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Floe State of Mind

Floe State of Mind
‘I absolutely love the mental clarity that entering ice takes. The whole experience demands focus and awareness at a very deep level, overcoming a deep rooted primeval drive telling you this isn’t right. It’s hugely powerful to overcome this, to know your own body and mind and be certain it’s fine. This is why I love the cold.’ – Gilly McArthur

During January, Gilly McArthur undertook a challenge to swim in the local Cumbrian lakes and tarns every day to raise money and awareness for the health charity, Mind. Through Floe State of Mind, filmmaker Ben Gerrish wanted to capture and present an inspiring presence of mind and calmness within what may seem like a hostile and unforgiving environment to many.

‘We see ourselves as a privileged group’, says Ben. ‘We have friends that constantly push themselves and what is possible in the outdoor world. While we thrive on following adrenaline fuelled adventures, this opportunity to take some time and embrace the peace and tranquility that Gilly experiences in her time ice swimming was a true pleasure.’


Gilly, what inspired you to undertake this project?
January is often seen as the hardest month for people to engage with, it’s dark, cold and hard work. A lot of people suffer with depression in this month, and connecting with the outdoors is a very powerful tool to help improve this – there is now a huge body of research to back this up. By showing people that it doesn’t have to be an ‘indoors month’, I was aiming to demonstrate that we don’t need to fear getting outside. Outside is free and there is so much we can learn and gain from by spending more time away from screens and deadlines.

Can you describe the feeling of ice swimming?
There’s an anticipation to ice swims that feels very different to other types of outdoor swimming. I love the physical and mental preparation involved – the weather checking, the probability of finding ice and the whole process of the swim. Oddly, seeking out ice isn’t always easy, many tarns are windy so ice doesn’t form and if there is a wind chill the whole proposition is very different. I take safety kit, my axe, my ice swimming friend and a lot of warm clothes. If my mind and body don’t feel up for the challenge, we don’t go and just drink tea instead.

Breaking the ice to make a swimming channel can be hard work and, as the water gets deeper,
my body becomes more submerged and loses valuable heat. There is a ticking clock inside me when I cut the channel, and I constantly check to ensure I’m not hitting any physical cold edges. Ice can also be really sharp too, so watching for cuts is important. For the swim in the film I axed as far as I could, then swam back, dropped off the axe and continued to swim for about 20 minutes. Usually I don’t swim in boots as I love the water sensation on my whole body, but as this channel took longer to cut, I could feel a cold start to creep in and didn’t want to cross that cold edge.

Floe State of Mind

Why is ice swimming such a passion for you?
I am very interested in meditation and this is a form of mediation for me. Cold water is proven to remedy a whole host of maladies too. It boosts the immune system, exercises the circulation, increases libido and enhances mood by boosting endorphins. I swim more in the colder months than over the summer, and will always seek the ice.

Harnessing the power of the seasons, especially the darker ones, is hugely empowering. We are all far more capable than we think, and ice swimming continues to teach me this.

You can donate to Gilly’s Just Giving page here.

Film and production: HDDNMedia – @HDDNMedia
Drone footage: Pete Archer – @PeteArcher
Swimmer: Gilly Mcarthur – @gillymcarthur
Photography: James Kirby@MrJumpyJames
Music: Matthew Matilda – @matthewmatilda


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