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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Blea Tarn and Brothers Water.

I was almost deterred from swimming in Blea Tarn and Brothers Water as they have been designated SSSI’s or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. However with both having been on my ‘to do’ list since the very beginning, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Blea Tarn:

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Blea Tarn and the Langdales

David and I drove to Blea Tarn at the start of our few days away to the Lake District. As we came from the direction of the Great Langdale valley the tarn looked rather uninspiring. Undeterred we parked up at the National Trust Blea Tarn car park, and paid the rather steep charge of £5.50 for 4 hours. Parking is right across the road from the tarn with an accessible walk to the waters edge and stunning views. I was surprised the area wasn’t more busy, we only saw a handful of people!

We followed the National Trust trail and took a gentle meandering walk past the tarn, gazed at towering Scots Pines before heading out towards the fells and then the ultimate viewpoint over Great Langdale, which was stunning!

During our walk we saw common spotted orchids, golden ringed dragonflies (to fast for us this time, though we would see them again during our walk over Beda Fell), and a beautiful summer visitor, a pied flycatcher.

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Blea Tarn

We returned to the shingle beach of Blea Tarn where we set up base and I stripped to my new tankini. Terence the turtle registered a balmy 18°C but with the wind I soon cooled quickly. Here’s some pictures and video of my very enjoyable swim, the best of the weekend! The entrance into the water was easy underfoot. No scrambling over rocks is always a plus in my book!

Brothers Water: 

We got to the shores of Brothers Water after a five hour hike around Beda Fell. At 3.30pm there were only a few dog walkers around, I had the entire lake to myself! Tired and with aching feet we stumbled along the shingle shore towards the waters edge. From there I struggled into a new swimsuit and waded out ungracefully into the shallow and reedy waters. I did not stray too far from the shore, though in hindsight I think maybe I should have ventured out further. I was afraid of fronds catching at my ankles, much like Loweswater. However the waters were silky against my tired limbs and the views were soul nourishing. Pictures of Brothers Water to me, always looked like a mini Wast Water but once there the lake was reminiscent of Buttermere. The water was a warm 17°C but the swarm of flies that hovered about the surface of the water, and then me, was slightly off putting. I think with being exhausted from a mentally challenging walk, I didn’t enjoy swimming at Brothers Water as I should have. The real stars were the small fish that swam in shoals in the shallows. If anyone can ID them for me that would be great! Here’s a small selection of pictures and video of my swim.

Have you visited this tarn/water? What are your memories of them?

Where do you think I should swim next?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

#PoppiesTour – Caernarfon Castle.

If you have seen my previous posts about the poppies at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Liverpool, you will know that I am trying to see them as they visit various places around the UK!

Sadly we never made the journey to see The Wave at Lincoln Castle, but I made sure we booked free tickets to see the Weeping Window at Caernarfon Castle! The event was hotly anticipated and we managed to get a time slot on the penultimate day the poppies were being displayed. All other Saturday’s had been booked up! So on the 19th November, David and I headed for the A55 and Caernarfon.

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Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle has always been on my list of places to visit. Seeing the poppies and the castle together was a perfect combination. Then add the free entrance to the castle whilst the poppies were at Caernarfon and it made for a fantastic day!

The castle was already bustling with people when we arrived at 11am. (Having parked the car for £4 at the harbour carpark). I have a feeling the castle has never been so popular as it has been since the poppies arrived! I now understand why you had to book a time slot to visit. The narrow staircases going up and down the towers were treacherous. It was bad enough climbing single file but when faced with people wanting to go past you on a narrow stone staircase, things grew a little scary! Thankfully we were only stuck on a tower’s staircase once, and I came away with a slightly grazed hand!

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Stairway

The poppies were as I remembered them. Their emblematic hue made people pause, silently in awe. We took hundreds of pictures of the poppies and below are a selection of the best!

Once we had seen the poppies, we made the most of the free entry and explored the castle. We walked along curtain walls, took in the views from the towers and even managed to dress up at the Welch Fusiliers Museum.

We spent a good two – three hours at the castle and I would recommend a visit if in the area.


From Caernarfon we headed home via two llyns (lakes). I was on the lookout for prospective swims for next year and two I had in mind, fitted the bill!

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Llyn Cwellyn

The first was Llyn Cwellyn, actually a reservoir. Sadly there wasn’t much of a walk along the lakeside and we were only at the lake for about an hour. (Having paid £2.50 parking fee for four hours!) To make the llyn wheelchair accessable there is a wooden walkway but sadly, there was only one actual ‘beach’ in which to enter the water.

However the water was crystal clear and the shingle floor looked an easy entrance into the llyn that seemed to deepen quickly. David and I were the only people at the llyn, (while others headed for highs such as Snowdon). The area was so peaceful, the sun sitting low on the horizon, gave me a sudden wave of nostalgia. Wast Water came to mind. I wish I had brought my swimming costume with me and braved the cold!!

