How to get into Wild Swimming
Sarah is an Architect by day and a fell runner, year-round swimmer & founder / co-ordinator of the Wonderful Wild Women Community in between.
Here in The Lake District, we are extremely spoilt in the variety and abundance of swimming spots we have not far from the doorstep, from the larger bodies of water like Coniston Water, Windermere & Derwent Water, mountain tarns, ghylls, and rivers to the often-forgotten coastal coves. We can usually be found accessing those easier to reach locations mid-week but when the weekend comes around… the exploring starts. We love nothing more than scouring maps and exchanging research on potential swim spots that we can incorporate into a bigger day out in nature.
When holidays come around many of the team find themselves being called by the coast and the sea. The west coast of Scotland, Northumbria and Cornwall being some of the favourites. The natural wildlife to be found off our coasts really is quite astounding and it brings a new way to enjoy the water!
And for something a little bit familiar, but different at the same time… it has to be Snowdonia or the Lochs of Scotland.
No body of water is the same & that is part of pull and the magic.
As a side note; different locations present different considerations and we would advise that you never swim alone, always know where you will enter the water, the best place to exit and do your own research… if you are still a little unsure hire a local swimming guide!
Why do we love outdoor swimming?
Like with many activities you can enjoy outdoors there can be far more things that you love about the experience than just the activity itself. Outdoor swimming is no different and for us the combined experience of a number of elements keeps us coming back for more! In the colder months very little swimming actually happens and its all about the cold-water exposure, the cake and the people. In summer we are more spoilt with opportunity to spend longer time in the water whether that’s to play or get our heads down and clock up those Strava miles!
The outdoor swimming community an extremely friendly and welcoming world. We hear many stories of people travelling the country and connecting with local swimming communities and being welcomed along to their weekly meet.
At the water’s edge differences are left behind and the focus is purely on where you are.
People of all shapes, sizes, experiences, and backgrounds come together to share the same love and joy of the water. I don’t think I could tell you what half my swimming friends do for work, what car they drive or what they look like with ‘normal’ clothes on 😉
It’s been suggested that sharing food (not just cake) with people can help to strengthen relationships and build trust, creating a feedback loop of positive emotions.
You don’t need to ask us twice if we want a slice! Some mornings it’s the thing that drags us out of bed when the rain batters the window or the cosy surroundings are hard to leave… all the better when it’s a birthday!
It’s also a great conversation piece with recipes being shared and if you are lucky there will be more than one cake type to sample!
CONNECTING WITH NATURE
Swimming & dipping in a body of water all year round really grounds you with a connection to the location but also the natural world you are immersed in. You see and feel the shift through the seasons and really tune in to how the landscape around you develops and changes with that. It’s quite special and does help to build in a need to protect these places which as a Community we are really driven to do.
The past year has really highlighted how important it is to look after your health, both physically and mentally and keeping active in any way that works for you plays such a huge role in that.
Being in and around water has massive health benefits in a variety of ways and swimming is a fantastic way to keep fit & healthy, for example;
- It uses your whole body and builds cardiovascular strength
- Being active in the water supports and aids the body to move in ways it might find difficult on dry land
- The cooler water can help to ease pain in joints or injuries.
- It can help you sleep better, boost your mood and help you manage stress.
Not only that but it’s fun for all the family, including expectant mums to be and you don’t need to fork out loads on equipment to get started!
Our Top Tips
Outdoor swimming has positively boomed in recent years and many have been enjoying the benefits of dipping in their local body of water BUT outdoor swimming is not without its risks and for anyone looking to start, or those considering seeking out the cold-water experience we would recommend waiting until at least Spring to take your first dip!
When you do feel ready below are some additional points to consider;
NEVER SWIM ALONE
Buddy up with an experienced swimmer or find a local swimming guide.
CHECK THE WEATHER
High rain fall, wind chill & gusty conditions can all impact the experience and turn even the most idyllic swimming spot into a high-risk area.
KNOW YOUR SWIMMING LOCATION
Good entry and exit points are extremely important to enable you to vacate the water quickly & efficiently.
