Last weekend over 1400 people turned up at 7am on windswept Druridge Bay in Northumberland to strip off as part of the annual North East Skinny Dip. They were doing it for charity, to raise money for Tyneside Mind. But many were also doing it for the love of the skinny dip and as part of a growing craze.

That this is happening across Scotland as well as the North East of England, is something that I found and documented whilst researching The Ripple Effect: A Celebration of Britain's Brilliant Wild Swimming Communities, with my collaborator photographer Anna Deacon. 

Not only are many swimmers daring to bare all together, but some groups have even formed dedicated to the regular practice - and often they talk of the benefits in terms of mental health and body positivity.

Among those swimmers was Jenny Massey of the Perkies, an all-women group which meets in the Edinburgh area. “My goal,” she said as she emerged, naked but for neoprene socks, from the swells, “is to be at peace with my body. That’s my journey. I might never get there, and I might be really old when I do, but in between I’m not going to stop showing my body.”

When Ms Massey and a friend  first started to encourage other women to join a group skinny dip, it was partly about wanting women to be able to feel they could do something a little outside the rules - and a way for women to reclaim their bodies.

“I feel quite angry," she said, " if I think anyone might be judging me. My body is functioning. I made a baby in my forties and now it’s going through the menopause. I feel, Don’t you dare judge me by how it looks!”

The Herald: Jenny Massey from the Perkies, from The Ripple Effect by Anna Deacon and Vicky AllanJenny Massey from the Perkies from The Ripple Effect. Image: Anna Deacon

One person who has researched how getting naked together impacts how we feel about ourselves is Professor Keon West of Goldsmith’s University, who is the psychologist behind the television show Naked Beach. What he found is that, as he writes in a paper titled Naked and Unashamed, “more participation in naturist activities predicted greater life satisfaction”.

Such life satisfaction, he wrote, was “mediated by more positive body image, and higher self-esteem”.

Skinny dipping isn't a new thing - it's the original mode of human swimming. But what is particularly new are these groups which appear less a part of naturism and more an off-shoot of wild swimming and the trend towards mass swims.

The Herald: The Perkies skinny dipping group, from The Ripple Effect by Anna Deacon and Vicky AllanThe Perkies, skinny dipping group. Image: Anna Deacon

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Jax Higginson, the woman behind the North East Skinny Dip, created it after she attended a mass skinny dip in the Gower in Wales. “It blew me away,” she recalled, “and became an inspiration, to bring a similar event up here. The rest of it sort of evolved over the years. The community grew as well as the appreciation of the mental health connections.”

“One of the many joys is that we are one tiny dot in the middle of it. We are sort of drowned out by nature. Because we are nothing in nature – even with that many people.”


“I don’t think,” Ms Higginson said, “that there’s a better way to bring energy than a large number of human beings. So, if you add in an early morning and a cold beach and the opportunity to be naked,  those factors together create so much energy. And then when we run, when we go, give the okay to strip off, it’s absolute release."

Not all skinny dipping groups are formed amongst already existing friendship circles, Some, like Edinburgh Skinny Dipping Stories, are created through dips with strangers.

Its founder, Lee Simpson,  had started to swim regularly during the first pandemic summer of 2020, and, when he had dipped his way through his first winter, he celebrated with a skinny dip. Later, a friend suggested he set up a group.

The Herald: Edinburgh Skinny Dipping Stories group, from The Ripple Effect by Anna Deacon and Vicky AllanEdinburgh Skinny Dipping Stories group, from The Ripple Effect. Image: Anna Deacon

So it was that he found himself down at the shore with a small group of people, none of whom he had met before.

“At one point ," he said, "it felt like I was in some Film4 comedy as it was such an unlikely scenario to be in. To overcome the strangeness of the situation as we finally strolled into the water, I tried to imagine that I was on holiday in Ibiza . . . and was doing this as part of some crazy idea to cure a hangover in the early hours.”

The Herald: Edinburgh Skinny Dipping Stories group, from The Ripple Effect by Anna Deacon and Vicky AllanEdinburgh Skinny Dipping Stories group, from The Ripple Effect. Image: Anna Deacon

It has, he said, changed his own life.  “It’s helped me mentally to be more comfortable and relaxed in society. “I’ve gone through a transition. I was incredibly shy. When I was taking my clothes off to go for my ordinary dip, I’d be looking around, is there anyone coming this way, anyone coming that way? But in this group, there is none of those feelings. We’re all here together.”

The Ripple Effect:  A Celebration of Britain's Brilliant Wild Swimming Communities by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan is published by Black & White on Septemerb 28