Wild Swimming in Great Britain

‘Wild swimming’; akin to the action of swimming wildly, jumping and diving; taking a dip in secluded natural rivers and waterfalls; and skinny dipping, make of it as you wish, but this recently popularised outdoor activity is quickly becoming a great summer alternative to jetting off aboard.

With Britain’s lakes and rivers being their cleanest in living memory and with the nation feeling the pinch of ever tightening pockets, there has never been a better time to take the plunge. If you can find some sunshine between the showers, whether at home or on holiday somewhere else in the British Isles, ‘wild swimming’ can provide both entertainment and exhilaration on a shoe string.

For those a little less adventurous ‘wild swimming’ may entail a refreshing dip in a hidden plunge pool or gently flowing river. Rydal Bower, a secluded pool in the Lake District, lies beneath an impressive rocky waterfall and is hidden within a thick forest. Said to possess magical qualities it was the setting for many of Wordsworth’s musings. More of the adventurous type; tubing along faster currents and leaping into deep pools can give you the adrenaline fix you may be desperately seeking, such as in the rapids and chutes of Ghaistrill’s Strid in the Yorkshire Dales. And, if you believe in other worldly beings and hauntings, then a visit to the wild and remote Mermaid’s Pool and nearby Doxley Pool on the top of the moors, high in the Peak District, is sure to give you the shivers. Supposedly the scene of drowning witches and other unexplained incidences, it is claimed that very few humans or animals dare visit, even today.

But ‘wild swimming’ offers far more that just an opportunity for a cheap thrill and a chance to take your clothes off; it can offer long term health benefits too. Past advocates of taking a cold dip include Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale, both of whom, amongst others, spoke of the benefits to the human condition from total emersion into cold natural water. Said to soothe aches and pains, relieve depression and boost the immune system, the invigoration of a quick dip also releases feel good endorphins…maybe a cheap thrill after all.

In his book appropriately entitled ‘Wild Swimming’ Daniel Start recommends 150 hidden dips around the UK, accompanied by pictures, postcodes and grid references; the perfect companion to anyone wanting to ‘Wild Swim’ around the UK. Start lists each swim by region and kindly shortlists the best waters for undertaking more adventurous activities such as skinny-dipping, canoeing and tubing. Swims range from easily accessible to more challenging, some of the most incredible situated at the bottom of some of Wales’ now disused quarries.

No article about outdoor adventure activities would be complete without the obligatory health warning, and when it comes to ‘wild swimming’, the warnings are pretty stark. Swimming in natural rivers can be immensely dangerous, especially in rivers with fast currents. There is also the risk hidden rocks and thick weed beds under the surface of the water. In his book, Start does address these issues by location, suggesting the best places to plunge into the water and the areas to avoid, but nevertheless, common sense and a little caution will go a very long way. Another issue to note is that of public access to land and water bodies, something that may be worth checking out prior to stripping off!

Claudia Baxter

This article is part of our UK Special. For more articles pick up the latest issue of Impact, available around campus now.

One Comment
  • Chris
    23 February 2012 at 06:50
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    Wild swimming is not about freezing cold water; it’s about the joy of swimming in the great outdoors, breaking free from the indoor swimming pool and returning to swim in the wild. British culture has taken the fun out of swimming; swimmers have been imprisoned at indoor pools for far too long. Wild swimming means breaking free from convention, escaping to the outdoors and returning to beautiful surroundings, to water that sparkles with sunlight, and the exhilaration and freshness of pure living water.

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