The cold water hater embracing wild swimming in north Wales

When Emma Marshall's children urged her to jump into a cold river on a hot spring day in 2020, her first instinct was a resounding no.

"My friends, my family will all tell you, 'Emma hates cold water'. I'd do anything to avoid it," she says.

So how is it the Bangor University lecturer has gone from cold water-phobic to an author of a book about wild swims?

That day, in the beautiful environs of her native Eryri, or Snowdonia, she had a road to Damascus moment.

On their daily lockdown walk to the Afon (River) Ogwen near her home in Bethesda, Gwynedd, "my kids forced me to go in basically", she laughs.

And far from hating it, she says: "As soon as I got in, I thought, 'oh my god, this is amazing'. I just got hooked straight away.

"The Afon Ogwen is beautiful and it changes throughout its course, but near us it's very wooded, and quite wide and rocky, and it's just divine.

"It was a very good place to start. You couldn't help but love that. Snowdonia, Eryri, it is a paradise for wild swimming."

Emma was already a keen runner and hiker, and as a consequence knew many routes around Eryri already. But now the focus of her outings changed to incorporate a mountainside dip wherever she went.

"I would think about all those places I could remember from my walks and just started doing walks or runs into the mountainside to get to those places," she explains.

Although she is happy to swim anywhere, her favourite type of dip is one that involves a waterfall.

"Hands down, always waterfall pools," she says.

"I think they're just so exciting."

There is "a little bit of science" behind the attraction too, she says.

Emma added: "It's something to do with running, crashing water. Apparently there are negative ions created by that but that is a good thing.

"It's why you get that feelgood factor. It's that sharpening of the brain as a result of that rushing water.

"I think that might be why I love waterfalls so much, but also, they're just so pretty."

Despite her commitment to year round immersion, Emma does not think of herself as a stereotypically good swimmer, and has plenty of safety tips in the book.

"I never stay in long. I'm not really a strong swimmer. I'm a good dipper," she explains.

"But in the winter particularly it is sometimes a case of dunking and coming straight out again.

"It still gives you that dopamine hit. It's a good drug to have."

And as her joy in taking a dip increased over time, the idea of sharing some of her knowledge began to form.

But she was conscious she also wanted to protect the environment she loved.

"I love doing it so much, you know, and I post a lot of pictures on Instagram of my swims and my walks," Emma adds.

"I never actually say where they are though because I think that sort of responsibility you have - it's too easy on Instagram for people just to go 'right I'm going there', no research."

But even spots Emma considered to be well-known attracted curiosity and it occurred to her to see if there was a wild swimming walks book available.

When she saw there were some covering other parts of the country but not Eryri, she started to think she might just be the person to fill the gap.

She added: "This book is going to be written by somebody else if I don't do it, and I know I can do it properly.

"I can do it in a way which talks about the importance of how you treat your environment, and choosing the places carefully about where I take people to."

She has deliberately not shared all the places she goes to, as she considers the delicate balance of nature in some areas could get overwhelmed by too many visitors.

The book, Wild Swim Walks Eryri has just been released, and details 28 routes across the national park.

And while she says the last swim she has done is always her favourite while it is in her head, if she had to pick one it involves a walk in the Glyderau mountains, to the north-east of Yr Wyddfa, or Snowdon.

"This is one of the more challenging walks in the book. It's more of a pool than a lake," she says.

"It's called Llyn Caseg-Ffraith, which means the lake of the speckled mare.

"It's just the most perfect mountain pool. It's backdrop is Tryfan [mountain]. I've swum there quite a number of times at sunrise, and the sun rises and is reflected on to Tryfan and it glows pink.

"Then we go over to Llyn Bochlwyd and the topography changes; it gets a bit busier and the topography changes. There's a really tumbling stream which comes down into Llyn Ogwen.

"It's such a treat for the senses."