What is wild swimming?
Wild swimming is all about swimming outdoors in natural spaces, such as rivers, lakes and the sea. Its being someone which is uncontrolled, so not in a swimming pool. The only exception is a outdoor lido or sea pool.
Is wild swimming safe?
Yes, but as long as you’re sensible and take note of a few basic rules. It’s about making wise choices and staying within your abilities. If your unsure then its probably wise not to go in.
How to stay safe wild swimming
Open water is usually cold and can be deep in places. In more urban locations you have underwater hazards to deal with such as broken bottles, building material etc. Even on a warm day the top few inches may seem warm but the deeper sections will always be that bit colder, the parts that the sun never manages to reach. It also depends on the location, a beach may have a gradual slope into the water where as a river may have a steep shelf. These steep sides may be easier to get into the water but much harder to get out. We suggest checking for an easy exit point before committing into the water.
Checking the current
Some rivers may have a flow, you can usually tell by looking a the surface, it may seem quite gentle but you can soon travel quite a distance in a short time. Always take a look around your surrounding first, a gentle flow can sometimes be pleasant but remember there may be a weir or similar just around the corner.
How deep is the water
You should never dive straight in. Even clear water can be deceiving, it may look deep but distance in water can often be misleading. Always know the depth, one day after rain there could be more than enough depth, the same location on a different day could be a different matter. Rivers also have pools and varying sections, some pools could be really deep when a narrow shoot could be only inches deep. Just because the water is dark/black doesn’t mean its deep, the colour can be misleading. Always check the depth, use a stick or climb in slowly first poushing down with you feet to check, again be sure there’s not a rock juts under the surface.
Don’t underestimate the cold
Even in the summer the water can be freezing, just because it suncream hot on the beach doesn’t mean the water will be as well. Your body can get cold very quickly
Hypothermia happens gradually. You can feel tired and lethargic rather than cold. Its something to watch when your on your own, getting too cold clouds your judgement in essential decision making. Getting cold fingers can prevent you doing simple things likes un doing a zip.
How to get use to the water and avoid cold water shock
Cold water shock can be fatal so even if you’re wearing a wetsuit it’s better not to jump straight in. Give yourself time to adjust, maybe stand in the water for a few moments, get your body ready for the change in temperature. Good tips is to splash water on your face and neck or once in the water dip your head under a few times just to get use to the cold.
Don’t swim alone
Avoid swimming alone. Its always best to be in the water with someone or have someone on the bank that can help if required. There are some great floats available, you can tow these behind yu as you swim. They are always bright and can be seen easily by others. Another good tip is wearing a bright swim hat.
Watch out for trees and reeds
Trees and reeds can be annoying but can also be dangerous. Most of what can be seen on the surface is only a small amount of what’s under the water. A foot can be caught on a branv or be tangled in a reed. This is very uncommon but
Cuts and grazes
Always cover up nicks and scratches with a good quality water resistant plaster. In some urban locations Weil’s disease (leptospirosis) is apparent.
Getting cramp is not a pleasant experience and is always unexpected. It is usually from being dehydrated so make sure how drink plenty well before you swim, small amounts frequently rather than a large amount a short time before you go.
How to choose somewhere to go wild swimming
There are heaps of information on the internet and there also some great books available.
Great starting point is with the www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com they have loads or information on tips, locations, ideas and spots to seek out. There are also some great wild swimming apps to download to you phone.
These are some of our favourite books –
We like Wild Swim, by Kate Rew; Wild Swimming by Daniel Start; and Wild Swimming: Hidden Beaches, also by Daniel Start. All three of these have swim spots listed all over the UK and detailed maps or OS references and directions.
For more regional info try Wild Swimming Walks (Dartmoor and South Devon) by Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury; and Wild Swimming Walks (London) by Margaret Dickinson.
If your on Face Book there are some great groups to join, try searching for Wild Swims or add a post to the Outdoor Swimming Society, with over 25,000 members in the UK and its free to join.
