Escape your comfort zone: I love swimming outdoors – so I decided to confront my deep fear of swans

As a child, I saw shock flash in my grandfather’s eyes when he was accosted by a swan. I have been terrified ever since. But I want to find peace with these beautiful birds

I don’t remember a time in my life when I was not afraid of swans. It’s not that I think a swan could kill me, but I’m pretty sure it could dislocate my shoulder. Or at the very least peck me somewhere nasty. All I know is this: I don’t want to find out what they’re capable of. For me, I imagine it feels much like any other phobia must feel for other people: a perfectly natural and rational reaction to something completely terrifying.

Being afraid of swans was not really an issue in my life until I started swimming outdoors during the lockdowns last year. My swan anxiety is well publicised among the group I swim with. Everyone is cautious around nesting birds between March and June, but someone will come and swim next to me if there’s a swan in the vicinity all year round. I’m also a figure of well-intentioned ridicule. For my birthday, friends put on a surprise rendition of Swan Lake in a shallow stretch of the Thames in Surrey, complete with tutus, white face paint and feathered headbands.

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