I was now up to 18 new spots since January  (it was now late August) and all of a sudden, 32 more seemed doable in the remaining 4 ½  months until my birthday.  Despite doing the maths and working out that it would need to be more than one location a week, I still approached the remainder of this challenge in a most pedestrian fashion. 

Work seemed all consuming and infection rates were rising again. Working in healthcare in 2020/2021 has aged me. I have never known pressure like it and swimming was my escape, so I kept going to my usual haunts and I neither had the time not the inclination to stray too far from home to swim. Another month passed, bringing more restrictions and I was fairly resigned to the fact that  the swim location challenge might be a goner…..but then… Light dawned. I live in South Wales, yet had only frequented the well-known swim spots, I got my map out and had a look at beaches and swim locations never previously considered. I even swam in the River Taff! Cardiffians will know what a big deal that is, no one swims there….except they do now obviously and its perfectly fine but it once had a tradition of not being so.  I also swam at beaches that I previously didn’t know you could swim at and they are now firmly on my local swim repertoire and by December, I was up to 40 locations. A little swim micro-adventure in Swansea in early December took care of another 6. A swim buddy and I hit the road early and by 9am were on swim location 3 of that day and by 11.30am were brunching in a seaside café while giggling to ourselves about the morning’s exploits. 

Not long after, we were in full lockdown again. I needed 2 more swim locations to get to the 50 which was thankfully taken care of by another local dip spot within walking distance and the pond in my friend’s garden. The latter one I won’t be repeating due to at least a foot and a half of sludge at the bottom and it not actually being that deep but it fitted the criteria and involved a fair amount of questioning of my life choices. 


Turning 50 in a year when milestone birthdays aren’t able to be celebrated in the way that you once imagined, with the coming together of family and friends, was a truly odd affair.  Completing my little challenge, despite all the restrictions was a tonic. Many have done challenges that are far harder and far more complex to execute but this helped me love and appreciate my chosen pastime of outdoor swimming even more.  I discovered places on my doorstep that I would never have considered for a swim due to the lockdown restrictions and now cherish their beauty. I met people outside of my swim network that I can now call good friends. A truly enriching experience all round.  

To swim in 50 new outdoor swim locations in the year before turning 50?   Completed it mate!

#TeamSelkie Keri Hutchinson  @waterlili_71 is an experienced, year round swimmer from Cardiff.