Women Who Run with the Waves: Tamsin McVean


Welcome to our first ‘Women Who Run with the Waves’ (WWRW) interview.

Tamsin McVean – water woman, wild swimmer, writer, poet, photographer, lover of sunrises and raw, cold places

In keeping with the book that inspired the name, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ epic, Women Who Run with the Wolves‘, a woman who runs with the waves is someone who has a passion for wild watery places. Who challenges or disrupts the status quo in some way by making her own waves in the world and in her life. This is Like Water’s home to showcase and share stories of women and water.

Systole.  Diastole.  Steady Heart beat.  Flux & breath of tide.  Lungs filling.  Eyes blinking salt.  Skin burning cold.  This Warm Rush of the Cold Tide. 



I first came across Tamsin McVean in a Sunday Times newspaper cutting, ‘How it feels to swim in the wilds’. I instantly related to her affinity for the sea as a place of healing, belonging and connection. I’m a tentative ‘raw’ or cold water swimmer. I say ‘tentative’ as I’m more of a ‘dipper’ but certainly falling for this new found feeling of the fire of cold water on bare skin. Reading a little about Tamsin’s story, I was intrigued by what seemed like a near-religious dedication to her daily ritual. Something I’ve witnessed amongst the sea swimmers in my new home-from-home Galway Bay – debunking ‘you must be crazy’ comments and instead asserting that this is what keeps you from going crazy!

The Sunday Times introduces Tamsin as someone who has turned her back on a fast-paced life with a high-flying career in the bright city lights of London in favour of a ‘spartan cottage in the Hebrides’. She begins every day with 5am dip in the freezing ocean and she returns to her cottage to share her experience of this ‘raw simple life’ and why this is her medicine in her blog.

Your social media posts on Instagram are so full of the dance between light and dark. What’s lighting you up right now, and what are you most excited by?

I am lit up by the sense of possibility just now.  I feel as if I’ve only truly been living whilst in the sea, this last pass of the year.  In there, this world of sky lights up. Everything is alive, connected, interconnected.  I guess I’ve been looking for a way to live as instinctively as this on the shore for some time.  Yet until recently, as soon as my feet touched the shore, I felt I was out of my element.  And simply treading water.

It is my creative life – daily with My Daily Raw Swim, Cold Running Tides – that has been the catalyst.   It has literally connected me with a deeper voice.  That is linked to this deeper sounding of the sea.  And now connecting me, by way of this raft of sea, to  many new creative opportunities, contacts and openings.    It is this that is waking me up with a smile.  As well as the dawn.

What’s challenging you right now, what are you most exhausted by? 

On a simple, prosaic level – My challenges are generally day to day logistical ones.  I am quite landlocked by nature of the animals I tend.  I have a deep affinity with this work, and it is a lifestyle I have chosen, and yet it also comes with its own ties and weight.   I rarely manage to get off the island of an evening, or overnight, as I have no back up here or help which I may recruit, and so I end up doing all the work/ chores myself of a day.  This is no hardship as it is enjoyable and fulfilling.  And yet as with every close routine, sometimes it is good to stand back, rest and take a break.

At  a deeper level.  It is how to live within a community in which I sometimes simultaneously feel landlocked by, yet equally adrift.  Ironically, this is reflected by the geographical terrain – what I call, an Island Keep of Sea.  Something I am exploring through a collection of poetry.  Surrounded as it is by an island of sea.  I long for a sense of belonging.  Of being amongst my own.  Of being lifted, up, held close, as if by a wave or family does to its own, and knowing that I am known, understood.  Safe.  I am exhausted by feelings of vigilance.  inner checking of my inner compass.  To know and understand where I am.  I would like to feel.  Amongst my own kin.  Or tribe.  And loved for who I am.

There is an intimacy to your posts, and also something of a loneliness. Or perhaps it is more like a profound sense of solitude to these early morning swims. Are there ever moments of fear? And what might your world look like if you gave in to that fear? 

