An Introduction to Wild Swimming

I was thinking the other day, that of all the wild swims I have posted about, I have not included a beginners guide. So here’s how I read and learned about the wonderful ‘sport’ of wild swimming.

After the initial interest, (visiting the shores of Llyn Idwal and Derwentwater) and of being tempted into the silky waters. I Googled whether it was indeed acceptable to go swimming outdoors in the UK. I discovered that there was a time when there were hundreds of lidos (outdoor pools) in the UK and people didn’t bat an eyelid if you were spotted swimming along a river or paddling in a lake. Today’s mindset that swimming outdoors is dangerous, comes from after WW2 when heated indoor pools became the norm. Thankfully people like Kate Rew, The Wild Swimming Brothers and even Robson Green, are helping swimming outdoors, known as wild swimming, become much more acceptable.

My first port of call for research was Kate Rew’s book Wild Swim, and Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming. Both books, (with stunning photographs) offer insightful recommendations on places to swim by region.

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Kate Rew is founder of The Outdoor Swimming Society, an invaluable website with information for anyone interested in wild swimming. Part of the website is a Wild Swim map, an interactive map of the UK where people post reviews on swims with helpful hints, (I’ve even added a couple!)

Many Google searches came up with information on safe swimming. One was by the NHS, and another from The Lake District National Park, which gave a list of lakes that you could swim in and those that you couldn’t! It’s a website that has informed my many Lake District wild swims.

Another website on Lake District swimming that I frequent is the blog Swimming the Lakes. This lady planned to swim across all the lakes and tarns in the Lake District. Her blog posts have once again helped in my wild swimming choices.

YouTube was another invaluable resource. Just search swimming in the Lake District and you get hundreds of hits! One channel that whetted my appetite for swimming in the Lake District was Trek and Run Online. Their videos of swimming in Buttermere and Derwentwater inspired me to take a dip in both lakes myself, resulting in happy memories.

One aspect of wild swimming I have not covered is of course hypothermia. Though not a blog I followed from the beginning, Open Water Woman has this topic covered. Her detailed post is well worth a read and very insightful.

So my research determined that I could go wild swimming, but what should I wear? What equipment did I need? I did not like the idea of wearing a wet-suit so that was out of the equation. I wanted to feel the cool water lapping at my skin. So skins it was then.

I can’t explain the excitement I had when I went shopping for clothing for my first swim in 2016. I had a basic list.

  • A swimsuit
  • Goggles (which I have never worn)
  • Neoprene boots/shoes (I didn’t want to cut my feet on rocks and stones as I waded into the water)

David thought I was insane but humoured me.

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First swim at Derwentwater

Since my initial swims, my ‘kit’ has expanded. A simple bathing suit is ok for swimming in summer but come autumn, when temperatures drop you find your body needs extra protection.

  • Neoprene gloves are a must for colder waters. My hands burned when I swam in Derwentwater during October, enough for me to research hand protection.
  • A towel from home is just too bulky. I now have two microfiber towels from Mountain Warehouse. They are easier to carry in my rucksack when going on a hike before a swim.
  • To document my swims, David gifted me a GoPro type waterproof camera. The quality of video is excellent! I named it Wilson (of Cast Away fame) as I almost lost it on a swim in Ullswater.
  • A thermometer is a must if you want to know what temperature of water you are swimming in. I purchased a quirky child’s tortoise thermometer who I have called Terrence.
  • Since purchasing my first swimsuit. I have bought many tankini’s. I prefer the fit of shorts and top to an all in one.

And finally.

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The last piece of kit that I now own is a dryrobe! I have been after a changing robe for so long but could not justify the cost, as I only dip, not compete. For Christmas David kindly gifted me my very own dryrobe. It’s a kids advanced (as I’m a shortie), and it is spacious enough for me to get dry and changed in. I am eager to get back to swimming to try it out!

Not satisfied with just swimming in the Lake District I went in search for information on swimming in Wales. Vivienne Rickman Poole‘s blog documents her many swims in the llyns of Snowdonia. I’ve managed to do two swims in Wales in 2017, Llyn Cwellyn and Llyn Cau. I hope to add to this tally in 2018.

I’ve found many Facebook pages relating to wild swimming. Outdoor Swimming Society has one, COWS or Cumbria Open Water Swimmers is a good page for the Lake District and nearer to home #ChesterFrosties have an inspiring page too. I’m sure there will be one for your area too!

The take home message of this post is to be informed, swim within your limits, be courteous to others and enjoy the experience. For my first swim at Derwentwater, I felt apprehensive about entering the water, I took my time and slowly edged into the cool May waters. I knew I didn’t have a strong upper body so I kept to the shoreline. It’s only when you feel stronger and confident that you can swim for longer.

I hope this post has been informative? I have accumulated my knowledge over two-three years and will continue to learn. Perhaps I have inspired you to give wild swimming a go? If you do, let me know how you get on?

Thanks for reading and stay safe,

Christine x

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