In the last few years I've swum in an inky black lake in upstate New York (where I dared not put my feet down for fear of monsters); in a Scottish loch so cold I thought I would have a heart-attack (but didn't fear monsters – whoever heard of a monster in a Scottish loch?); and in too many bathtub-warm Indian seas to mention. It soothes, strengthens and regenerates.
But my most memorable outdoor swim was two springs ago. I extended a flying visit to Munich by one day and jumped on a train bound for Starnberger See – a glorious lake 40 minutes from the city. I found a patch of grass among the trees lining the shore, stepped gingerly down the slippery wooden steps into the water and kicked off.
In a heartbeat, the tension in my shoulders lifted and the heart-ache engulfing me at the time subsided. I felt nourished. "Swimmers often feel that in water they are truly 'in their element'," writes Kate Rew, author of Wild Swim, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society and friend, "and in lakes this is somehow enhanced. They offer the chance for muscles to stretch out and glide for miles, but they also nurture a different kind of wellbeing – that of the heart, soul or psyche."
Back on the bank, as I lay there drying off, a woman in a tiny towel approached the steps. She let the towel fall away revealing a white bikini, dipped an elegant toe into the water and jumped in. She had the figure of a race horse – tall, lean and toned – and her skin was deeply etched in soft, honey-coloured wrinkles. It was the most wrinkled body I'd ever seen. She must have been at least 70.
Yet she looked remarkable. She seemed comfortable in her skin the way so many older women aren't. I bet she swam every day. "When I'm that age..." I promised myself. And I turned my face toward the sun.