Shock and Awe the Estonian Way

Whilst icy dips in the Serpentine are national news, here in Haapsalu, on the north western coast of Estonia, there is no need for such a fanfare. This plucky band of ice swimmers just take the plunge when they get a chance. One quiet Wednesday lunchtime, I was invited to accompany them by Kertu who runs the Tiiker B&B in the town centre.


While Kertu got the ice clearing tools out, I couldn’t help but shiver,
despite being fully clothed in my winter wear. We set to work breaking up the thin layer of ice that had reformed overnight and scooping the slush out of the bathing hole. In the meantime, two more women joined us who were on their lunch break and had popped over for a dip.

We got into our swimming gear, not forgetting our woolly hats and went to the waters edge. Being very polite, they let me go in first.


After I had handed over my camera and photos of me were being taken, there was only one thing left for me to do. Get in.


The water was unsurprisingly freezing. Kertu had told me to take it easy the first time, which felt like very wise advice as soon as my nether regions touched the water. I stayed in for ages – at least several seconds but as soon as I was out of the water, I instantly regretted not staying in longer.


With my towel round my shoulders, I took in the scene. The brilliant sunshine poking through the clouds, the flawless ice on the frozen bay, the delicate sparkling ice crystals and four mad humans.

After glow

After a couple of minutes I felt the glow – the body’s attempt to deal with the aftermath by sending blood back out to the limbs. As well as the physical sensation, there was also something of a psychological ctrl-alt-delete. Now I could see why people perform this act of apparent madness.

We got changed back in the cabin, then mopped and tidied up ready for the evening bathers.

Kertu warned me that in an hour or two, I may start to shiver as my body readjusted. Sure enough, an hour or so later, I did start to shiver. It was time for a nice hot drink.


To go ice swimming in Haapsalu, ask Kertu:

For ice swimming in the UK: