Here at Chimney Fire Coffee, we’re pretty pumped to spend our days roasting great coffee with the beautiful Surrey Hills as our backdrop.
With all this amazing outdoor space around us, we knew that for our team Christmas outing we had to make the most of it.
But what to do? There could be gin tasting at Silent Pool, or wine tasting at Albury Vineyard (been there, done that). How about mountain biking at Peaslake, or orienteering on Leith Hill? With so many options, it took a bold leader to rise up and shepherd us towards a plan that everyone would enjoy.
Step forward Jude Palmer of Run Surrey Hills - trail runner, local guide, outdoor sports fanatic, and… wild swimming coach.
We first met Jude at the lovely Shere 42k event in August, hosted by our friends at Surrey Trek & Run. Jude’s passion for all things outdoors is inspiring, and when we explained our predicament she declared there was only one thing to do.
“I’m taking you for a swim!”
“Err, Jude, it’s December.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. We’ll get a fire going to help you warm up, and we can have some of your coffee afterwards on the riverbank!”
It was at this point that our Head Roaster Elizabeth caught wind of Jude’s plan and, being a year-round regular at Tooting Bec Lido, got very excited indeed. Worse than that, our ops assistant extraordinaire Neroli mentioned that she was partial to a winter dip in Frensham Ponds as well. Ever the Operations Manager, Row gamefully volunteered to be in charge of thawing us out by making the coffees and dishing out the chocolate brownies.
This left only Dan and your humble author, with nothing but a Boxing Day dip on Sidmouth Town Beach as prior experience. With excitement and apprehension in equal measure, we signed ourselves up.
Dawn broke on 22nd December revealing a heavy frost across the Surrey lowlands, with forecasted highs of 4°c. After spending the morning fulfilling last-minute Christmas orders, we layered up with every piece of warm clothing we had and headed to our meeting point.
Jude’s chosen spot was in the shadow of the ruins of the Augustinian Newark Priory, just outside Ripley - not far from our roastery in the North Downs. The River Wey Navigation connects the River Thames to Godalming via a system of dredged river and man-made canals, navigable since the mid-17th century - but today it is used mainly for leisure, it’s calm waters ideal for small watercraft. The scenic towpath forms part of the E2 European Long Distance Route.
We were greeted by Jude and the equally lovely Paul from Adventure Swims, as well as photographer and outdoor film producer Phil Hill of PH Balance (all the amazing photos in this article are by him). Two Kelly Kettles were roaring, blankets were out, and extra DryRobes were on hand. After a discussion about the river and a no-nonsense safety briefing, the witching hour was upon us. Clothing was discarded (and carefully laid out, so as to be easily reachable on our return), and we were down to the water’s edge.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Elizabeth slid straight into the 6°c water and swam away upstream with the grace of a swan. Neroli was also quickly submerged and bobbed around seal-like, resplendent in her wooly hat.
Meanwhile, Dan and I splashed around swearing loudly, much to the amusement of Jude and Paul. With some encouragement we lowered our bodies into the water, and entered into deep concentration as our heart rates rose and breathing quickened.
After a few photos and more laughter, we were back by the campfire and drying off - with some form of euphoria washing over us as we celebrated our brief victories of mind over body. The very literal pain from the cold quickly subsided into only numb feet, as we wrapped up warm and sipped on the Christmas Discovery we’d brewed in the moka pot. Jude’s daughter had even provided us with homemade gluten free chocolate brownies to snack on as we chatted about the memorable experience we had endured.
We said our goodbyes, and it was back to the roastery for a slap up Italian meal and a glass of fizz (with thanks to our espresso machine supplier for the hamper of deli goodies) - cooked in true Chimney Fire style on a camping stove in the courtyard.
The rest of the evening is best consigned to the history books… and we’re sorry again to the neighbours we had invited round the following morning, because we drank all the wine we’d bought for mulling. Merry Christmas indeed!