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.

OSS_Logo_300px-01_300_300_c1.jpg

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.

DSC_0106

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.

colour-guide-dryrobe-range-Small

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

Of Swallows and Shallows.

20160829_104552 (2)

Wast Water

It was August Bank Holiday here in the UK, and once again David and I headed up to the Lake District. The weather, unusual for a bank holiday turned out to be pretty impressive. Blue skies, hot sun, we couldn’t ask for a better day!

We were up before sunrise (again) and headed out at 6am for our three hour drive! Our destination was the lakeshore of Wast Water, touted in a 2007 ITV poll as Britain’s Favourite View. The scenery is indeed inspirational. To the north, Wasdale Head features the giants Yewbarrow, Great Gable, Lingmell and Scafell Pike. Along the eastern side, Whin Rigg and Illgill Head form the Screes. To the south is a leisurely lakeside walk towards Low Wood and Lund Bridge. It was this path that David and I took on our arrival.

A cool breeze that blew across the lake, created the perfect opportunity to try out my new fleece in preparation for autumn and winter walks.

At the southern point, under the shade of trees I noticed roses scattered along the lake-shore. It got me thinking how many have faced a watery death at Wast Water. After an online search I found that in 1976 a woman had been murdered and her body was dumped at Wast Water, only to be found eight years later still preserved.

In 1945, three airmen lost their lives during a nighttime navigational exercise which saw their Gruman Avenger crash into the Screes. And again in 1973 a Piper Cherokee G-AZYP also crashed into the Screes with no survivors!

Wast Water is the deepest lake in England at 258 feet (79 m) and is a divers haven. Yet even as recent as 2013 the body of a diver, in search of the infamous gnome garden was found. So nothing for me to be worried about then as I planned on doing a swim!

David and I found a nice stony beach on the western side of the lake, where later we would enjoy a scenic picnic with coffee. The choice of location to swim was actually a poor one as the water was very shallow. (No sign of the deepest lake here!) I found I had to wade quite some distance, slipping over mossy rocks before managing to swim. You may be questioning my type of swimwear, especially for a lake that is renowned to be the coldest. I had plans to do not just one swim but two!!
DSC_0440 (2)

The water wasn’t as cold as I was lead to believe. Indeed I stayed in the water for my longest swim at around 20 minutes. I breast-stroked with mountainous giants before me and floated looking up at the blue sky as swallows and grey wagtails flittered past. It was indeed a magical experience. I stumbled back onto land giddy and blissfully happy! I could have stayed at Wast Water all day but I had plans of swimming another tarn!

20160829_122344From Google images and maps, Greendale Tarn looked like it had everything going for it. It was isolated, surrounded by mountains and didn’t look like too much of a walk. However with my rudimentary walking skills at best, a two hour walk there and back ended up being three! There is free parking for about 10 cars next to the cottages at Greendale. The start of the walk overlooks the Screes of Wast Water. The going was steep to start off with as the path wound around ferns and bracken. We past Herdwick Sheep who made walking over the boulder filled path look easy. I stumbled and tripped my way upwards, while to our left was the fast flowing Greendale Gill.

Two hours later and we were standing beside a tarn with disappointment on our faces. Instead of finding a peaceful idyll, we gazed upon a body of water that looked reedy. A pond-like smell emanated from the surface. If there were any trout in the water they were well hidden. I could not find an entry point that didn’t have reeds lacing the banks. It was very off putting and I decided (sensibly?) to forego a second swim, much to my consternation! However, looking at the positives from the day, we had enjoyed the walk, even if I did crawl most of the way up and slipped on the way down! The picture of Greendale Tarn makes it look so much more appetising than it really was!

20160829_131627

Greendale Tarn

Wast Water maybe my final swim of the year, what with September and autumn around the corner. I do hope not. Maybe I can squeeze in another swim before it gets too cold?

What do you think?

Christine x