How to get into wild swimming

It’s like diving into a new world

What is wild swimming?

When people think of swimming they tend to think of screaming kids, old ladies in swim suits revealing more than you would like to see. Arm bands and school swimming lessons that you never wanted to do. But not all swimming has to be in a heated pool pumped full of eye stinging chlorine and the occasional UFO (Unidentified Floating Object). Swimming in natural lakes and rivers can be a great way to connect with nature. You are fully submersed in your surroundings and experience it first hand, eye level. What I love about wild swimming is it gives you a different perspective of your surroundings. It provides a different point of view of the mountains and lakes which you would never experience unless you dived straight in. I would challenge you to try and take a little dip on your next hiking or camping trip and try it for yourself. It’s a great way to cool off or just get your senses charged. For me personally, it’s like the feeling you get after a great gym session or going for run when you are fully engaged with your surroundings and body. It’s something different, it’s something new and it shocks your system into being alive.

How to get started

All you need is a sense of adventure and some swim wear. I would always go with a friend just for the safety aspect, you never know what might happen. If you a feeling a bit nervous there are plenty of wild swimming groups all around the country that you can tag along to. The Outdoor Swimming Society and the Wild Swimming local events page, all kinds of amazing, worth checking out.

Wild swimming, its like normal swimming but colder!

Preparation and personal Safety

Wear a bright coloured swimming hat. Colours which might merge with the water like greens, blue, black, white and silver tend to be harder to spot. Also, silicone hats are worth investing in, they tend to be warmer than the latex ones.

  • Acclimatise to the water slowly. If you are not use to cold water make sure you get out and take regular breaks and make sure you have warm clothes for when you get out of the water. Your body temperature can drop pretty fast when you stop moving and you’re wet.
  • Swimming in the UK you will almost always be swimming in cold or cooler water. Wet suits are a great for buoyancy and keeping warm.
  • Swimming lessons and swimming at indoor pools. Lessons to become a stronger swimmer if necessary.
  • Swimming with a group or a friend in case something happens.

Safety

There are inherent dangers to all water based activities. Lack of due care can result in injury and even death. The same precautions you would take in a normal swimming pool you would take when wild swimming. I know it sounds obvious but actually being able to swim is an absolute. There are a few people out there who can’t swim or who are not very strong swimmers, make sure you take care of this before you head out. If you can’t swim, wild rivers and lakes are not the place to begin especially when we have safe environments like indoor pools with lifeguards and instructors.

  • Be aware of changes in depth, if you are not a strong swimmer be careful of deep water
  • Fast moving water. Stay away from rapids and use your common sense.
  • Getting in and getting out. If you are swimming down river, always plan your swim. Make sure you know where you are exiting the swim and make sure it is easy to climb out. A good way to do this is to find your exit spot and walk upstream to your starting point. This way you can get an idea and feel of the entire swim. Are there many turns and bends? Will there be a lot of shrubbery and roots? Are there parts where it is too shallow where I will have to walk it? Are there any locks that I need to be aware of?
  • Obstacles. Large rocks, fallen trees, weeds, locks, anything which might trap you.
  • Weeds. If you get stuck in some weeds try your best to not use breast stroke as this tends to get you more tangled. Try doggy paddle without trashing out your arms and legs to not get tangled any further.

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Just

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Dive

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In

Staying Legal and Respecting Others

You can usually swim in places where there is established use. So anywhere that is common land that has public right of way like footpaths, lake shores, riverbanks and bridges. A lot of these wild swimming spots will have long established use and accepted as traditional spot. But, always check because unfortunately legal access is only given to some English and Welsh rivers and lakes.

I don’t want to sound like your moaning nan but respect other people that use the waters too. You will from time to time come across people fishing, make sure you give them plenty of space particularly in the mornings and evenings when people go fishing like there is no tomorrow. Fishermen can be annoying, but it is also their river too and they pay to use certain rivers, lakes and reservoirs which ensure the waters are clean and pollution free. Which is great for the environment and wild swimming. If there are “no swimming” signs then I would recommend respecting that and moving on, there are plenty of spots where you can have a nice swim.