What’s it like to go ice dipping in the North Sea? I found out on a chilly winter’s day

What’s it like to go ice dipping in the North Sea? I found out on a chilly winter’s day

When I first signed up to try CBK Adventures’ ‘Ice Dip Social’ experience I thought it sounded fun.

It was only the day before going when speaking to my family and being told just how cold the North Sea is that I started to have second thoughts.

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But you know what? I didn’t need to worry. Was it cold? Yes. Did I have an amazing day? Also yes.

What does the day entail?

We met first thing in the morning at CBK Adventures on the Northumberland coast. Once we were fitted for wetsuits, we piled into a minibus and headed off to our final destination of Longhoughton Beach, known to locals as Sugarsands.

When we arrived, the camp was already set up with a kitchen area serving locally sourced food, a mess tent with a fire and the Finnish sauna tent.

The main attraction of the day was the Ice Dip, a type of wild swimming done in water 5C or less. Fortunately the day I went the water was a positively balmy 9C and the air a tropical 10C.

Still, to take the edge off the cold for our first dip into the North Sea, we wore full 5mm wetsuits. Although that doesn’t sound all that thick, it really did do the trick to ease you into the icy experience.

Despite the initial shock of being in very cold water, this first dip got my blood flowing and I felt ready for the rest of the day.

Longhoughton beach on the Northumberland CoastCallum Thompson / @adventure_cal

It takes six dips to acclimatise to the icy cold water

While we warmed back up with hot tea in the mess tent, we learned a bit more about the science behind what we were going to do.

Research from the University of Portsmouth shows it takes about six episodes of immersion before your body starts to acclimatise and reduce the initial shock response felt in cold water.

It turned out going in in our wetsuits the first time was just to give us a feel for the water temperature. The real work to acclimatise started now.

Rather than running into the cold water, we spent six cycles slowly building up to a wetsuit-free dip.

I wasn’t convinced I would be able to do it but I gradually stripped down to a wetsuit on my bottom half and just a swimsuit on my top.

At first it wasn’t too hard. I was able to let the water go up as far as my middle thanks to the wetsuit, but submerging my top half felt really difficult. The cold water stung my skin and I felt incapable of swimming.

But with each dip it got a little bit easier. I felt a little less cold and I was able to spend more time in the water. The second time I went in, I was already swimming and more importantly, smiling.

Having a whole team of cold water experts and lifeguards on hand was a reassuring presence too. The CBK team monitored everyone individually to check no one was getting too cold or showed any signs of hypothermia.

For the sixth and final dip, I decided to brave going in without a wetsuit at all — something I never imagined I’d be able to do. Of course the water still felt cold, but I was able to swim and it felt worlds apart from those initial steps into the sea.

So much so that by the end of the experience, I didn’t want to get out of the water.

How do you feel after cold water swimming?

Honestly, I felt great. Obviously there’s that annoying part where you have sandy feet and no matter how hard you try to clean them, there’s going to be sand in your shoes.

But I was also grinning ear to ear.

At this point, you might be thinking, “I couldn’t possibly do this, she must be a regular wild swimmer.” But let me assure you, I hate cold water and am what most people would describe as ‘a wimp’. So to have swam in the North Sea and really enjoyed it, felt like a big achievement for me.

And the buzz lasted for hours.

If you’re looking for a more scientific answer, according to CBK Adventures, cold water swimming is proven to improve your body’s immune response and can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body too.

And if you’ve ever met anyone who wild swims, you’ll know they all wax lyrical about the mental health benefits of cold water swimming.

What is Ice Dip Social?

CBK Adventures, based in Cullercoats near Newcastle, UK is a company that specialises in watersports and wild swimming. They offer adventure trips, tuition and kit hire for a range of water based activities.

Teaming up with outdoor kit specialist Red Equipment, Ice Dip Social is an experiential offering from CBK where you can spend a day at the beach, take a dip in the cold North Sea, and chill out (or warm up) in the sauna or the mess tent.

Though my first experience was on Longhoughton beach, the beauty of this experience is that CBK can set it up on any beach in the area. This means the chances are you might find yourself somewhere new even if you decide to do it more than once.

Hannah warming up in her changing robe after a dip in the North SeaCallum Thompson / @adventure_cal

What do you need?

CBK provides wetsuits, lunch and all the tents and fire. The mess tent is a great place to chill out, with lots of blankets, cushions, books and music as well as a toasty fire.

You will need to bring with you plenty of warm clothes to get changed into at the end. Particularly snuggly socks, as it’s really important to properly warm up your extremities.

I’d also really recommend getting your hands on one of Red Equipment’s changing robes. They’re super cosy and great to put on over the top of your wetsuit as soon as you get out of the water.

Ice Dip Social is available to book now for dates throughout winter 2024.

Watch the video above to see Hannah’s ice dipping experience.

Hannah Brown was a guest of CBK Adventures.

Video editor • Hannah Brown


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