Not all bodies of water are permitted to swim in; not all bodies of water are swimmable! Some may be on private land, be protected as sites of special scientific interest or be fisheries. Protected nesting birds may be aggressive, there may be underwater hazards and a host of other considerations. Always do your research.
GET IN SLOWLY
To reduce the risk of cold-water shock, control your breathing and enter the water slowly. Gradually immerse your body allowing acclimatisation.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Wear neoprene if you feel you need it. Stay in as long as feels comfortable TO YOU. Your body’s reaction to immersion, particularly in cold water, can differ hugely from swim to swim. Increased stress and hormonal cycles, for example, can make a water temperature that felt really quite pleasant one week suddenly much harder a week later. It’s way better to get out feeling like you could have stayed in longer than stay in too long and suffer the consequences.
Afterdrop & hypothermia are a real risk, particularly during the cooler months & wind chill can accelerate the cooling of your body when out of the water. Be sure to take plenty of easy to put on warm layers, don’t underestimate how tricky it is to do up buttons with numb fingers!
TAKE A HOT DRINK & A SNACK
A warm drink and something tasty to eat is a great way to warm your body gently from the inside and it gives the perfect opportunity to hang around a little longer afterwards and chat with your friends.
Across the UK invasive species have become a big problem to our natural habitats.
In The Lake District the New Zealand Pygmy Weed is one of the worst, first introduced as a plant for aquariums in the early 1900’s it has gradually found its way into our wild bodies of water.
So, what’s the issue? Unfortunately, it can choke up waterways and impact the success of our native species. It, and other non-native species, can be spread by those who use the water so its important to understand how we can all do our part to help avoid its spread.
If you are swimming between bodies of water, here’s what you can do to help:
- Check your kit when leaving the water. Keep an eye out for even the smallest of bits that could be hiding on your kit or equipment.
- Clean your kit & equipment after use.
- Dry your kit & equipment – these plants live in water and really don’t like to be dry!
If you are heading out to swim in multiple locations throughout the day then here is the time to showcase your array of costumes… take a different suit for each location. Take a dry bag and bag up the wet cossies, ready for washing when you get home.
(Thanks to WWW Team Member Gilly McArthur for assistance here)
DO YOUR RESEARCH
There is a HUGE amount of information out there. Useful resources include: The Outdoor Swimming Society, Outdoor Swimmer Magazine, RNLI & RLSSUK.
One of the great things about swimming is you really don’t need a lot of equipment (if any!).
To save your modesty all you really need is a good swimming costume.
Here at WWW, we love the classic Speedo Endurance; flattering for all body shapes and well fitting for all sorts of water-based activities.
We are also big fans of the long-sleeved wrap back; a costume with practically full coverage but a nice cut out back detail for interest. Again, a really flattering fit on practically all body shapes.
If you are accessing water with boat traffic or anywhere with hazards remaining visible is hugely important. A tow float is essential. A great piece of equipment that attaches around your waist and floats in the water behind you as you swim acting as a brightly coloured beacon.
Other ways to increase your visibility include wearing a bright coloured swimming cap. The most visible colours have been found to be neon green, orange and yellow particularly when submerged in lake water.
If you are planning to explore the underwater world or do some more active swimming then a good pair of goggles are a great investment, there’s nothing worse when swimming than a leaky pair of goggles! We have found the Speedo Futura Biofuse Flexiseal with blue lenses to work extremely well in outdoor conditions giving protection against the sun and a good seal to avoid leakage, as well as the Speedo Futura Biofuse Flexiseal with clear lenses for when you are swimming in low light/cloudy conditions and you want maximum visibility.
More often than not we here at WWW are skin swimmers but neoprene does come in very useful for those colder months, or when we want to swim that little bit further for that little bit longer.
Everyone comes to experience the water in their own way and whether you choose to wear a wetsuit or not is completely down to personal choice.
We do find ourselves opting for neoprene gloves and / or boots at times, particularly through winter. Cold extremities can make the process of getting out of the water efficiently and getting changed afterwards a bit trickier; so, in order to enable us to get warm quicker (and minimise afterdrop) it’s an obvious choice. Neoprene boots or water shoes can also help to protect your feet from anything sharp or painful on the ground. Its not always easy to see where you are putting your feet and cuts can happen without you realising it at the time.
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