Afterwards, we headed towards Llyn Gwynant. Looking for parking places we passed Llyn Dinas which also looks a lovely place to swim!

We parked alongside Llyn Gwynant and headed for the shore. I got Terence (turtle thermometer) out and measured a very chilly 7°c!

 

Both llyns have got me super excited for next year. Spring/Summer 2017 can’t come quick enough!

Have you visited North Wales/Snowdonia? What are your favourite llyns?

Christine x

Aira Force and Ullswater

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Ullswater

Before journeying home, I planned to stay a little bit longer in the Lake District. Even though the day dawned grey and showery, we stuck with the itinerary and headed towards Aira Force and Ullswater. Neither we had visited before, so we were in new charted territory!

We parked the car at High Cascades car park. I thought it was reasonably priced for the day at £6.50, other car parks in the area charged a lot more!

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Aira Falls

The path took us along well designed paths that lead towards the viewing platform and steps to Aira Force. The whole area felt like a Victorian park, and after some online research I found that the area was indeed landscaped, though earlier than expected, by the Howard family in the 1780’s.

The woodland walk was pleasant and the area seemed very popular with other tourists.

We spent a good hour walking the meandering paths, following bubbling streams and watching fast flowing rapids.

Above the shade of trees the clouds broke and an unseasonably hot sun glared down.

After visiting Aira Force, a walk along the Gowbarrow trail was planned. We took the route anti clockwise. I don’t know whether this was a good thing or not, though come our descent we were faced with very steep steps, so going up would have been a struggle!

We walked a narrow path, with wonderful views of Ullswater below. The destination for lunch was the Memorial Seat and cairn.

After a well earned rest, where we were either too hot or too cold, we continued on an exhausting two hour hike around Gowbarrow. At 481m it was 100m taller than Walla Crag, and boy did it feel it! We kept walking and walking. The map I had didn’t correlate to anything in front of us. There were times when I thought we were lost, and then the weather turned and the cloud came rolling in!

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Gowbarrow Summit

However we managed to find the summit of Gowbarrow and though we stumbled on our descent, we could see the car park and David’s shiny red car awaiting us in the distance. It was a welcome sight!

I have never felt so utterly spent after a walk as I did after Gowbarrow. Perhaps is was due to the fact that I hadn’t rested after a hectic day around Derwentwater, the day before. Whatever it was, when we found free parking alongside a grey Ullswater, I was in two minds as to whether to embark on my final swim or leave the total for 2016 at 9! All along the walk to Gowbarrow I had been imagining the swim in Ullswater. I felt apprehensive. The swims in Bassenthwaite and Loweswater had made me worry about how cold the water would be and would I enjoy the experience. I know I hadn’t enjoyed Loweswater!

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Ullswater

Though my mind debated and my body felt tired, I knew in my heart that if I didn’t take a dip in Ullswater, (a new lake to add to the tally), then I would feel I had cheated myself. I had come this far, a few minutes of discomfort would be worth the exhilaration afterwards! So David and I headed towards the shore. The choice of entrance was not the greatest. I had intended on swimming from Glencoyne Bay but we had parked a little further up the road and the entrance was rocky and very shallow. It took me a while to waddle into water deep enough for me to submerge my body.

Though the water was cold, it did not feel as icy as Derwentwater. Indeed after a few strokes I felt warm. I began to enjoy myself. I took Wilson (waterproof camera) with me and snapped a few shots. I was later astonished to find that I had shared my swim with hundreds of little fish. I had not felt them swimming through my fingers like I had at Easedale.

What happened next was due to my own laziness at not wanting to stumble across bricks and rocks to hand Wilson back to David on shore. I have discovered that I can’t breaststroke while holding the camera, so I placed Wilson on a stone that protruded above the water. The water was relatively calm, so I left Wilson while I continued to swim back and forth along the shore. On the other side of the lake a ferry chugged along.

Before I knew it, David was shouting ‘wave,’ in alarm and I was buffeted by a huge swell churned up from the ferry. I watched in horror as Wilson was knocked off his rock and I kicked stones and bruised my legs scrambling towards shore to find him. David directed me as to which direction he thought Wilson had been swept in. I waded in panic, shivering in the cold. I was about to give up when I saw Wilson bobbing in the shallows. I was so relieved. I did not want to lose my new camera. It was a lesson well learned!

The event had upset me almost to tears. Cold to the bone, I cut short my swim and returned, mightily relieved to the shore. David and I were thankful I had not lost my new camera. David joked that it reminded him of the film Castaway, hence the name Wilson.

Up until the incident, I had been enjoying my swim in Ullswater. It makes me determined to return in the future. I will just have to find a way of fixing Wilson to my body so I can swim unhindered.

I hope you have enjoyed my short, but full excursion to the Lake District? Have you been to Aira Force, walked Gowbarrow or around Ullswater? Let me know what lakes/walks you think I should visit next.

Thanks for reading,

Christine x