Ice is nice in Cornwall: Freezing baths, surfing, coasteering - cold water is a hot therapy for body and soul
Discomfort has become fashionable — whether it be running 50 miles in the Welsh mountains, hot yoga in packed studios or cracking the ice to swim in a lake.
The question is: why? Improving your mental health is one reason — and then there’s the constant fight against expanding waistlines due to box-set binges, takeaway deliveries and too much sitting around engaging in social media.
But taking an ice bath on the Cornish north coast with the soothing words of Sam Boot and his partner Jana Virian in my ears, breathing in and out to a long slow rhythm, something melts. I have the feeling of being in another place.
And by the time my girlfriend Elizabeth and I are in a sauna enjoying peppermint tea, having endured two minutes in the freezing water, life seems as positively rosy as my cheeks.
We’ve spent the past few hours getting an introduction to the Wim Hof Method from Soul Sweats, a health and wellbeing movement run by Sam and Jana. They gently guide us through transportative breathing exercises, meditation and a presentation about the method and a yoga session.
Hugo Brown tries out a three-day wellness package during his stay in one of the pastel-coloured cottages run by Three Mile Beach in Cornwall (pictured)
After enduring two minutes in a freezing water ice bath, Hugo recovers in a Three Mile Beach sauna (above), sipping peppermint tea
Outside, the ice bath looms. Those bags of ice I usually associate with making myself a stiff drink are now floating about intimidatingly in a metal tub.
Wim Hof is a Dutch guru-like figure. His revitalisation of ancient practices has made him a phenomenon. In 2010, he set the record for longest time in full-body contact with ice at one hour and 44 minutes (it now stands at three hours and 28 seconds). For we mere mortals, a short ice bath is enough of a challenge.
We’re staying in one of a collection of pastel-coloured three-bedroom beach cottages — each with its own sauna, hot tub and seaside interiors — at Three Mile Beach, overlooking Gwithian.
The Wim Hof workshop is part of a three-day package in collaboration with Three Mile Beach.
From Mousehole Harbour, pictured, Hugo sets off for a day of coasteering in the cold sea
Swimmers on Gwithian. Hugo says that he feels 'refreshed and clear' after his time in the cold sea
On Hugo's final evening, he stands on the cliffs overlooking Gwithian Beach (above) and admires the view
A freestanding tub in one of Three Mile Beach's cottages
Also included is a day of coasteering with Global Boarders. For the latter, we drive to Mousehole Harbour, down the tight cobbled lanes. Once wrapped up in winter wetsuit, boots, gloves and unflattering hood, the cold sea doesn’t seem so intimidating. Our guide Chris is upbeat and reassuring. ‘I think coasteering is one of the purest forms of being in the water,’ he says.
We spend a couple of hours in the ocean plunging into the water, floating through gullies, looking for marine life, spotting seals and eventually stripping off and getting changed to go in search of the nearest pasty.
That afternoon, tired from our morning escapade, we’re both feeling apprehensive about a two-hour surf lesson.
But it’s another joy, with teacher Steve whooping each time we stand up. Before we know it, we’re out of the water again; refreshed and clear. On our final evening, we stand on the cliffs overlooking Gwithian taking one last look at the sea. I feel calm in a way that my normal life doesn’t often allow for.
Trends come and go and this discomfort lark might not last for ever. But it’s worked for me in ways I had not envisaged. Give it a try while winter persists.