So what to wear
A woolly hat or beanie is great to keeping in the warm, that is if your don’t plan on getting your head wet.
A wetsuit or triathlon type suit is also really good to keep the cold out. You can also buy just a wetsuit top.
Boots or water type shoes are also a good idea. These not only keep you feet warm they will prevent any injuries.
Neoprene gloves are also great for when it’s really cold.
If you’re planning on going under water or swimming a distance then goggles are great piece of kit. It’s sometimes overlooked in wild swimming.
To avoid water going in your ears and also to prevent infection ear plugs are really useful. There are some great surfing earplugs on the market that would also workjuts as well.
A few places for wild swimming in the UK –
Snowdonia’s stunning tarns
Tarns – or llyns as they’re known to the locals! These are the lakes near the tops of the mountain. The Rhinog Range has more tarns per square meter than anywhere else in Wales. If you get u early or go out of season they can be extremely isolated giving the feeling of being in another world. The back drops can be amazing. There are a few that are that close to the edge they look like infinity pools.
Granchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire
The River Cam, Granchester hasn’t changed little since Edwardian times. Made famous by Rupert Brooke and Virginia Woolfe others when they camped, picnicked and swam in the river. On a Summers day the Orchard Tea Gardens are fantastic and along the meadows is a particularly pleasant place to swim. Some spots deepen to 1.8 meters (6ft)
River Avon, Claverton weir
Along the valley of the Avon is a stretch of approximately 100 metres of deep water patches and shallow paddling areas. The water is crystal clear in the Summer and its quite easy to get to. Follow the A36 for about 3km towards the Claverton Hamle and turn left down Ferry Lane. Simply walk to the bottom and across the big field, the weir will be on your right.
Waterfall Woods in the Breacon Beacons, Wales
The name says it all. This section of river is packed with natural pools and small waterfalls. It can be found 20 minutes along the woodland trail from Pontneddfechan. When you reach a flat outcrop on the right, just above a mini canyon you will see the river below you. Further along the track is a large junction pool, just beneath the footbridge. Sgwd Gwladys, or Lady Falls, occupies a giant amphitheatre rimmed with a lip of dark black gritstone. This is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Wales!
River Ouse, Yorkshire
The River Ouse, which winds through the Sussex Downs is set in the most idliic location. It’s the perfect place for swimming, relaxing and having a picnic. You can stop for lunch at Barcombe Mill or head a little further up river to the riverside Anchor Inn. There are even some paddle boats that you can hire. The only building you will see on the entire journey will be the spire of Isfield Church.
The Cheviouts, Northumberland
This is very popular with walkers and families to col off in the Summer, it’s an easy location to get to. It has the famous Linhope Spout which is high shoot that falls into a round and very deep plunge pool. There is a high jump into the pool, go careful as the water depths do change depending on the season.
.Skye’s faerie pools, Scotland
The Faerie Pools on the Isle of Skye lie in a sheltered glade of red rowans and ancient rock. The Black Culin rise above the Gaudi Spires, the remains of a massive volcano. You may see a pink look about the water, this is from the quartz in the rock, it can seem to glow on occasions.
River Dart, Devon
The River Dart, which runs through the Dartmoor National Park, Devon, is the setting for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies. This is one of the best spots in the UK for wild swimming. There are so many pools, rivers and small lakes (tarns) to find and explore. We will be adding another blog soon just on our favourite Dartmoor spots. Some to get your started in the Dart, the East Dart and also the West Dart. If you do your research you may even find some natural water slides!
Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland
Lough Shannagh, County Down, is a wide open loch surrounded by the magnificent Mourne Mountains. About 30 minutes walk from the road brings you to the edge of the lake. It is is framed by several peaks, including Slieve Doan and Slieve Loughshannagh. The water is crystal blue and refreshingly cold. There is also a small beach area for the children to play in.