Indoor pools remain closed and a wild dip is officially good for you, increasing your happy hormones. Time to take the plunge?

We love a swimming pool as much as the next person. But, even when they do reopen, there is nothing quite so invigorating as a wild swim. The notion is, of course, nothing new. People have been going for dips in lakes, rivers and open water since time immemorial. But over the past decade or so, swimming wild has become akin to a movement; the health benefits of being submerged in the elements are much-vaunted, a handful books have been written about it and there are many resources online to mine.

Indeed, the meditative effects of swimming in the open air are powerful, forcing us to switch off from pervasive technology, concentrate on our breathing and truly disconnect. Meanwhile, cold water immersion is scientifically proven to reduce stress hormones and promote the production of dopamine, serotonin and b-endorphins. It may even help to combat depression by reducing inflammation.

It is, to us, another way to connect with nature. But do note, as the wild element suggests, nature can be unpredictable, so it is vital to take safety precautions. You must ensure that the body of water you’re swimming in isn’t too cold, that it is not subject to strong currents, that it’s legal (in that the water is not privately owned) and that it is clean enough to swim in (do note that it is never safe to swim in canals).

Here are some online resources to inspire and inform for next time you take the plunge.

Instagram Resources

There exists, as you might expect, a good crop of Instagram accounts dedicated to this most invigorating of pursuits. @Wild_swimming_ is one such, its little squares awash with inspiration that rattles around the globe, sharing sometime very picturesque and other times candid scenes of open water swimming. Could anyone fail to be moved to pack up the motor and head straight for Cadair Idris in Plynlimon, Wales on the basis of this glorious picture? Or to this idyll on the River Wharfe?? We are dreaming of a natural massage from Janet’s Foss waterfall in Yorkshire. If you’re looking for advice or inspiration fodder, this is a great place to start.

@Wildswimming is the grid belonging to Wild Things Publishing, and whilst it is dedicated to exploring wild Britain beyond its waterways, there is a lot of space dedicated to the art of the open-air dip. Idyllic images such as this or this would, surely, have even the most reluctant of al fresco swimmers reaching for their costumes. Perfect swimsperation.

For those looking for more specific places to go for a swim, as opposed to simply inspiration, it is worth following some of the more local groups around the country. @wildswimmingcornwall, @wildswimminglondon and @wildswimmingyorkshireman all give excellent insights into local areas, as well as being excellent ways to connect with people who you may wish to swim with.

And finally, @wildswimmingstories is the account of Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan, authors of Taking The Plunge: The Healing Power of Wild Swimming for Mind, Body and Soul. They use their grid to explore stories of swimming in their native Scotland and its therapeutic benefits. Uplifting.

The Podcasts

One of the many wonderful things about wild swimming is the tradition of storytelling that has grown up around it. Few people have many great yarns about swimming in chlorinated pools to tell; many more have tales of their open-air dips, the immersion in nature lending itself to the magical and the thrilling – occasionally laced with danger. Wild Swim Podcast is a space in which enthused and experienced swimmers share tales of underwater adventure. You can listen to Matt Williams on becoming the first person to swim every lake in the Lake District in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, or Sara Barnes on why swimming outdoors in winter means so much to her and is a form of therapy for her here.

Floating – Swimming Stories With Joe Minihane is another wonderful listen. Minihane is a freelance travel journalist and editor who wrote a book in 2018, also titled Floating, that follows Roger Deakins’ Waterlog, in which he seeks to find himself across Britain’s wild waters. As it says, ‘Joe Minihane became obsessed with wild swimming and the way it soothed his anxiety, developing a new-found passion by following the example of naturalist Deakin in his own swimming memoir. While fighting the currents – sometimes treading water Minihane swims to explore, to forget, to find the path back to himself through nature, and in the water under an open sky he finally begins to find his peace.’

In his podcast, he talks weekly to well-known swimmers about their favourite spots; a recent episode with author Jessica J. Lee, addressed subjects as wide-ranging as ‘swimming through lockdown, dealing with techno–obsessed Berliners insisting on blasting tunes lakeside and the serious issues surrounding access to water for people from BAME and less privileged backgrounds.’ Fascinating stuff to lose yourself – and hours – with.

The Books

Wild Swimming: 300 Hidden Dips in the Rivers, Lakes and Waterfalls of Britain, Daniel Start’s compendium of places to wild swim is, in many ways, definitive, despite being released seven years ago. A bestseller for good reason, not only does it guide the reader around tried and tested sites for open-air wild water immersion, but it details information for wild swimming as family, for campsites, for boat trips and, crucially, for safety. Like this? You may also enjoy Daniel Start’s follow-up book on Britain’s Hidden Beaches.

Wild Swimming Walks: 28 River, Lake and Seaside Days Out By Train From London by Margaret Dickinson was published in 2015 and is one of our absolute favourites. Why? Because, led by the famous swimming ladies of Hampstead, all of these locations are accessible by train. There are detailed instructions and lovely anecdotes – and what better way to escape the city without necessitating taking the car? There are, too, other books in this series in different locations across the country.

The Website

Wild Swimming can be a sheer, unadulterated joy. But it is imperative that, if an unseasoned wild swimmer, you equip yourself with all the information you need to keep you, and those around you, safe. The official Wild Swimming website gives a brilliant lowdown on the what, why and where of outdoor swimming as a pastime. It is also excellent for a list of easy first places to start, as well as safety measures. Its ten commandments read:

1. Never swim in canals, urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows
2. Never swim in flood water and be cautious of water quality during droughts
3. Keep cuts and wounds covered with waterproof plasters if you are concerned
4. Avoid contact with blue–green algae
5. Never swim alone and keep a constant watch on weak swimmers
6. Never jump into water you have not thoroughly checked for depth and obstructions
7. Always make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
8. Don’t get too cold – warm up with exercise and warm clothes before and after a swim
9. Wear footwear if you can
10. Watch out for boats on any navigable river. Wear a coloured swim hat so you can be seen

The Essentials

One of the great things about wild swimming is how little kit you need. Aside from a towel and a swimming costume (the latter optional, depending on how remote you are), there isn’t anything that’s actually imperative. However, depending on where you are, you may wish to have, one or two extras

First and foremost, a swimming cap is a great addition in cold water. Speedo has a reliably excellent selection.

If you have a concern about the water quality, it can be worth investing in a water mask. Pro Swimwear’s TYR Magna Swim Mask is recommended for open water triathletes and is a great option.

Similarly, swim gloves and socks are good for keeping your extremities from getting too cold, and allowing you to stay in the water longer. These C Skins Wired 3mm Neoprene Gloves work extremely well, most particularly since they fit snugly, which is an important factor to consider when buying gloves.

By Nancy Alsop
July 2020

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Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.