Fancy leaving your wetsuit at home and diving into the open water? Wild swimming is exactly that; swimming outdoors in natural spaces with just you and the elements. This could be taking a dip in the ocean, river, quarry, or tidal pool.
You wouldn’t think there would be too much history surrounding wild, or open-water, swimming. But the beginning of a more ‘modern’ age of wild swimming was coined by Lord Byron in 1810 when he swam the Dardanelles Strait between Europe and Asia. Another historic moment was in 1896 when open-water swimming became an Olympic sport where competitors would swim the Bay of Zea in the Aegean Sea, in Greece.
What are the benefits of wild swimming?
Nowadays, wild swimming is becoming increasingly popular, and more and more people are gradually getting into the activity and swimming through the seasons. There are many reasons why it’s becoming a more popular activity; however, its mental health benefits have been a strong pull for many starting out. Not only does the practice of connecting with nature have proven mental health benefits, but immersing yourself in cold waters actually boosts dopamine levels and increases the release of endorphins. Other benefits include reducing muscle soreness, increasing recovery, improving circulation, boosting your immune system, and simply clearing your head.
Thinking of getting into wild water swimming? Well, swimming through the seasons can be a bit daunting. Waters can reach incredibly cold temperatures, so winter swimming can be a little bracing. If you’re keen to get involved, perhaps start during the spring and summer months when the waters have warmed up a little.
Keeping safe when wild swimming
Another thing to keep in mind if you’re looking to start wild swimming is keeping safe. Wild swimming can be a thoroughly enjoyable hobby helping to keep you fit, connect with nature, and introduce you to a whole new community. However, like with most activities, safeguards must be taken to keep yourself and those around you safe. We’ve put together a few tips to help you do so:
- Check the current
- Check the depth
- Check the weather
- Acclimatise (don’t just jump straight in!)
- Bring warm clothes
- Ensure you always have an exit
- Check for hazards
- Don’t swim alone
Check the Current
Before getting into any body of natural water, check its flow. You can do this by simply throwing in a stick and seeing how fast it gets pulled downstream. A general rule to follow would be, if it’s faster than you can swim, the current is too strong and you won’t be able to swim against it. This can be incredibly dangerous.
Equally, avoid stagnant (and smelly) water too. This is a body of water with no flow whatsoever, and the stagnation means that bacteria and germs can grow, making it unsafe to swim.
Check the depth
Avoid jumping or diving into a body of water you’re unfamiliar with. Shallow patches and rocky hazards can cause serious injury, so always gauge the depth before you get in.
Check the weather
This is most relevant when wild swimming in the ocean. Make sure to check the weather conditions to avoid any nasty surprises; the wind can cause harsh tides and rough waters so always check the forecast and be ready to cancel your wild swimming if it’s not safe!
It’s expected that you’ll find some pretty chilly temperatures when wild swimming. Entering the water slowly will allow your body to get used to the cold and acclimatise. You’re at risk of cold-water shock if you jump in too quickly.
Bring warm clothes
Make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes for after your activity to avoid getting too cold; it’s the biggest danger when wild swimming. Once you’ve exited the water, get yourself dry and layer up! Keep moving too; it will help to heat your body back up.
Ensure you always have an exit
In case of emergency or if you need to get out of the water fast, ensure you always have an escape plan and know your exits.
Remember, riverbanks can be slippery and other natural bodies of water may be hard to climb out of, so make sure you always know an easy exit and keep it close by.
Check for hazards
Scope out your surroundings and check for any hazards in and around the water. Common hazards might be sharp rocks that could cause injury or thick reeds that you might get caught in. If you do find yourself in reeds, avoid flailing your legs and instead use your arms to swim away.
Don’t swim alone
Avoiding swimming alone is especially true if you’re a beginner. Having people around you is the safest way to enjoy wild water swimming, and it also makes it a sociable and enjoyable experience.
If swimming with others isn’t possible, make sure you’re wearing bright colours and keep a brightly coloured tow float attached to you at all times to keep yourself visible.
Where to wild swim
You can wild swim just about anywhere, from lakes and rivers to the ocean! Check out just a few suggestions from around the UK: