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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My Love for the Red Panda.

‘Panda’ from the Nepalese, nigalya ponya meaning bamboo footed.

23666_10150140661800271_1831177_nThe red panda was the first ‘panda’ to be know to the West as early as the 1800’s! In 1825 Frenchman Frederic Cuvier published an account describing the red panda and named the species, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, or shining cat.

By the 1840’s English naturalist Brain Houghton Hodgson had written a detailed study on the red panda or ‘Wah’. Focusing on habitat and diet.

It was not until 1869 that the giant panda was identified. However to distinguish the species, the first panda was renamed the lesser panda.

39755_425944215911_56676235911_4773054_7286609_nIt’s been eight years since I saw my first red panda, having been oblivious to their existence until then. For me it was love-at-first-sight! They seem to be a number of animals all rolled into one, which has caused countless debates as to what family or classification of animal the red panda truly is.

Are they bear-cats? They are cat sized (always a plus in my book) and rather bear-like, though they are not part of the ursidae family.

They bark like a dog: There is little published evidence but the red panda is highly susceptible to diseases like canine distemper.

Their vocalisations sound similar to birds:

A living fossil: Recent DNA studies have concluded that the red panda is in its own family of the Ailuridae, being part of the super-family the Musteloidea, (weasels, skunks and raccoons).

The only similarity with giant pandas is their diet (bamboo) and the false thumb, an elongated wrist bone that acts like a sixth digit. It helps with holding food and climbing, especially head first!

Red pandas are found largely in temperate, deciduous forests, from Nepal to China and Myanmar. There are two subspecies, Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani. Their red fur, one of the densest of all mammals (for insulation), is perfect camouflage during autumn.

Due to living in Himalayan regions, red pandas prefer cooler days. Winter is the best time to find them active.

Although they have a penchant for bamboo, eating up to 45% of their body weight a day, red pandas are classed as carnivores. They eat fruit, insects, eggs and small birds.

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Feeding Red Pandas at Paradise Wildlife Park

Red pandas have a slow metabolism due to being unable to digest bamboo properly, hence being rather sedentary. I’ve noticed many zoo guests just walk past red panda enclosures because they have been asleep up a tree. In most cases you need to visit several times in the hope of catching one awake. Being a crepuscular animal doesn’t help either as they are more active at dawn and dusk.

They are solitary animals, only coming together for mating. The female is only receptive one day a year. The breeding season is usually January to April with birth around June/July. The litter usually consists of one to four cubs, but usually two.

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Photo by David Evans

In 2010 I was honoured to witness Chester Zoo’s female red panda, Lushui move her cub, Lily from nest to nest. They do this to avoid predators. Cubs come out of the nest from around three months, and stay with their mothers for about a year before finding their own territory. Their lifespan in captivity can reach 15 years.

However beautiful red pandas are, they are classified as endangered by the IUCN. The main threats to them are deforestation, hunting, poaching and illegal trade. In China there is a traditional custom dating back to around the 13th century where red panda pelts are given to newlyweds as a sign of ‘good luck’. Red pandas are also predated upon by snow leopards and martens.

Conservation: Exact numbers of red pandas in Asia are relatively unknown, estimates say up to 10,000 adults. There is a worldwide effort to protect the red panda and its habitat. In many of the countries where the red panda is found, their habitat has been designated areas of protection, though these areas are hard to police. The Red Panda Network liaise with ‘forest guardians’ to educate and highlight the need to conserve red panda habitat. They are also working directly with the creators of the Panchthar-Ilam-Singhalila (PIS corridor), which will be the first Red Panda Protected Forest.

In captivity there are two long term initiatives for breeding, the Red Panda Species Survival Programme (SSP) and the European Endangered Species Programme (EES) which offers a ‘stud book’ of potential mates.

Popular culture: There have been a number of depictions of red pandas on many platforms over the years. Another name for the red panda is the Fire Fox. Mozilla use this name for their web browser, though their logo is ambiguous.

Cinema: In 2008 DreamWorks released Kung Fu Panda with Shifu, being a lose representation of a red panda! A year earlier an animated Barbie film, the Island Princess had a red panda as a friendly aide.

In 2013 Pocket Gems released a game called Animal Adventure with a red panda as one of the main characters.

14115498_10153971399038869_7066728288936528819_oThe future…is still uncertain.

At the time of writing, the WWF have announced that the giant panda’s status has improved from endangered to vulnerable. Hopefully the red panda being under the ‘umbrella’ of conservational efforts for the giant panda, will start to feel the effects of these protection methods soon?

 

And finally: Sadly, earlier this year, the Red Panda Network announced that poaching of the red panda had increased in 2016! Their annual International Red Panda Day (17th September 2016) will focus on anti-poaching initiatives.

The road ahead may still be long but there is hope for the future of the red panda. Conservation efforts are starting to produce results for not only the giant panda but tigers also, why not for the red panda? They have so much going for them. To me they are sweet, endearing animals, they are all superstars, none other than Ming Ming!

Thanks for reading.

Christine x


Further reading:

Angela Glatston: Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda.

Whence the Red Panda? Flynn JJ, Nedbal MA, Dragoo JW, Honeycutt RL.

http://redpandanetwork.org/red_panda/about-the-red-panda/

http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/red-panda

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_panda

If you have been inspired by what you have read, then why not continue the message? You can join in with this years International Red Panda Day at your local animal park/zoo.

Amongst the Ferns!

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After all the upheaval last week, with working on the house. It was nice to have the chance to get away from it all, even if it was for only a few hours.

