The worldwide cold water dipping movement The Bluetits Chill Swimmers originated in St Davids, Pembrokeshire and has many ‘flocks’ in South West Wales. We caught up with Pembrey and Burry Port Bluetits co-founder Anne Studley to discover the fun of splashing about in the waves.
Anne Studley speaks for every Bluetit when she describes the sheer childish fun of plunging into the waves. She can be found on the golden sands of Burry Port beach several times a week just before high tide, getting ready to run into the icy water with anything from a handful of people up to 50 Bluetits members.
Anne, a software tester and her friend Tanya Knight, a lecturer, set up the Pembrey and Burry Port Bluetits in 2020, and the group has grown exponentially over the past three years.
What started as (in Anne’s words) “a way to stay sane during lockdown” has become a thriving group that draws people from as far afield as Neath and Carmarthen. In total, it now has over 2000 members.
The Pembrey and Burry Port Bluetits flock grew out of Anne and Tanya’s involvement in a mass Bluetits swim on Gower for International Women’s Day – one of many events the worldwide network of Bluetits holds throughout the year.
The Bluetits was founded in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, in 2014. It all began when Bluetits founder Sian Richardson started dipping alone at Porthsele beach as part of a cold-water swimming challenge. Little did she realise what she had started: her shrieks and choice language attracted the attention of others, who started joining her, and soon The Bluetits Chill Swimmers was born.
Visitors to Sian’s St Davids campsite took part in Bluetits dips and then went home and founded their own Bluetits groups – and with remarkable speed The Bluetits Chill Swimmers grew into a global movement.
By the time Anne and Tanya discovered The Bluetits for the first time, the world was in the grip of the Covid pandemic and people were keen for a way to get outdoors and boost their mood. Cold water swimming enjoyed an extra boost as a result.
Anne and Tanya got up at 4.15am to join the International Women’s Day Bluetits swim on a beach on Gower at 5.30 – and they loved it.
“It was March, so I remember how cold it was, and everyone there was so friendly and lovely. We thought we’d quite like to do it more often, so we started dipping locally,” says Anne.
To start with it was just the two of them with Anne’s husband and another friend, but – just as happened with Sian’s original group – the numbers grew quickly.
“You don’t often see a group of middle-aged women running into the sea, so people got curious and the group started getting bigger,” says Anne. “Friends of friends came along and then it ballooned.
The group still picks up new members regularly.
“People come for a couple of weeks and just wander along the beach and watch us – and I’m quite noisy so if I see somebody being inquisitive, I invite them to join us,” says Anne.
“We also put a flag up on the beach and people and ask what it’s all about. It’s a great starting point for communicating with people. A lot of people are really shy, but Tanya and I are quite good at cajoling them.”
While all 2,000+ members don’t turn up at the same time, dozens attend special dips to celebrate events such as the group’s birthday dips, St David’s Day, and St Patrick’s Day.
“We love any excuse for a celebration,” says Anne. “We also go and swim with other Bluetit groups, and we’ve done a couple of waterfall trips up to Henrhyd Falls in the Brecon Beacons.”
Pembrey and Burry Port Bluetits’ regular swimming spot is on the beach to the right of Burry Port lighthouse, just five minutes’ walk from Burry Port railway station. The times of the dips vary depending on high tide, and there’s no pressure to attend regularly.
“We’re not a women-only group,” adds Anne. “The Bluetits is open to all genders – and to dogs as well!”
It’s not just Bluetits members who benefit from having a flock in their area; many local businesses report that the groups have boosted their business, often early in the morning and out of season when the extra trade is needed most.
Pembrey and Burry Port Bluetits have struck up a friendship with Crazie Crepes Café, which is located close to their dipping spot.
“They usually open at 10.30 but if we’re doing a really early morning dip at the weekend, they’ll open early and on a special deal so we can get like a breakfast bap and a coffee for a bargain price,” says Anne. “They even have a chocolate shaker that sprinkles chocolate onto our drinks in the shape of the Bluetits logo!”
It all adds up to a feelgood experience that’s getting more and more people hooked. The benefits of dipping with the Bluetits are that you have the safety of being in an experienced group. It’s also a great way to make new friends.
“You get a little badge first time you dip with us, which makes people smile – you feel as if you’re in the Brownies or the Girl Guides when you receive it!” Anne says. “The whole group is really welcoming. When a new person arrives, they tend to be like a rabbit in the headlights but all the women and men encourage them to relax and have a jump around in the water. It makes you feel like a five-year-old child again to jump the waves.”
Tempted to join in? There are Bluetits flocks at Burry Port and Pembrey, Llanelli and Aberavon, Whitesands, Broad Haven, and Porthsele. Find out more here.