The Water's Lovely!
Back when our grandparents were young, a swimming hole or a stream were popular places to congregate and messing about in rivers was a regular weekend activity. Then the 1950’s saw the introduction of local leisure centres and indoor swimming facilities popped up all over the place. But in recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in this traditional past time because being outdoors in the natural world recharges us on a primal level and the benefits of open water swimming are now widely recognised.
The wild swimming movement, as it is now known, has been gathering momentum since the early 2000s and a recent study by the British Medical Journal has proven the positive impact that it can have on our mental health. Not only does the outdoor exercise and company of other swimmers improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, but there is a convincing and biologically plausible theory about cold water immersion and its ability to reduce stress levels. Wild swimmers report many health benefits and in times of grief they have found comfort and even joy in the water.
In the introduction to a book about wild swimming spots near London, Margaret Dickenson writes that the wild swimmer ‘wishes to swim spontaneously, exercising his or her discretion as to safety …. happy to share the dark water with ducks, fish and the occasional heron or kingfisher.’
And in his book on the subject, Daniel Start writes ‘Wild swimming is the new cool, and not just because of the invigorating temperatures. There's something both innocent and cheeky about skipping around water meadows in swimwear. It's revitalising and addictive.’
If you’ve been contemplating a wild swim, perhaps now is the perfect time to take the plunge? Here we share a few of our favourite Salt-Water swimming spots and a few that we’ve bookmarked for future aquatic adventures.
The River Waveney, Bungay, Suffolk, England
The Waveney was the favourite river of Roger Deakin, forefather of the wild swimming movement. His book ‘Waterlog’ was published in 1999 and details his attempt to swim across Britain. There’s a 2 mile loop which begins and ends in Bungay, a fabulous little place with lots of independent shops and cafes. Side note * Polly Fern who we interviewed for the ‘In Their Shoes’ section of the Salt-Water journal lives and works in Bungay.The River Waveney is also great for otter spotting.
The River Cam, Granchester Meadows, Cambridge
This is a 1.2 mile stretch of bucolic meadows in Cambridge with a multitude of swimming opportunities. Take a blanket and a picnic and find a quiet spot. Alternatively the afternoon tea at The Orchard Tea gardens, famed for its literary connections, is a great way to reward yourself after a dip.
Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle, Skye
It’s said to be impossible to ignore the crystal clear water and resist the call of the fairies as they urge you to jump in. These enchanting pools are separated by a stone arch which people like to swim under. Set beneath the Black Cuillin mountains, the rocks here are tinged with lavender and sheltered by Rowans. The nearest village to the Fairy Pools is Carbost on the West of Skye and the 40 minute walk is on the road to Glenbrittle. You need a brave heart to swim in Scotland - the water is always cold - so bring a flask and some supplies for when you get out.
Europe has several thousand miles of stunning coastline and many fine beaches for sea swimming, but head inland to discover a magical world of wild swim opportunities; alpine lakes, fresh rivers and waterfalls are waiting to be discovered. Here are a few we‘d like to go to when travel is back on the agenda. Bookmark them now….
The Ardeche River, Balazuc
There are lots of places to jump in along the banks of this well-loved river and many people enjoy swimming under the giant prehistoric arch at the Pont d’Arc. But we fancy swimming in the breathtaking gorges sculpted by the river beneath the picturesque village of Balazuc.
Le Pozze Smeraldine, Italy
The Pozze Smeraldine, even saying it is fun!. These wild, unspoilt pools in Italy are a short walk from the village of Tramonti di Sopra along a mountain path in the Celina Valley and their incredible colour justifies the name – emerald pools. According to the Wild Swim Italy book, they are isolated and enchanted. Sounds perfecto.
Walchensee Lake, Bavaria
This is one of Germany’s deepest and largest alpine lakes and the water is pure enough to drink. At just 75 km south of Munich in the picture book pretty Bavarian Alps, the water temperature rarely goes above a refreshing 20C, even in Summer. This is one of the few lakes in the Bavarian Lake district that can be easily accessed from the shore with plenty of secluded bathing spots. Swimming in this azure lake with the mountain backdrop reflected on the surface would surely be something close to divine.
This is a man made pool, originally built in the 1920s to help the locals learn to swim. But in our book it counts as a wild swim as it’s free to get in and it’s a natural body of water – geothermic water infact which runs into the pool from underground. The temperature of the water is usually around 30C but from late Autumn to early Spring it’s more like 20C. It does get busy in Summer, but it’s light until midnight from May to August and you can visit at any time – so who’s up for a wild swim at midnight in the Icelandic mountains?
Remember to let someone know where you’re going before you set off and if you can, take a friend. Check out Swim England’s advice on how to prepare for your swim.
To read more about wild swimming, take a look at this book.
And find more information from The Outdoor Swimming Society here.