We got up at 5am. (It seems customary now that if we go walking we head out early). I noticed that the sun hadn’t risen, already the shorter days are on their way! It took us two hours driving on the M6 to get to Grasmere in the Lake District. We planned to walk from Stock Lane car park to Easedale Tarn. The sun was out, yet there was a crisp chill in the air. There was little sign of the warmer weather the Met Office had reported, although it did warm up a little as the day progressed.

The walk to the tarn took just over an hour. Pretty good going, what with my stumpy legs and a well defined but rocky path. The gradient took us up past the beautiful though unfortunately named Sourmilk Ghyll. We stopped off at the waterfall and I pondered whether to take a dip in the plunge pool, though the force of the waterfall seemed fierce. I decided against it and we carried on towards Easedale Tarn.

There were already a number of people at the tarn when we arrived. A group had set up tents on a headland, and looked like they had camped the night, while others were stripping off wet-suits. We walked around the tarn looking for a good entry point. We walked a further hour slipping into mud, (well I was), dodging marshy moss and fighting through Jurassic ferns. At one stage I was ready to give up but David said we should push on. His doggedness paid off and we found ourselves on the other side of the tarn on a shingle beach where a lone sheep looked bewildered by our presence.

By this time a bank of thick cloud had drifted over the fells, blanketing any of the suns warmth. David sat wrapped up in his waterproof shaking his head. ‘You’re crazy!’ he remarked as I folded up my clothes. I stood in my swimsuit at the edge of the tarn. The water to the touch was cold. When I submerged my body, it was the coldest I had swam in! I knew being a tarn, Easedale would be colder than the lakes I had already dipped in, but I was not prepared for how cold. I gasped as I made my first strokes but I soon grew accustomed.

I swam back and forth along the lake-side for about 10 minutes. I felt the cold more as time progressed and what felt like fronds catching at my fingers. ‘It’s starting to rain,’ David said as concentric rings appeared on the water. However it didn’t rain, we realised then that I was not alone in the water! There were little silver fish swimming about. That was what I had felt touching my fingers!!

I got out of the water and shivered while I ate my packed lunch and drank a hot coffee. I only became warm once we headed back along the track to Grasmere and the sun decided to pop out from the clouds.

All in all, we were out walking, swimming, slipping and sliding for around five hours. The car park which has a recognition number-plate camera cost us only £5.80 for that period. I felt enlivened from my dip and the country air. We passed Rydal Water on our journey which looks a lovely lake. Perhaps before the summer’s out I can bag another swim?

Where do you think I should swim next?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

In Search of Wild Things

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Crummock Water

I am currently into week three of my 30 Days Wild, an initiative by the Wildlife Trusts to get people connected to wildlife and nature.

On Friday, David had planned a day off work, so I coerced him into going back up to the Lake District. For a month now I have been eager to return, so I can plunge myself into the cool waters of a lake with mountains all around! Derwentwater sure whetted my appetite.

It was a cloud laden day, the heat of the past fortnight was just a memory, but that did not deter us. It was a chance for us to wear our new waterproof jackets!

We got up at the ungodly hour of 5am! I made breakfast to the song of Mr. Dunnock, then we hit the roads with backpacks packed at 6am. It took us three hours to get to the western lakes of Crummock Water and Buttermere!

We paid £6.50 for all day parking in one of the National Trust car parks, just outside the village of Buttermere. Then walked behind a cavalcade of cows towards The Fish Inn, where you’ll find the path towards the lake. It was relatively easy to get to Buttermere, down a path and through two gates and you were at the northern end of the lake. One path was closed as they have nesting sandpipers but that didn’t detract from the beauty and peace of the lake.

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Buttermere

9c535f_6c4eb00360a94cdd915602a3d068a8e2We headed towards Crummock Water. Though the pathway was relatively easy going it was full of lose stones, a temporary measure due to the flood damage of 2015!

It took us two hours to walk from Buttermere towards Crummock Water. Our destination was Low Ling Crag, a shingle spit that projects out to the heart of Crummock Water.

In places the path was boggy and along the way nesting birds (I couldn’t identify) were flying about the ancient ferns. I managed to stop and hug a tree and the wood was full of calls from redstarts and cuckoos. We even came across a dipper!

Low Ling Crag, didn’t look as appealing as Google search pictures depicted. When we visited, the island jutting out into the cool waters was littered with geese faeces and feathers!

I was thinking about taking a dip but the wind buffeted us and we sat shivering as we ate our packed lunch. Crummock Water will just have to be visited again!

We retraced our steps back to Buttermere. We found a suitable shingle beach in which to enter, though it was in close proximity to the path. The lake was much more sheltered than Crummock Water. Before I had time to think of any reservations, I quickly threw off my clothes, revealing my swimsuit and stumbled into the water. It was much cooler than my first swim in Derwentwater, but once I started swimming I grew acclimatised. It took some persuading for me to climb out of the water. I really enjoyed my swim. I didn’t want it to end! I looked at the clouds above and Fleetwith Pike before me and felt my soul being nourished.

Once out of the water, and a hot mug of coffee in hand (prepared by David), I found that I didn’t shiver as much as I did at Derwentwater, but perhaps the wind chill wasn’t such a factor?

We took the short walk back to the car park and prepared for our journey home. I felt the warm glow of being out in the country, of having a good walk and seeing some lovely sights. I hope soon that we can go on another adventure and perhaps take another dip in a lake?

The problem with wild swimming is that once you have entered the water, there is just no stopping you! You want to do it again and again!

Do you have any tips on where next I should swim/walk?

Christine x