Fear is not something that plays in my life anymore.  If I am instinctively wary of a someone or situation, of their intention, or likely import, then I listen to this.  I try and look myself in the face.  And the other.  In the eye.  Yet with a question.  And open heart.  And sometimes, if it’s required, forgiveness.  I would be afraid of a world in which I was disconnected to this inner voice.  A world in which you set yourself up, to cut your own legs down.  If there is fear, let it approach you.  Not the other way around.  That way, you can reach out and take it by the hand.  Sit down beside it.  Hold it close.  And see then, what may come.

Can you share an early memory of the sea that really stands out for you?

I remember when I first started swimming.  I was four years old.  I lived near the sea.  And swam in it often.  One day I was without inflatable air support.   Just ran in.  Was lifted up by a wave.  I remember how light it felt.  As if I was flying.  And how close the sun and sky felt.  How free.

This ties in with my early memories of going to the sea.  As part of the early days of My Daily Raw Swim, Cold Running Tides.  It was stormy, winds of 48mph and rising.  I stood on the shore, thought for a moment.  And then, stepped in.  Uplifted by the waves, pulled by the current.  Stunned by the cold.  Raw skin, eyes wide, heart thudding loud.  And yet, in this moment of surrender, I felt utterly at ease and safe.  As if I had just come home.  And belonged. Here.

What does the sea mean to you?

The sea is all that fills my inner life. It is my self, kin, family, lover, child, friend, and unknown other.  It is where I go to be completely myself.  It is where I go where I do not ever feel alone.  It is that part of my Self that is utterly at ease and connected with a deeper metaphysical sense of who I am.  Of my place in this world.  And connectedness.

What does it mean to be like water?

To me, to be like water, is to instinctively present.  To connect.  With self.  Another.  Their & our Other.  To not limit ourselves.  But to seek to explore.  To create.  In order to better immerse in a flowing tide.  Where we are distinct yet where simultaneously there is no separation.  To live.  And to let live.  Our authentic voice. And truth.

What is your gift to the world? 

It is my voice.  My images.  My heart.  My soul.  Gifted.

What’s next on your horizon?

Horizon never changes for me.  It is what we pass along the way.  I do not have an end destination or ‘goal.’  I am simply catching up a hold of what is washing up on this flux and flow of tide.  And looking at this with interest, closely.  Feeling its shape.   My horizon is perhaps then one simply of exploring and from there, to create.  Developing the content and import of my writing and imagery, so that it steps ever closer to triggering a heart.  To beat.  To feel the shape and edge of another.  And to feel it’s closeness.  Its proximity.  It’s warmth.

I have started writing a novel exploring raw truths of isolation, survival, home, belonging, aloneness and loneliness, kin and community, identity and what it means to find one’s own inner voice.   I have just been approached to work on a non-fiction title.  I would like to tell my truth, in my own voice, and in as raw and authentic a way as is possible.  And for this, I see a screen play emerging at some point.  In that it is told directly, and in a visually emotive, engaging and beautiful way.  To tell the true story.  Of my finding.  The sea.

What does it mean to be a woman who runs with the waves?

I smiled when I heard this.  It made me think of the original title, Women who run with Wolves.  I like to think of running or flowing with the waves.  Rather than Breaking the Waves.  Which is everything it was to me when I first started daily raw swimming.  Here in the Scottish Hebrides.  I feel this sea more deeply now.  And it has lifted me up and carried me further along.  Only this time, I know how to swim back.  And share more fully with others, what I have seen and heard out there.  Before, when I was Breaking the Waves, just, I thought sometimes of just going, swimming off and away.  Following the seals.  Wherever that might be.  So to run with the waves, means not just to flow out with the tide.  But also, to know surely the way back in.  And how it feels to step back, rather than to wash up, on a shore. That is a good feeling.

Website: http://tamsinmcvean.com

FB: www.facebook.com/dailyrawswim where the My Daily Raw Swim blog page has its dedicated shore.

Insta: @tamsinmcvean

Watch some of Tamsin’s mesmerising videos on Vimeo. We love this one, A. Hold. On. Me. which she describes as, “a metaphor for having lost my skin to the sea.”

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