I’m not one of life’s natural swimmers – you won’t find me ploughing up and down the local swimming pool – but I can’t resist a spot of wild swimming. Let’s be honest, in my case it’s more like wild floating and wild splashing about but who cares? There is just something blissfully elemental about immersing yourself in water in the great outdoors – particularly in summer.
Many of my clearest and fondest memories involve the tang of salt, the splash of wave, the bone-chilling bite of frigid mountain or moorland water. I remember floating in the Aegean, softly spinning under the stars, watching the Milky Way explode across the sky and then, eventually, watching dawn break over the glistening water. It was truly transcendental. Why on earth swim in a chlorinated regimented pool when you can swim free in wild water? Then there was Poland – heartbreakingly beautiful moments in soft satin water – a place out of time.
Where I live, on Exmoor, you can find swimming holes along most of the rivers. They’re perfect places for picnics, for lolling with a book or laughing with family and friends. Then, when you work up the courage, strip off and jump, slide or slither into the water. Yes, it’s cold, often brain-freezingly cold – but it’s worth the initial shock to the system as there is just something wondrous about natural water – it’s silky, it glides on your skin and you feel, even if only for a short moment or two, part of the watery element. You unleash your inner otter. Should you swim naked? If you can, absolutely! Why put anything in between you and the water?
So much of our lives is constrained, hemmed in and bounded by rules. Wild swimming is about freedom – it’s liberating, a little bit anarchic and all the better for it. It’s also about recognising that we’re part of the natural world, a good reminder that we can’t control nature; that we need to respect and honour it particularly when we wild swim in the sea with its tricksy tides and undertows.
Let’s strip off and dive in!
• Feel inspired by reading Wild Swim by Kate Rew (Guardian Books) – far more than a gazetteer of good places to swim outdoors – the writing is lyrical and the photos evocative.
• Be safe. Nature writer Robert Macfarlane says you need ‘just enough commonsense to avoid drowning and just enough lunacy to dive in.’ Sounds about right to me. Always check out local conditions. Kate Rew says don’t swim alone and stay within 100 metres of the bank or shore.
• Wild swimming lets you see nature from a different perspective. Pop on some goggles and maybe take a snorkel to dip down to witness life under the water as well.
• If you’re a nervous swimmer, stick to lidos and other public outdoor pools. Not quite so wild but nowhere near as sanitised as your standard swimming pool.
• Still resisting? Remember that cold water is hugely healthful – stimulating the immune system and helping prevent colds and flu.
This feature first appeared in my column for Natural Health magazine
Main image is from the visitdevon website – of Sharrah Pool on Dartmoor